We all make easy excuses – what excuse can you stop?
Boys will be boys.
He only did it because he likes you.
It wasn’t that bad.
We’ve heard these common phrases and off-the-cuff comments before. We probably heard our parents or other adults say them when we were growing up. We may have even said them ourselves from time to time. Without realising, we’re unknowingly excusing disrespectful behaviours in young people.
As adults, we have the biggest influence on what young people think. By calling out and challenging disrespect, we can become part of the solution and stop the cycle of violence towards women.
“Most of us have said things like ‘stop acting like a girl’. It’s important we recognise the negative impact that this type of language has on our young people,” says Jeremy Donovan, a musician and father.
Rose, a 13 year old primary school student, says this kind of language has affected her self-confidence. “I’ve been told by a lot of people that I kick like a girl or I hear other boys tell other people to ‘man up’. And I think that can make people like me doubt myself, or be self-conscious when I’m told that, so it really shouldn’t be happening.”
As influencers of young people, it is important for adults to understand that accepting the use of rigid gender stereotypes reinforces out-dated ideas of how men and women should behave. While it may not be our intention, these comments often have a negative effect on the confidence and self-esteem of young people.
Eight year old Ella has experienced such stereotypes first hand. “Once there was one boy in my class, who when we were playing sport, we were getting into teams and he said he was disappointed because he had the team with most girls in it. That made me feel bad because girls can play sport as well as boys can.”
By making excuses for this kind of behaviour, adults are teaching young people to believe that disrespectful behaviour is sometimes okay.
Lawyer Pallavi Sinha explains it can be easy to dismiss this behaviour, “Sometimes I’ve ignored disrespectful comments thinking that’s just how kids talk. But this language is never ok.”
“A phrase you often hear in schools is ‘boys will be boys’ but this makes girls think they should get used to disrespect,” says Elida Brereton, former school principal.
Fellow teacher Kate Wragge has also witnessed such excuses in the schoolyard. “As a teacher, I’ve see a lot of excuses for poor behaviour…It’s everybody’s responsibility, be it females, males, our elders, our community, non-Indigenous people – everybody. It’s our job to inspire others to talk up.”
As parenting educator Justin Coulson explains, “Excuses we make for disrespectful behaviour like ‘what did she do to him to provoke him?’ can contribute to the cycle of violence.”
“I’ve heard people excuse disrespectful behaviours by saying things like ‘it’s not that bad’ or ‘she’s just being oversensitive because she’s a girl’. That’s never ok,” says Lani Brennan, author and mother.
As influencers of young people, it’s up to us to recognise these excuses when we hear or even say them, to make sure that accepting disrespect doesn’t become a normal part of growing up.
As Leanne Long, teacher says, “We’ve got to talk about [it]. We’ve got to empower our girls to be stronger, to have goals, to know that they can do other things, that that behaviour is not acceptable.”
“If we as adults stop using negative phrases like ‘suck it up princess’, chances are our kids will never even think them,” says Denis Walter OAM, radio presenter.
It’s important we feel comfortable to have conversations with young people about why this behaviour is never okay.
“Our actions will encourage our children’s behaviour in the future. It’s up to us to set the standard, and ensure our children understand what’s acceptable.” Brian Gibson, Gannawarra Mayor.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say, but you don’t have to have all the answers – just be ready to explore topics together. Use the Conversation Guide to help you talk more confidently and openly.