Orlando Sentinel

Teach girls and boys not to be bullies

By Kathleen Parker Published in The Orlando Sentinel on October 13, 1999.

Sometimes it's hard to get past the first paragraph. Here's one that opened my carotid arteries while I was touring MSNBC's Web page one recent morning:

"Violence against women. It's epidemic in this country." (It is?) "And many experts agree, our best hope for curbing it is early intervention -- teaching boys not to be bullies, and teaching girls they don't have to be victims."

Such were the opening salvos in a piece written by Ellen Snortland in promotion of her new book, Beauty Bites Beast, a book about self-defense. Noting the laws of the real jungle, Snort-land says she wants to help women and girls unleash their inner tigress.

I'm all for self-defense. The concept is compatible with some of my other favorites: self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-respect. On the other hand, self-deception bugs me.

Violence against women is epidemic? I don't think so, but in the days when hysteria pervades every discourse, one would be hard-pressed to think otherwise. Young women attending the University of Michigan, for example, were told through a women's services brochure that one in four college women has been a victim of rape or attempted rape.

Honestly, ask yourself: If you thought your daughter had a one-in-four chance of been mauled by some testosterone-crazed beast, would you send her to college?

Even as you ponder that statistic, Washington is busy editing the sequel to the Violence Against Women Act, which has the potential to do more damage to families than to help women who need protection. Although complex, the bill essentially provides a variety of social services, which critics view as incentives to women to make false claims of domestic abuse.

If you want to make a sane man dangerous, accuse him falsely and steal his children.

Clearly, women in abusive relationships need protection, and children of abusive parents need rescuing. But a quick review of the facts shows that children are abused more often by their mothers than by their fathers; male abuse of children more often is executed by boyfriends; women initiate violence in relationships as often as men, though they usually lose in the end.

Nevertheless, the premise of Snort-land's story, reflected in so many others, is that men are inherently bad and women inherently good. Whatreally stopped my breath, though, was Snortland's suggestion that the best hope for curbing violence is teaching boys not to be bullies and girls not to be victims.

I admit, I don't hang with violent men, but I do with boys and girls -- lots of them -- and have yet to observe a preponderance of bullying behavior among boys or many girls who have sworn to victimhood.

The girls in my neighborhood have self-esteem oozing out of their toenails, for which I cheer them; boys, the majority of whom have far less confidence than their female counterparts, are as likely to be bullied by girls -- verbally, if not physically -- as by bigger, stronger boys.

Advancing the message that bully-boys are after victim-girls probably does more to fulfill the prophecy than any so-called educative efforts by the women who occupy Snortland's world. The best we could do for boys and girls is kill the messages that make them antagonists.

Instead of teaching women and girls about their inner tigress, our time might be better invested in teaching both boys and girls not to be bullies. In the process, we might reduce violence against both sexes.

[Posted 10/12/1999 5:34 PM EST]


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