By Sabrina Bartels – When I was in elementary school, one of the boys in my class shoved me to the ground during a routine game of tag. As my friend took me to the office for my skinned knee, she smiled and whispered, “I think he likes you. My mom said that when a boy is mean to you, that’s him showing that he likes you.” I was skeptical of her viewpoint. But three days later, that same boy who is the reason I have a scar on my right knee passed me a note that said I was pretty.
That was my first experience with a boy being mean as a way to show affection. And it wasn’t just physical things either. As I got into middle school, I would watch boys tease girls or make fun of them in class, only to have them turn around a few days later and tell the girls that they had a crush on them. I remember one boy shouting at a girl in class that she was one of the dumbest people he knew, but then asked her out a week later. It was confusing, but something that I eventually grew to accept. It must be “a boy thing.”
Now that I’m working in a middle school, I find myself hearing a lot about boys who are mean to girls. There are boys who shove girls in gym class, insult them in front of the entire class, take their phones, or French-lock their lockers (turn their locks the wrong way, making it near impossible to get into their lockers). Many times, groups of girls congregate in my office, asking why boys are so stupid and do the things they do. And almost every time, their friends or I will suggest that it’s the boy’s way of expressing their crush.
Recently on Facebook, videos and posts have been circulating about the harsh physicality that boys show to girls when they have a crush. One particular post made me pause. It said “Don’t tell your daughter that when a boy is mean or rude to her it’s because he has a crush on her. Don’t teach her that abuse is a sign of love.” A person then responded, “A million times YES. Do not spread that bull. There is NO love in abuse.”
Reading that post really hit me.
Every time I tell one of my girls that a boy did something mean because he has a crush on her, I am validating the boy’s behavior. I’m saying it’s okay. I’m saying that it’s “a boy thing” and that they will eventually grow out of it. But that’s the thing: Not every boy grows out of it. A lot of them do, I’m sure, but some don’t. Some take that belief of “it’s okay to be mean because that’s how I should be showing a girl I like her.” And then there are some girls who go through life thinking that “it’s okay if he’s mean to me; that’s just how boys are.”
I always thought by telling these girls that a boy is acting that way because he likes her, she will be flattered. She will look at boys’ behaviors differently. I never thought that I would unconsciously be implying that boys can treat girls poorly, and it’s okay.
I think about the people that I know who have been in physically or emotionally abusive relationships. So many times, I have heard people say that they “deserved” the abuse; they antagonized their significant other or “nagged” them after a bad day. Some people say that they took someone for better or worse, and that the “worse” part is now. Others say that this is just the way their significant other is.
Would I be able to look at them and say “Oh, it’s just his way of showing that he loves you?” Or “Don’t mind her, she’s just being a typical girl?’
Of course not.
But here I am, talking to my middle school students, excusing people’s behavior because it may be the way they show affection.
That post on Facebook was a huge wake-up call for me. It showed me the power that my words can have, and how carefully I need to choose my words. It also emphasized the point that cruelty to anyone is wrong, whether it is a joke or not. And I, as an educator and an adult, need to stop excusing it. Boy or girl, no one should be mean to show affection. No one should be mean to others, period.
So the next time that student comes into my office, wondering why another is acting rude to them, I will not tell them that it’s just that person’s way of showing affection. I will not brush it off. I will have a talk with my students about appropriate ways to show affection. I will not allow them to be mean, and dismiss their behavior by saying it’s just a phase, and that it’s okay.
Hopefully, this will help the next generation recognize their worth, their importance, and the kindness and gentleness of love.