The title of this post is one of those things we tell children (generally girls), but don’t tend to apply to adults. It’s like the idea that Santa’s the one person you’re not supposed to call the cops on for spying on you while you sleep, or that ridiculous prohibition against eating yellow snow.
There may be something to it, in some sense. I’ve heard it suggested that a cognitive dissonance often emerges in young boys’ brains, from finding themselves intrigued by girls but simultaneously knowing that their role as a boy requires them not to associate with those icky cooties-ridden creatures. This then leads them to harshly or aggressively shun and reject females who encroach and threaten their masculine identity.
I don’t remember where I’ve heard this being described, and I’m not going to research it because I’m not that interested and I’m sure I already sound like a pretentious dick from recounting it. But it seems like that some types of bullying in young boys does indeed translate to something like “I like you and I don’t know how to communicate that in a healthy way”.
So I was interested by this post, which asks just what we’re teaching our children of either gender by making excuses for it.
Because there comes a point where excuses are exactly what they are, and the behaviours that come naturally to children need a more deliberate response than to be shrugged at and indulged.
We can do this without ever demonising the children themselves, or assuming there’s any innate badness or wickedness to them because they behave in a way that seems unkind to us. But I don’t think there’s much difference between being old enough to hurt someone with your behaviour, and being old enough to learn better, if you have someone smart to teach you.
It’s not always going to be an easy thing for kids to learn. We start learning gender roles early, and many of us had friends growing up who made it very clear what was and wasn’t an acceptable way for our gender to behave. (Some of us still have friends who haven’t grown out of the habit and continue to reinforce the traditional stereotypes.) It can be hard to resist that kind of pressure, which is why this kid was so awesome, and if social acceptance is important to us then the easiest thing to do is sometimes going to be one that hurts other people.
But we’re supposed to be grown-ups. We don’t need to be complacent when we see children getting stuck with these identities. We owe them better than that. We owe them the chance to learn to avoid behaving in ways that hurt people and perpetuate damaging gender stereotypes, before they become adults who are already too familiar with the way things are to ever change.