If He’s Physically Abusive, He Doesn’t Like You, He’s a Jerk: #NowWhat

Physically abusive antics between boys and girls aren't cute, they're dangerous.

ColumnIf you’re a female, you probably remember an adult telling you at one point or another that if a boy is physically abusive or mean to you, he likes you. I always thought that advice was totally bogus (and a bit annoying, frankly), but it’s also dangerous.

In early October, a young boy hit a 4-year-old girl in the face. When the girl went to the hospital to get her wound stitched up, a hospital employee told the girl, “I bet he likes you.”

Just let that sink in.

The mother of the girl expressed her totally appropriate anger on Facebook by sending an open letter to the employee. The following is what Merritt Smith, the girl’s mother, posted:

“I bet he likes you.”

Dear man at the registration desk at Children’s hospital, l’m positive that you didn’t think that statement through. As soon as I heard it I knew that is where it begins. That statement is where the idea that hurting is flirting begins to set a tone for what is acceptable behavior. My four year old knows “That’s not how we show we like someone. That was not a good choice.”

In that moment, hurt and in a new place, worried about perhaps getting a shot or stitches you were a person we needed to help us and your words of comfort conveyed a message that someone who likes you might hurt you. No. I will not allow that message to be ok. I will not allow it to be louder than “That’s not how we show we like each other.” At that desk you are in a position of influence, whether you realize it or not. You thought you were making the moment lighter. It is time to take responsibility for the messages we as a society give our children. Do Not tell my 4 year old who needs stitches from a boy at school hitting her “I bet he likes you.” NO.

I think everyone reading this completely agrees with Smith, and I, for one, am incredibly happy  she took the time to articulate why this off-hand comment is harmful for so many reasons.

First off, if a boy thinks it’s okay to hit (same goes for girls, too), push, or tease a girl that he likes, he’ll grow up thinking that he can treat any woman he thinks is cute like trash. Sure, a playful punch to the shoulder isn’t equivalent to a punch to the face, but it’s still dangerous. Young men and boys must be taught that it’s not okay to touch someone without that person’s permission (and it’s especially not okay to be physically abusive toward them) just because you like them.

It’s this “innocent” type of behavior that can eventually turn into cat calling, or “sexual entitlement.” Refinery 29 points out that the belief that “boys will be boys” is dangerous. This type of “do whatever” mentality can allow men to think “that they are are not responsible for their own behaviors, but rather, that girls somehow are responsible when they “make” boys like them or turn boys down or otherwise provoke them.”

And telling girls that it is okay for boys to tease them (and encouraging them to like it) can really miss with their heads. If a girl thinks it’s acceptable for a guy to hit her at a young age, she could grow up thinking she deserves to be hit or treated poorly in a relationship as an adult.

Both men and women, and boys and girls, need to respect each others’ personal space and know that:

A. You show someone you like them by being kind and respectful.

and

B. If they don’t like you back, you say okay, and walk away.

Now, if society could kindly remember those two things, the world would be a much happier and safer place.

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Image of boy and girl fighting from Shutterstock

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.