‘You need to stop playing with him so he doesn’t hurt you,’ my friend told my five-year-old daughter.
Up to that point, my daughter had been play-fighting with my friend’s son. The play-fighting had gotten progressively rougher when my friend felt the need to intervene.
It was a small moment, but it’s a microcosm of the different ways we socialise girls and boys. The message to both children was that girls are responsible for boys’ behavior. If the boy had hurt my daughter, it would have been her fault because she didn’t prevent it.
This pattern of making girls responsible for boys’ behaviour extends way into adulthood. Blaming domestic violence victims for their abuse because they didn’t leave the violent man is the grown-up version of this thinking.
Blaming girls and women for their rapes because of the clothes they wore or the alcohol they consumed, and considering the male perpetrators to be victims of temptation or boys making a silly mistake, is yet another example.
Even in power politics, the same pattern is played out. As Ruby Hamad noted on these pages regarding the anti-burqa campaign, ‘Because men do something wrong, someone, somewhere, will make sure it is women who pay the price.’
Boys learn early and often that they’re not responsible for their behaviour. ‘Sorry, boys are rough,’ says the mother excusing her son’s aggressive behaviour in the playground.