Michael Abrahams | Hey girls ... don’t hit boys
In late 2019, I was asked to address the grade-five and grade-six boys at a popular preparatory school in St Andrew. It was Boys’ Day at the institution, a day when girls stay home (the converse happens on Girls’ Day) and boys gather and interact...
In late 2019, I was asked to address the grade-five and grade-six boys at a popular preparatory school in St Andrew. It was Boys’ Day at the institution, a day when girls stay home (the converse happens on Girls’ Day) and boys gather and interact with other boys, fathers, male guardians and teachers, engaging in conversation, games and other activities.
My interaction with the boys was a motivational talk in the church adjoining the school. I spoke with them about the importance of attributes such as gratitude, discipline and respect. At the end of the presentation, there was a question-and-answer session, during which the issue of bullying was brought to the fore. To my surprise, not only was bullying perceived by the boys to be a major issue at the school, but the alleged main perpetrators were girls.
By the time 2020 got under way, the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. Schools began online classes, and school, as we knew it, became a virtual place. Now, in mid-2022, things are gradually beginning to return to normal and face-to-face classes are again the norm.
Two weeks ago, the guidance counsellor at another popular preparatory school in St Andrew reached out to me to address the grade-six boys at the school for Boys’ Empowerment Day. As I did with the boys in the other school in 2019, I offered them words of encouragement and motivation. At the end of my talk, I asked the youngsters if they had any issues they wished to share. A boy raised his hand. I acknowledged him and he spoke. “Sir,” he said, “the girls are hitting us.” I looked at the gathering and asked, “Seriously? Is this really true?” “Yes, sir!” was the unanimous and vociferous response of the obviously concerned crowd. I turned to the guidance counsellor and asked her if this was a real issue at the school. She replied, “Yes. And the girls lie about it.”
Last week I was contacted by the principal of another educational institution, this time a popular Corporate Area high school. She reached out to me after a series of incidents, where some boys in grade seven had physically assaulted girls and saw nothing wrong with their actions. She asked me to address the boys in that grade and speak to them about violence. I complied. At the end of the talk, the boys were given an opportunity to express their concerns. Again, the response from the boys was that girls are physically assaulting them and getting away with it, and they feel forced to defend themselves. I asked the boys to indicate, with a show of hands, how many of them had been hit by girls, and at least half of them indicated that they had been. I asked them who were the main perpetrators of physical violence, who were they most likely to get hit by, girls, or other boys. The response was, unanimously, “Girls.”
Then they shared their stories. One boy spoke of being repeatedly hit by a girl, but despite reporting the incidents to a teacher on more than one occasion, nothing was done. Another related an incident where a girl physically assaulted him. He responded not by hitting her, but by raising his hands and pushing her off him in an effort to protect himself. In the aftermath of the incident, he was punished but the girl was not. I asked the boys if any of the girls were repeat offenders, habitually hitting boys, and the answer was a resounding “Yes.”
If I address three different sets of boys in three different schools, and their primary concern is being physically assaulted by girls, we have a problem. Like many boys, when I was in my youth, I recall being repeatedly told at home that boys must not hit girls, and that men should not hit women. I do not recall being told not to hit other people. Maybe I was told. I just cannot recall it. However, the narrative of males not hitting females is what stuck in my mind.
CHANGE THE NARRATIVE
That narrative, in my opinion, should be changed to ‘do not hit other people’. We are repeatedly told not to hit females, but how often are females told not to hit us? Hitting someone shows a lack of respect for that person and their boundaries, and is unacceptable, regardless of gender. Giving girls a free pass to hit boys, but punishing boys for doing the same, even in self-defence, is unfair. Such inequity sends a message to our boys that their boundaries, bodies and feelings are not worthy of respect.
The recent, highly publicised court case involving actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard served as a reminder that women, too, can be aggressive and violent, causing men physical and emotional trauma. Parents, guardians, teachers, guidance counsellors and others need to understand that hitting someone, regardless of gender, is wrong. Also, if you are assaulted, you have a right to defend yourself. If a girl comes at a boy with aggression and violence, it is unfair to expect our boys to be ‘beating sticks’. Some may have the self-control to walk away, but if the attacks are severe and repetitive, a robust response is understandable.
Our girls need to be protected, validated and respected, but our boys need protection, validation and respect, too.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @mikeyabrahams.