We need to teach young girls to say 'no'

Sarah Ferguson agrees: "If I've learned anything [after Hitting Home], I've learned we don't blame women for what other ...

Sarah Ferguson agrees: "If I've learned anything [after Hitting Home], I've learned we don't blame women for what other people do to them . . . but I think it has to do with us – as in the messages society gives girls." Photo: Stocksy

We need to teach two year old girls to say no.

If you think that's frightening, you must consider the alternative.

The alternative is what we have now – a nation of women who have been persuaded to believe that motherhood, nurturing, marriage, all that matters much more than personal safety.

There are many many chilling moments in Hitting Home, the work of Sarah Ferguson, Ivan O'Mahoney and Nial Fulton, but the worst is this - over and over again, we hear women say they thought their children deserved two parents. They think their children deserved two parents more than they themselves deserve personal safety.

Advertisement

Isabella Cullen says in episode one: "The last time Ben hit me, my son saw... that's why I'm taking the action." And Sarah Ferguson replies: "You'd do it for your son but not for yourself..."

You'd do it for your son but not for yourself.

Deanne Carson, the chief executive officer of Unique Sexuality Education, insists we must start respectful relationships education at a primary level if we are to do anything at all about violence against women.

"Young women are taught to put relationships and nurturing and not hurting boys' feelings above everything ... girls are socialised to be respectful of other people's feelings ... they are less able to put boundaries in place," she says.

And those boundaries are formed by so much else we do to our young ones. We tell them to kiss grandma, even if they don't want to. We tickle them way past when it would be pleasurable. We ignore them – we their parents – ignore them when they tell us to stop.

No wonder our young girls have trouble saying no. Carson is right when she says we need to teach all children the concept of consent from early childhood. Sounds creepy but what she really means is that kids should have bodily autonomy. Instead, Carson and many others say we teach girls – and not boys – to modify their own behaviours.

Sarah Ferguson agrees: "If I've learned anything [after Hitting Home], I've learned we don't blame women for what other people do to them ... but I think it has to do with us – as in the messages society gives girls."

She believes we tell girls that their roles are nurturers are very important and that marriage is a desirable thing.

"And maybe these things are desirable and children are desirable – but not at any cost.

"But how do we tell women there should be limits?"

Is the image of family spread by television and advertising going too far in spreading the concept of family as the perfect ideal, she asks.

"Somewhere in all our discussion about raising children the idea of the perfect family is really potent."

But Ferguson says there are messages which are much more important.

And these are the messages we must give little girls.

"The first time someone shouts at you in an abusive way, society must encourage you to say, 'You can't do that, no-one does that to me and I won't give anyone a second chance.' "

Great project but hard to achieve in the short term.

Moo Baulch, the chief executive officer of Domestic Violence NSW, is astonishingly optimistic because she says that a younger generation doesn't have the same set of beliefs.

"I think our hope lies in the future," she says.

Like Carson, she agrees that much of the cure lies in education. Carson's target is two year old girls (and of course many others), Baulch says we must have conversations with nine year old boys (and of course many others), with clear messages about gender inequality.

"We need whole of school approaches which extend into the whole community; and leaders need to lead, in our workplaces, in our friendship groups, in our ethnic communities."

The final episode of Hitting Home was followed by a special Q&A. The very last question was about the future.

Max Fisher, a high school student, asked: "What can we, as a young and future generation, do to ensure these attitudes do not become ingrained in our lives?"

Baulch said: "I think we can shift this within a generation with well-funded school programs ...

"We know what works ... we know what the government needs to fund, we know what we need as a society to get to the next bit ... we need some money put it."

Follow me on Twitter @jennaprice or email jennapricejournalist@gmail.com