I work in a middle school in the Bronx, and just like almost every school in the country right now, bullying is a huge concern. Our guidance counselor has plastered our hallways with posters, articles and thought-provoking quotations about bullying and relationship abuse, and she takes students around in groups to read them and leave their comments.
Right outside my classroom, she posted a before and after picture of pop-star Rihanna following her domestic abuse incident with Chris Brown in 2009. Good, I thought. An important topic through the lens of a relatable public figure. Two thumbs up, Guidance Counselor.
However, as I was leaving school one day, I noticed that someone had written, “B—-, you deserved it!” in big letters across the top of the comments page.
I stopped. I stared. My jaw dropped. Keep in mind, I’ve worked in an inner city school environment for five years. I’ve been called every name in the book (some of them nice), I’ve seen some pretty interesting behavior incidents, and I’m not easily shocked. Even so, this comment truly alarmed me, and I took it down.
Well, I have no way of knowing for certain who wrote it, but it was likely someone between the ages of 12 and 14, and I have reason to believe it was a female student. This concerns me for two reasons:
1. Whoever wrote it is most likely just beginning to explore the world of relationships. It’s quite frightening to think that she (or he) is entering the dating game with the perception that women, under any circumstance, could possibly deserve to be beaten.
2. Kids at this age are extremely observant and desperately want to fit in — a sometimes dangerous combination. They pay attention to what’s going on around them and do the best they can to blend into what’s “normal” as much as possible. If it’s sneakers they need, they’ll buy them. If it’s a hairstyle, they’re the first one in line at the salon. If they’re supposed to act a certain way, they’ll do the best they can to comply.
Likewise, if the consensus among their peers is that it’s normal for a guy to knock a girl around a little bit, they’ll be less likely to speak up about it when it does happen and be more at risk to become a domestic abuse victim themselves. I’m not saying they won’t question it — they’re not lemmings, after all — but they will be quicker to dismiss it or play into the all too familiar blaming-the-victim scenario without really understanding the serious consequences of brushing off domestic violence. This is particularly dangerous because the attitude that today’s young girls take toward relationship abuse will help shape the norm that future young ladies will look to when they enter into their own romantic relationships.
If this is how my older sister’s relationship was, why should I expect any different? This must just be how it’s supposed to be.
And so it will continue…until we stop it.
What can we do, ladies?
We need to reach out to the young ladies in our lives. Make a point of talking to your daughters, sisters and nieces. Start a girls’ group if you’re affiliated with a school or out-of-school-time provider. Become a mentor.
However we do it, we need to create a safe place for adolescent girls to discover their identity in a healthy relationship, which of course means making sure our own are up to par, and give them the tools to navigate and ultimately leave a bad one. We need to help them challenge the notion that domestic violence is ever justified, despite any prevailing opinions floating around their social circles that may make them think twice about speaking up.
What do you think? Feel free to leave your comments below.
Photo Credit: BBGunBilly.com