For eight years, I have worked with perpetrators of domestic violence (also referred to as intimate partner violence) as a group facilitator. And one can imagine that throughout that time, I have heard countless stories of violent childhoods and / or relationships. Each person, be it male or female, has been impacted. Some as the abuser they never wanted to be growing up, others as the victim turned perpetrator. It is not my job to judge their upbringings, nor is it my job to judge their choices. My role is to provide a new perspective and tools that help each member manage his or her relationship in a healthier way.
We often explore stereotypes and the differences in how males and females are raised. One common thread in this conversation is the belief that boys should not put their hands on girls. The message is there early on, for both sides. And it is a message that continues into adulthood. In some ways, society can link this belief to physicality and/ or sexism (boys and men are stronger, girls and women are dainty and therefore the opposite sex needs to be gentle).
So what about when girls hit boys. There was never a time in my childhood when I heard an adult say, “Girls do not hit boys.” Girls are champions if they hit boys. They are brave. Boys on the other hand are weak if they hit girls. If ever a double standard existed during childhood, this would be one for two reasons. One, it teaches boys to respect the personal space of the opposite sex but it does not send the same message to girls. Two, it teaches boys to restrain themselves when a girl is on the receiving end, but it does not teach boys to restrain themselves in any other case.
The interactions between my children brings this double standard full circle. I have a son and a daughter (my son being the oldest). As siblings sometimes do, they fight. A push here, a pluck there. While some will say to my son, “No, you shouldn’t hit your sister because she is a girl,” I tend to take a different stance. I do not tell him he should not hit his sister because she is a girl, but because she is a person and he should respect her personal space. An added bonus is that I give the SAME message to my daughter. I want her to understand, as well, that actions have consequences. And if it is important for her brother to take time, be it in his interactions with girls or boys, to restrain himself, then it is just as important for her to do the same.
Essentially the point I am getting to is little boys and girls grow into men and women. And the messages they receive during childhood will play a significant role in how they interact with others and resolve issues. Therefore, the goal should not be to hold one gender to a higher standard, but to help children understand the all- around importance of mutual respect.