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Here’s Why Teaching Boys Not to Hit Girls Is Only Half Right

By on Sep 9, 2014 in Parenting | 25 comments

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Domestic violence is front and center again as news of former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension from the NFL made national headlines. And like many things in the media today, this affects our boys.

Ray Rice

Former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice

In case you haven’t been following the story, Rice was let go by the Ravens and put on ice by the league after TMZ release surveillance footage of the former player brutally attacking his then-fiancé. In the video, Rice is seen punching  Janay Palmer, now his wife, in a hotel elevator. After she is hit, Palmer strikes her head on a railing and is knocked unconscious for several minutes while Rice stares down at her nonchalantly. Although video of Rice dragging Palmer’s lifeless body out of the elevator leaked almost six months ago, the whole ordeal just hit the fan with the release of the video of the actual attack.

While many have debated who is to blame for the assault (yes, seriously), others have used this as a teachable moment about domestic violence.

The White House chimed in with press secretary Josh Earnest issuing a statement about Rice:

“The president is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society,” the released said.

“Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that’s bigger than football – and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it.”

While the statement is a strong rebuke of violence against women, it’s also very questionable. Here’s why:

Firstly, the phrase “a real man” is extremely loaded. Notions of masculinity can be awfully limiting, particularly for boys of color, where far too often the definition of  “a real man” is one fraught with hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual, and oft times misogynistic ideals.

For instance, far too many young boys are taught that “real men” don’t cry, they don’t show weakness, they aren’t vulnerable, and above all else, they’re tough. This has led too many of our boys to assert their “manliness” in unhealthy, and sometimes violent ways.

Don’t believe me? Peep this…

Last year I had the opportunity to interview Baltimore Ravens defensive star Chris Canty for Essence magazine. Canty works with an awesome initiative called “A Call to Men” that champions healthy manhood and works to put an end to domestic violence. One of the biggest obstacles Canty told me he faced when working with young men is getting them to express an emotion other than anger.

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered in my work with young men is teaching them to recognize that anger is a secondary emotion that comes from a place of hurt,” Canty said. “As men, we have a hard time saying we’re hurt. It’s often easier, and even more acceptable, to demonstrate anger. Instead of telling a young man he needs to man up, we must teach him to think differently about what it means to be a man.”

My second issue with the White House’s statement on Rice is the notion that men shouldn’t hit women.

Don’t get it twisted. I agree that men should not hit women, but not simply because they’re women. Instead, men should not hit anyone–male or female–because, as humans, they deserve respect. The same goes for women as well.

Teaching little boys not to hit little girls simply because they are girls reenforces notions of patriarchy and sexism. For those who don’t know, patriarchy is “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” In other words, teaching boys not to hit girls solely because of their gender teaches boys that they are superior to girls and can dominate them if they so choose. See the problem?

If not, watch Tony Porter, of A Call to Men, break it down (what he says at the 5-min mark is VERY powerful):

While many of us teach our sons not to hit girls (because they are girls), I encourage you to take it a step further and teach your boys that they have to respect the basic human rights of others and keep their hands to themselves. Full stop, no matter the person’s gender.

Domestic violence is a serious matter, affecting millions of men and women each year. And though some will always place the onus on the victim to not be victimized in the first place (i.e. questions like, “Why didn’t he/she leave?” or “What did he/she do to provoke the attack?”) let’s raise our sons to respect themselves and others enough to not be abusive in the first place.

Breaking the cycle of violence isn’t easy, but if we gave young men more room to express themselves and taught them to honor the rights and agency of others, perhaps we wouldn’t see so many young men killing each other or themselves.

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25 Comments

  1. Berdina Juarez

    September 9, 2014

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    Love love your article. I totally agree with your thinking and have always had a problem with the term “real men”. And you’re so right. Telling boys not to hit girls only reinforces mens superiority.

      • Ti

        September 10, 2014

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        Sad only a few people would read or listen to this, and less than a few who see this truth will practice or tell it to other fellas.
        You won’t really hit yourself, best friend or immediate family member(s) for any reason, would you?

