I was six years old when the game “Kiss chasey” took over the playground.  Lord knows where children so young had already learned that boys pursued and girls fled, but we played our parts diligently because nobody wanted to be the one left sitting alone in the shade.  It was not until I was trapped by a boy in my class, who blocked me against a fence with an arm on either side of my body, that I realized this wasn’t a game, not really.

 

It may have seemed like the mere mischief of children, but that day was the first time I understood – maybe not explicitly, but viscerally – that to some people, my body did not belong to me.  Not really.

We sexualize children into gender norms before we know we’re doing it.  A baby who smiles at a person of the opposite gender is immediately dubbed by doting adults as a flirt, and when a girl comes home from school crying for the first time because a boy in her class pulled her pigtails or kicked her for no reason, we code it in romance: “He just has a crush on you.” Like that justifies his breach of her body.

And in a way, it does.  We tell kids not to hit each other, but also laugh off the clumsy courtship of children as innocent and adorable.  The subtext in which girls begin to rationalize away the behavior of boys who simply “can’t control themselves” because “boys will be boys” starts here.  Right at that moment.  And it tells boys that they are okay to blame their actions on some unconscious whim, some desire to interact without bothering with the discourse of asking if they can.

We may cringe from the term, but this is what is known as “Rape Culture”, and it means that we, as adults, create an enabling environment in which sexual violation and abuse can take place without significant consequence.

How many of these boys, who learn quickly that their violation of someone else’s body can be exonerated when couched in romance, go on to replicate this behavior in their adult relationships?

How many abusive men justify their abusive actions towards women with the words: “I can’t help it”, or, “You made me do this.”

How many women believe that groping a man’s genitals in a bar without asking is okay, because they believe innately that all men are motivated by sexual contact – any sexual contact?

How many men feel like they are owed sex, simply for playing their part as pursuer?

How many take what they consider “rightfully” theirs from a reluctant, coerced female gatekeeper whom he perceives to have broken the social contract?

Why do we replicate these “Kiss chasey” antics well into adulthood, when our discourse should have – must have – evolved? 

We are in the thick of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, where each day we attempt to deconstruct some harmful reality around the environments that enable abuse – this year, with particular focus on women and girls.  Whilst passion has its place in this campaign, it must be tethered to action.  We must revolt against the unconscious socialization of boys to pursue girls at all costs, and for girls to relent their bodies when the suitor fulfils the impartial criteria… even when she doesn’t want to.

Our girls deserve better, but so do our boys.  Duress has no place in romantic or sexual relationships.  Everybody, of every gender, deserves to experience pleasurable, healthy, and safe relationships.  The next generation is listening and learning.  Let’s teach them something that will pay dividends for a lifetime.

 

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