Gender Roles & Violence: Get in Your Box!

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Image: Karen Walsh
Image: Karen Walsh

I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve never been raped. Yet, I haven’t gotten to this point in my life completely unscathed.

There was that time in grade school when the boys wanted to play run, catch, kiss. I didn’t want to be kissed. I didn’t run. In my mind, I wasn’t playing. One of them kissed me anyway. When I complained to the teacher I was told, “he probably just likes you.” When I answered back that I didn’t want to be kissed, she said “You’re fine. Go play.” So I did. Cause my teacher told me I was fine. So, it was okay.

Then in middle school there was that time when one of the boys thought it was okay to grab me, hold me close with his hands on my ass and tell me “you know you want it.” At that point in my life, I’m not even sure I knew what “it” was, but I know I was scared.

There was that time in high school when one of my friends, who was on the football team, threw me up against the lockers, pushed his erect penis against me and say “I’m gonna have you.” All the teacher said was “Get to class, you two.” Like we were just a couple making out happily between classes. As if it was okay I was being held against the locker.

Once my boyfriend wanted a blow job. I didn’t want to give him a blow job. He forced me to and then told me how much he loved me. So it was okay.

Then, freshmen year of college I was pushed against a wall by a friend. He kissed me. I pushed him away and smacked him. While I was still somewhat pinned to the wall, and he asked: “What the hell was that for?” Completely unaware he’d just assaulted me and not the other way around.

I’ve been groped on the subway. I’ve been told by men I don’t know on the street to smile. I’ve had taunts like “ooh baby I can make you feel good.” thrown at me. When I walk home at night, I keep keys between my fingers…just in case.

The list goes on…and #Yesallwomen have a list just like this one.

All of the things that happened to me were somehow supposed to be okay. We are taught they are acceptable. It was just boys being boys, after all. Boys are different than girls. That meant that they are just more aggressive. They just go after what they want, even if what they want is me. Because when you go out into the world with a Vagina, these are the things you deal with, daily, and that is supposed to be acceptable.

That’s life. Boys are boys. Girls are girls. And neither should ever attempt to get out of the box that defines them. Ever.

As brutal rape cases and mass shootings become the background noise in our lives, I can’t help but wonder…how did we get here? How did our boxes get so very small? When did it become okay for men to rape? At what point did we as a society decide that our dislike of what is different, what is outside the norm, become an acceptable reason for violence? Aren’t we supposed to have gotten more enlightened than that?

And more importantly, how do I explain this to my daughter? How do I keep her safe? My girl, who’s happiest in basketball shorts, playing with superheroes and hates wearing dresses. My girl, who might be the least girly girl to ever be a girl. My girl, who does not fit in her box.

Do I tell her what my father told me? “Don’t get too drunk, because there will always be someone who will take advantage and hurt you.” My father never said the word “rape”, but that’s what he meant. Do I tell her to avoid going to clubs, or the movies, or classes, because somewhere some man got offended by something someone, or something she, did and decided that the only way they can make it right is by buying a gun and murdering innocent people? How is that a life? How is this okay?

There are all these phrases we have to help explain the seemingly unending violence in this country. Rape Culture. Mass Shooting. Domestic Violence. Terrorism.

And then there are the words we use to try to explain the causes behind the violence. Misogyny. Toxic Masculinity. Homophobia. Radical (Insert Religion Here).

If we were really honest with ourselves it all boils down to one thing. Fear.

Fear of what’s different.

Fear of not having control.

Fear of not getting what’s yours.

Fear of being perceived as less than whomever it is you deem inferior.

Fear of change.

These are fears you have to be taught. And we do teach them to our children, sometimes without even realizing it.

We teach our boys to be tough. That expressing emotion of any kind is a weakness. We accept that boys will be boys as an excuse for violence at an early age. We tell our girls to accept that the boy who just hit them did so because he likes her. We tell our boys to man up and not show emotion. We tell our girls to let the boys lead, in ever so subtle ways, because all they need to do is look pretty. Maybe not in so many words, but it’s what we do.

What this does is very early on teaches our children that girls are less. Boys are superior, in control and should lead. Girls should just follow. You know, they should cook and take care of the babies. Do women stuff.

After years of being told this, we are left with men who think what a woman says doesn’t matter just because she’s drunk. Where what he has “lost” means he only serves three months in jail, because he’s white, has a penis, and can swim. (You can substitute “he can play football” or any other sport for that matter.) We have created a society where it is acceptable for men who feel rejected or do not like seeing two men kissing, to massacre anyone who gets in their way.

It has become acceptable for a man to feel slighted, go out and buy an AR-15 and shoot anyone he feels has done him wrong, as well as anyone else who happens to be in his way.

It has become acceptable for boys and men to take what they want, and stick their penis into any woman they want, even if that woman is unconscious.

It has become acceptable and even celebrated when a candidate running for President of the United States refers to women as “pigs.”

Seriously, how did we get here? And where do we go from here?

Maybe, as a society, we need to start by actually respecting women and listening to what they say, instead of simply dismissing them?

Maybe we need to teach our children to respect what makes everyone different regardless of gender, sexual orientation or religion?

Is it naive of me to think that is even possible?

I hope not.