    • Candace Laughinghouse

      September 11, 2014

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      Yes, I love your work. I do am not raising brown boys. I have two beautiful brown girls who will someday marry brown boys. I feel it is my responsibility to understand the struggle for all of our children. Of course, I think some of your work is helpful to understanding anything my husband might have experienced as a child. I’m trying to get him to blog about an experience he had as a 12 yr old in a rural town of NC where he was falsely accused of something and forced on a year’s probation as a juvenile. All of this because a white teenager gave his description to get out of some trouble. Your work is so necessary! Again, thank you.

      • John

        September 11, 2014

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        Your seem very hung up on race and something that happened years ago. If he doesn’t want to talk about it,let it go. I could fill a page on what racism I experienced being a white kid in a mostly black neighborhood. It only spreads hate.

        • Britni

          September 12, 2014

          Post a Reply

          People sharing their experience isn’t being “hung up on race,” particularly when racism–and more importantly systematic racism–very much still exists.

          Racism won’t go away because we ignore or just stop talking about it.

      • David

        September 23, 2014

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        I have to wonder why you are so sure your girls will “marry brown boys”? Shouldn’t they have the choice of marrying whomever they choose?

        • Britni

          September 30, 2014

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          Umm….not sure what you’re talking about. Everybody has a choice, but this site is about brown boys, so….yeah.

    • Robin M

      September 11, 2014

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      Love this article there was nothing I didn’t agree with and its great to see a different perspective ! already ready to have sons and teach them to be respectful to everyone.

    • ben

      September 28, 2015

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      I remember when I was 5 a girl was beating up my friend and he wasn’t doing anything. She was pulling his hair and swinging him around. I picked up some sand and threw it right in her eyes and picked him up, telling him he has to defend himself. She cried and learned her lesson about hitting boys. Why was she hitting him and he not doing anything? Because they were confused.

  2. DeNay

    September 10, 2014

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    I so agree with the article. A co-worker and I who both have son’s were having the same discussion during our luch break. She commented that when she was younger and did not have a handle on her emotions she knew she could get away with hitting men just because she knew because she was a female they weren’t going to hit her back. Now that she has a son she see’s things in a completely different light. I myself have four daughters and one son, and I try to strongly reinforce to all of them the importance of respecting people as person. I try to communicate to my two oldest daughters who are dating age the it is important to treat the yound men they say the like with respect, and to learn how to treat them. I recently had an incident where my son was slapped by one of his female classmates, and to say I was livid is an understatement. When the school called me the principle remarked that my son had done nothing to warrant the attack, and she commended him for not retaliating. The young lady was suspended for the assault on my son, but in the back of my mind I still wonder if he had hit her would he have gotten just a 2 day suspension, or would he have been arrested and been given a more severe punishment. I do in no way condone violence against women, but I also do not condone violence against men as well. I agree we must teach both our sons and daughters to respect people in general, period.

  3. Winston

    September 11, 2014

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    I think your article, while written with good intention and positive morals, is only half right as well (pun not intended). Insofar that your article’s scope is extending past the incident, it should therefore offer an holistic overview. Truth is, in all circumstances, as you said, nonviolence should be the default method to combatting any issue. But if an aggressor is persistent (don’t misconstrue my words to say that Rice’s wife was an aggressor; my scope is general, as was this article’s) then it is acceptable and rightfully encouraged for a true man to defend himself, and certainly his woman’s honor. I don’t agree with this relativist notion that every man is a real one. That lowers the standard of our society. Rather, the ability to defend the honor of one’s self and his loved ones is a trait of, indeed, a true man.

    • Britni

      September 11, 2014

      Post a Reply

      Hey Winston,

      Sounds like you’re talking about self-defense? I think people should protect themselves, but of course, one part of self-defense is getting away from your attacker if possible, not JUST hitting back (or taking some other physical action).

      As to the definition of a “real man”…how would you define it?

