The message of 'boys mustn't hit girls' is one that was emphasised to me from an early age and it has never quite sat comfortably with me. I found myself asking why we are only taught not to hit girls, while hitting other boys is excusable and arguably, actively encouraged. I believe, and bear with me here, that the mantra of 'boys shouldn't hit girls' is wrong. However, not because of its message, but rather its emphasis. I feel this topic is an important aspect of the feminist conversation that is often misconstrued and needs to be addressed. In the typically warped logic of anonymous internet users, this issue is often used by men in online debates about feminism as a way of counteracting feminist arguments. These men say 'well if you want equality, doesn't that mean I can hit you?' This is a sinister reproach to the promotion of gender equality and it's pretty worrying that some men see women asking to be treated equally as an excuse to physically assault them.
However, what such arguments do is reveal to us the male obsession with violence, something that is taught to and instilled in men from a young age. We teach boys and men to use their fists and this rhetoric needs to change, in order to progress towards equality. Instead of teaching that 'boys shouldn't hit girls', the statement should instead read that both boys and girls shouldn't be hitting anyone. In telling boys not to hit girls, we are implicitly teaching them that it is ok to hit other boys and this is where the problem lies. If we want traditional gender stereotypes of men as brutes and women as damsels to be disrupted and challenged, then we must adjust this message to instead teach that violence against anyone is unacceptable.
Here, I want to stress that violence against women is far too common and is an extremely serious matter, which I would never want to be seen to advocate. I just believe that the conversation could be more effective if its emphasis is shifted to trying to stop violence as a whole. As soon as a child is born and assigned male, they are seen as inherently violent. 'Boys fight, that's just what they do' and 'boys will be boys' are common sayings which perpetuate this myth by falsely passing it off as a natural part of male identity. As a society, we teach men that they can't express their emotions and that they should instead think with their fists. This spreading of the myth that men are incapable of reasoning or rational judgement and must instead resort to physically attacking one another is incredibly damaging on a number of levels. Men who have no desire to fight are labelled as 'pussies' (a gendered insult - shocking) and 'weak', rather than rational people who can think of better ways to resolve issues than throwing punches. Furthermore, the 'don't hit girls' mantra presents women as weak and perpetuates ideas of the damsel, showing women to be delicate creatures, who need to be protected.
Of course, there are a number of arguments and factors to consider here. For instance, partly due to genetics but mostly due to society's beauty standards, women do tend to be leaner than men. This is because men are encouraged to take up as much physical space as possible through endless gym sessions, while women are encouraged to use these same sessions to shrink themselves. I feel, that as a society, we need to look more deeply at violence in general. We are still very much encouraging men to use violence as a way of asserting their dominance and expressing their masculinity, when there are far more positive ways this energy can be channelled. It is a complex subject, as violence will likely always exist and we do still live in a patriarchal society. However, continuing to spread myths about men as violent Neanderthals and women as physically weak damsels will only serve to widen the gap between genders. I am by no means an expert on gender and I am more than aware that as a white cis male, I can never fully understand what it is like to be oppressed. However, I do know that I certainly don't fit the stereotype of the physically strong man. So let's stop promoting violence as a male badge of honour. Instead, let's keep teaching young boys and men that they shouldn't be hitting girls, but also start teaching them that they shouldn't be hitting each other either. As the old saying goes, violence is definitely not the answer.