This week on facebook I have come across two different approaches to raising awareness and action for domestic violence. Remember #TheDress. Is it black and blue? White and gold? If you were anywhere near social media then no doubt you saw it. The 24 hours following this madness there were some wonderful people at the Southern African Salvation Army racing around to put together an ad campaign on domestic violence. I thought it was a great way to use the social frenzy for good.
A few days later another awareness campaign was created along with proof that we are living in the FUTURE...and yet still troubled with problems that should be in the past. An interactive billboard was made using facial recognition software, texting directly to people near the billboard, and actually changing the photograph on the sign. If you have a tiny bit of time I highly suggest that you watch the Women's Aid video. If you don't have time then the cliff notes version is: It is a photograph of a woman with bruises on her. As people look directly at it she begins to heal, the more people that look at the abused woman faster that she heals.
Years ago one of my dear friends was being abused, I was miles away when I found out about it but I took what action I could and called her family so they could help her leave the situation. It was a simple thing that I did. Snyone could have done it if they would have noticed her situation. These simple things are exactly what makes a difference to women in abuse. For the woman being abused it is a frightening time that leaves many too petrified to flee. There is so much going on, deeper than physical harm that we might not understand. If we look away and assume that she wants to remain in that relationship the result is usually just that, she remains abused, alone, and scared. Just because she is staying with an abusive partner doesn't mean that she wants to. It is very hard to do anything when you are alone and terrified.
These ads got me thinking about my own daughter. She is 12, strong, and full of a sense of justice. She will stand up for what is right and wrong and never let her peers convince her otherwise. She doesn't accept being treated badly and had discontinued friendships that were caustic. That is her today, but what kind of message is she surrounded by as she grows into a young lady? I can tell you exactly what message, and it isn't one setting her up for a great future in romance. The message is; "He is just being mean to you because he likes you." So, not only is it alright for a boy to be mean to her, but also, she should be happy about it because it means that he likes her.
This message came from two of her teachers when she was complaining to them separately about a boy who is bothering her at school. I am not blaming the teachers though because I caught myself saying the same thing, passing down a lie that I had heard from an adult when I was young. This teasing behavior, boys being mean, meant they noticed me. They LIKED me. The thing that most teen girls are after now had an easy to spot signal, the mystery of "love" was over. If they were treated me badly, then they liked me. Now the other boys who liked me were invisible. The nice ones who helped me carry things, said kind things or simply talked to me like I was a person, they must not like me. They just want to be friends because otherwise they would be mean. This is the lie, unintentional, but real.
On my way to take my daughter to school this morning we were alone in the car. I interrupted her comic book reading because I couldn't get this thought out of my head, that this lie needed to be put to a stop. I told her about the domestic abuse ads, I told her about my friend who was scared to leave her boyfriend. I told her that yes, it is true that some boys act mean when they like you, but there are also boys who act really nice. Those are the boys that are worth dating. The mean ones might just be young and clueless and not really have a mean core. They might eventually figure out that girls don't like being treated that way and they might find nicer ways to show affection but until they do, they are not worth your time.
My daughter isn't interested in boys yet, but this was a perfect time to have this conversation. A time when she isn't totally hormonal and sure that I am wrong about everything. This gives her time to think about all of this and make a choice if she does begin to think boys are kind of cute. I think even if she were older it would be worth a try, or if you know someone who was a victim of domestic abuse have that woman talk to your daughter. Also, please talk to your sons! Do not assume that just because he is a sweet kid around you that he knows how to behave. My son is 9 years old and I showed him the photo above and we talked about how it is never O.K. to hurt anyone, but especially not a girl. As he gets older we will have more conversations. I know my husband had one with him when he was 3. My son was mad and had hit me. A 3 year old hitting isn't a huge deal, but it is an opportunity to set up expectations for the future.
I hope that these new campaigns do make a difference in our world. I hope that I inspired you to have a conversation with your own children. Lets never leave things as simple as "he is mean because he likes you." Instead we should share the truth with our girls, that there are nice ways boys show they like them. We should share the knowledge with our boys, that there are other ways besides teasing to get a girls attention. Let's stop domestic abuse years before it ever begins.