Why I have mixed feelings about teaching my daughters to stand up to boys

Should I teach my daughters to stand up to the boys who will bully them when it could get them hurt?

Should I teach my daughters to stand up to the boys who will bully them when it could get them hurt? Photo: Stocksy

Should I teach my daughters to stand up to the men and boys who will bully and abuse them when it could get them hurt or killed?

At a recent six-year-old's birthday party, I watched two girls playing in a cubby house. Three boys came over and decided they were going to evict the girls.

"No girls allowed," said one boy as he stood menacingly over the girls. The other two boys crowded around the girls for effect.

One of the girls, in fear, did as she was ordered and left the cubby house. The other girl stood her ground. "We were here first, you can't kick us out," she said.

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They weren't my kids so I gently told the boys that everyone was allowed to play in the cubby house.

The boys ignored me, and proceeded to push the remaining girl out of the window of the cubby house. The girl fell flat on her back and screamed in pain.

The boys seemed oblivious to her distress and completely unremorseful. They went on with their no-girls-allowed game in the cubby house.

I took the sobbing girl over to the parents at the party and explained what had happened.

What followed was a neat lesson in how girls are schooled in male power and privilege.

The girl's mother told her that she should have stayed away from the boys. The message to the girl: it was her fault she got hurt because she didn't do what the boys had ordered.

A father of one of the boys laughed and told me that I should have caught the girl as she fell. Call the Father of the Year people now.

There were no consequences for the boys. Their violence was so much an accepted part of their behaviour that it didn't even raise an eyebrow. In fact, the jokey attitude of the father was a nod and a wink that using physical strength to get what you want is to be celebrated.

The message to the boys is that they can hurt girls without any consequence. In fact, hurting them is a great strategy because that's how you get what you want.

Another mother dismissed the entire incident by saying "It's so hard with boys and girls playing together at this age".

To which my response is: NO! IT'S NOT!

This is not an issue of Mars and Venus or oil and water. It's not one of those vexing parenting conundrums where there are two equally valid responses that are mutually contradictory.

It's a simple matter of one response being totally and utterly wrong. It's about parents, who should know better, condoning boys' violence towards girls through their inaction. It's about the mounting body count of battered and dead women that is a direct result of the 'boys will by boys' attitude.

At six, a boy is pushing a girl out of a cubby house because she didn't obey him. What will he be doing at 16? Or 26?

At what point in a boy's life is he going to un-learn the lesson that women are inferior and violence is acceptable?

My six-year-old daughter observed the events at the party and afterwards she said "If I see that happen again I will go up to those boys and tell them that girls are allowed to play anywhere they like."

And I felt like I was going to be sick.

I've made it my mission to teach my daughter to be strong, bold and to stand up against injustice. But I had just witnessed what happens to girls who stand up to indulged and entitled boys.

They get hurt. And when they're older, they get can badly beaten and even killed.

But then I realised that both of those girls were hurt today. The one who cowered in fear to the boys did not get a bruised body but the experience still wounded her.

It robbed her of power, autonomy and dignity. It taught her that the boys are in charge and that girls and women are only welcome in public space when, and under the conditions, that men decide.

The wound of believing that you are undeserving and inferior can cripple you for life.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of Thirty-Something and Over It. What happens when you wake up and don't want to go to work. Ever again. www.kaseyedwards.com