I remember my first acts of violence toward women. I was in fifth grade and had discovered the extra hair hanging off the back of little girl’s heads after it had been snatched back into a ponytail. When you pulled on it, the girl would emit a shriek, playfully slap you (or not, depending on her temperament), and turn back to her friends and laugh about the whole ordeal. And my father had already told me the key to a woman’s heart was to make her laugh.
I never got in trouble for these not-so-random acts of violence. I got in trouble when I was caught copying my friend’s homework, and that time flipped off and cursed out some other boy, but ponytail pulling was a-ok. So I did it. A lot. I did it until I hit high school and decided that was for children and I graduated to the new pleasure of grabbing a handful of a girl’s butt. This wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world had I been romantically linked to any of these girls and they welcomed it. But in all honesty, I was just a horny little teenager with grabby hands. I wasn’t concerned about permission, and neither were any of my peers that doubled as cheering section.
It wasn’t until I was on the cusp of adulthood and attending more parties that I started questioning this behavior. When the music’s blasting and young men decide they want to dance with a young lady, the customary means of asking is to plant themselves behind the woman of their choice and thrusting their genitals into her backside. Most of the looks I could discern on these girl-turned-women’s faces landed somewhere between reluctant acquiescence and total discomfort. It was the first time I had ever considered the way women might feel about having control over their own bodies. I was around 19 or 20.
I can’t speak to how common my experience is, but it shouldn’t take that long for anyone to learn that women have a right to their own bodies. But where is anyone going to intervene when we’ve written off the behaviors described above as “boys will be boys” without questioning whether that’s a healthy starting point? These are considered the rights of passage into manhood, and we wonder why we can’t get a handle on domestic violence and sexual assault. Even those who don’t become perpetrators still approach the topic with idea taught early on that violent and sexually aggressive behavior toward women is just what men do. It’s incredibly dangerous.
Yet, we pass the buck. Instead of examining the culture we’ve created from the bottom up and evaluating the lessons we’ve passed on, we say it’s the fault TV shows and music videos. But that behavior didn’t spring up out of nowhere.
It’s easy to place the blame on what we see as abnormal, but we’d be better suited to take a look at the everyday behavior we’ve normalized that leads to the behaviors we find destructive. It’s imperative, if we’re serious about ending violence against women, sexual and otherwise, that we start by simply taking those little boys doing the hair-pulling and butt grabbing aside and tell them “no.”