Often, our words and actions communicate messages to children without us realizing it. Separating children by gender for play dates, only allowing children to wear certain colors or play with certain toys, and teaching children specific chores all based on gender reinforces harmful stereotypes that allow abuse to permeate in our society.
You can take an active part in combating this culture of violence and inequity by eliminating your use of the following common phrases:
- Man up.
- Stop acting like a girl.
- Boys don’t cry.
- Be a man.
Phrases like this communicate the idea that strength and weakness are essential parts of someone’s sex or gender. These statement imply that men cannot feel hurt or express emotion, preventing them from reaching out if they need help, reporting or seeking help for abuse, or realizing that they are experiencing domestic violence. These statements also cause many men to believe that the only acceptable way to express their emotions is through anger or physical action.
In addition to suggesting that men are incapable of feeling anything but madness, these phrases imply that women are inherently weak, fragile, and sensitive. This implication contributes to the idea that women frequently overreact and allows society to view women as victims.
Finally, one must note the shame these statements place on the value of vulnerability. These statements communicate that being strong only means having physical force or being insensitive. In fact, it often takes the most strength to rely on others and seek help when you need it.
- “He picks on you because he likes you.”
- “Lighten up, he didn’t mean it like that. It was just a joke.””
- “Oh, well. Boys will be boys.”
Each of these phrases use gender to make inappropriate excuses for bad behavior. In each case, they blame the victim of pain and discomfort for “overreacting,” instead of targeting the perpetrator. This allows boys to feel that they do not need to ask permission or respect boundaries, while girls are taught that their boundaries are meant to be disrespected and love is shown through mistreatment.
Instead of raising children and teaching them these ideas, promote the phrase “no means no.” Teach kids that permission is essential to touching or playing with someone, and lead by example: when your child asks you to stop tickling them, wrestling with them, or playing with them, listen.
There are many other phrases to avoid when trying to combat a culture of gender-based violence, but one shouldn’t underestimate the significance of even simple adjectives. For an easy understanding of what we mean, check out HAWC’s six “forbidden” words:
- Bossy. When you call a girl “bossy,” you chastise her for having opinions or a sense of authority. Often, what we view as “bossy” in a girl, we see as “leadership” in a boy. Using words like “bossy” prevents girls from learning how to be assertive.
- Uptight. When you use the word “uptight” to describe a girl, you’re telling girls that they should not have boundaries. Often, what we view as “uptight” in a girl, we see as “mature” in a boy. Using words like “uptight” prevents girls from believing that their “no” is important and should be respected.
- Know-it-all.When you use the word “know-it-all” to describe a girl, you bully them for being smart or expressing their intelligence. Often, what we view as “know-it-all” in a girl, we see as “intelligent” in a boy. Using words like “know-it-all” promotes the idea that women have less intellectual standing or are less attractive when they’re knowledgeable.
- Tomboy. When you use the word “tomboy” or “princess” to describe a girl, you limit them to only one type of identity, shaming them for exhibiting more masculine or feminine traits. Specifically, the word “tomboy” tells girls to stop playing sports, being strong, or feeling comfortable in their own skin.
- Sissy.When you use the word “sissy” to describe a boy, you critique him for expressing emotion and vulnerability. Often, what we view as “sissy” in a boy, we see as “natural” in a girl. Using words like “sissy,” which comes from the word “sister,” communicates the idea that being feminine or associated with females is an insult.
- Real men.When you use the phrase “real men” to describe a boy, you regulate male behavior and tell boys that there is only one way to express their gender. To say “real mean don’t cry,” or “real men don’t wear pink,” you are forcing a boy into harmful masculine stereotypes that promote violent behavior.