R-E-S-P-E-C-T me and never hit me!

Girls and boys and violence


We need a soul revival to spread the word of Aretha Franklin’s great 1967 hit – one of the first to cross over from black Rhythm and Blues to white pop. Or we need Anna Calvi or Lady Gaga or even Rihanna to do a new cover version of this great anthem. We need it more than ever before because too many girls think they don’t deserve it.

That is the only way to interpret the sad statistic that half of teenage boys think it is ok to hit a girl or force her to have sex. And more than a third of boys actually expect to hit a girlfriend or force a girl to have sex.

On March 5 the government announced that it is extending domestic violence offences to under18s.

This is a positive response to campaigners against men’s violence toward women, and to the evidence gathered both by the NSPCC and feminist activists over the years.

What it tells us is that teenagers’ relationships are no less at risk of violence than adults.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise. But still, it does.  Those statistics provokes a gasp, a spasm of great sadness, and a sudden loss of confidence that the present is surely better than the past, that the future will be more humane and peaceful and that boys will be better and girls will be braver.

Behind those figures there is an expectation of violence; there is the rustle of pessimism among teenagers about the very idea of respect.

For a start, there seems to be a prevailing notion that girls will provoke boys beyond reason, that they will cheat, or cheek and that they will, therefore, deserve those slaps and pushes and kicks.

This is a somewhat different – and more disheartening – worldview from the notion that men and boys are somehow hapless, out of control, or that they are – as it says on the T-shirt – trouble.

It is a view of boys that they are somehow entitled to power in a relationship, and the referee is their pride: injured pride attracts the right to retribution; it is his duty to society and himself to sort her out!

This is not a million miles off the historic defense in cases of homicide -  ‘crime of passion’: he was provoked, his reputation was affronted, and he was therefore, entitled to kill her. Two women are killed every week in Britain by the partners or ex-partners.

Worst of all, the evidence tells us something so dispiriting about our shared ‘common sense’ – the thoughts we have when we are not thinking. It is that we expect boys to be violent and girls to be vulnerable, to be victims.

This won’t do! What young men need is an unyielding zero tolerance of violence, an optimism that masculinity can become non-violent; that intimate relationships will be peaceful. We want to make a break with that historic correlation between masculinity, violence and mastery over women and the earth and everything; and between femininity and victimization.

Let’s go to it sistas, R-E-S-P-E-C-T!




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