  4. john

    September 11, 2014

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    The statement, is only a quarter correct. Men should not hit men, men should not hit women, women should not hit men, and women should not hit women.

    • Britni

      September 11, 2014

      Post a Reply

      I agree. Men should not hit anyone, and women shouldn’t either (I covered that, no?).

      Thanks for reading & sharing!

  5. Musique's Poetry

    September 11, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Great article. I agree. Don’t tell your son not to hit a young lady simply because of gender, but it should be out of respect for their human rights and not to seem superior.

  6. John

    September 11, 2014

    Post a Reply

    I agree with this article and perspective. I find terms like…”boys of color” offensive as it tells White Americans that you are excluded and not really on the same par, since you don’t have color. I know this is not what is meant in this story, but many do use it to show superiority or preference in writings often. If you mean Black, then say Black.

    • Britni

      September 12, 2014

      Post a Reply

      Well…this site isn’t about white folks, or white kids, or even girls. It’s SPECIFICALLY about boys of color–which means Black, Latino, Asian, Native American–basically any person who is not white.

      People of color are often excluded from “mainstream” spaces, which really means “white.” This is our space. You’re welcome to read and stop by, but BrownBoyGenius isn’t about affirming white folks.

  7. andre C

    September 12, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Great article, and great point that has been made too infrequently: “Don’t hit anyone! Outside of self-defense”

    But another way to parse the “real men don’t hit women”, is this, How about NO MATTER what your definition of “a real man” is…. then INCLUDE THE RULE TO “not hit women”

    How’s that?? Now everyone can be happy. NO MATTER where you are on the spectrum of gender opinions, issues, feelings, beliefs, simply make sure your definition of a “real man”, a definition YOU ARE ENTITLED TO, includes in it: “don’t hit women”. (setting aside for a moment the point made that we shouldn’t hit ANYONE.

    But I’m nervous when a sentence meant in COMPLETELY the right way, is parsed and picked apart with our PC glasses on. Really getting tired of how much time the American left spends on being language police…..and I say that, looking at the Argentinian left, the Icelandic left, the German left, the Dutch left, the British left…and on and on and on and on, who get to THE GOALS faster in progressivism…by maybe not spending quite as much time parsing EVERY FRIGGIN’ WORD…….I’m not saying we don’t discuss words and their meaning, but….

    • Britni

      September 13, 2014

      Post a Reply

      I would agree with you about being only PC if the phrase “be a man” didn’t hold so many limiting ideals of masculinity, which often include marginalizing women. Because usually, we tell boys to “man up” and “stop acting like girls (or the b-word).”

      I think the videos in the post really hammer this idea home.

  8. Woodie

    September 14, 2014

    Post a Reply

    I have a black boy 12 years old. His father and I am teaching him to never hit a girl or a woman. You are right that the larger message would be to have overarching respect for all people including other males and hit no one at all. But, back in reality, boys face a lot of threats and often don’t really have the option of showing respect/walking away/ etc. without being hurt themselves. My son has been taught repeatedly that he does not fight but he should defend himself. Which he knows translates to having to put someone down on the playground if that person is bullying or threatening or harassing him. To date I only know of one fight he has been in and that was back in 2nd grade. A girl instigated it by pushing another boy, my son jumped in to the fray to protect this girl his friend and punches were thrown. The two boys were punished at school, because so many witnessed the blow by blow, their punishment was light. They are now great friends. The girl who started it received no repercussions and didn’t even thank the boy, my son, who took up for her. Telling boys or anyone else to never hit anyone is ideal albeit unrealistic advice. And I want my son to defend himself and his loved ones if necessary. Lastly, a “real man” is a man who is conscience of himself, mature, knows how to pick and choose battles and handles his responsibilities both personal and towards family, friends and co-workers. My son’s dentist hurt him during an exam and my son cried. The dentist chased us down the hall and whispered to my son “Boys don’t cry.” Needless to say, that dentist was fired.

  9. random person

    November 5, 2015

    Post a Reply

    THANK YOU!! that’s exactly how I feel! (And I’m a girl by the way)

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