It’s Because He Likes You: The Hidden Messages of Childhood
originally published in Hebrew in Parental Choreography on Haaretz.co.il
Yesterday, my daughter came home from school with a note in her bag. It had a beautifully drawn rainbow on it and read “I am sorry I pulled your hair. It must have hurt.”
One of the boys in her second-grade class wanted the seat she was sitting in, so he pulled her hair. When two of her friends reported his actions to the teacher, he apologized and made the note. She said, “They told me why he did it.”
“Why’s that?” I asked. And before she could finish drawing her breath to tell me the supposed reason, the conversation spilled out in front of us.
“Because he likes me.”
“No.” I said.
“He pulled your hair because he has a problem controlling his emotions and his body. He may or may not like you. That has nothing to do with pulling your hair. A person who really likes you will find a way to show you that without hurting your body or your feelings.”
Like a script I had rehearsed thousands of times, it tumbled out of my mouth.
Throughout my childhood, the other version of this conversation happened countless times in our household, following some incident at school that either myself or my sister had gone through. Our parents told us what so many parents tell their daughters. Someone hit you, pushed you, called you a name, dumped your desk, whatever, because they wanted to get your attention. Because they like you.
So many mixed feelings are wrapped into that message. On one hand, it actually did make me feel better. It’s much easier to cope with the initial insult if the motivation behind it is somehow positive. One the other hand, there’s that message is the insidious affirmation that abuse is an acceptable way to express affection. That if someone does something to you, no matter how humiliating or unwanted it is, because they secretly admire you, it’s not such a big deal.
I struggle with this idea of intention versus action. On one hand, intention is, in my eyes, critical. When I work with dancers, we often discuss intention over action. If a dancer is going to approach another dancer on stage, their intention gives the exchange its tone. Where in real life, intention is often invisible, on stage it is flushed out, magnified, plain as sight. Walking over to another person isn’t enough, there has to be a thought behind it, a desire. In dance, because words are scarce, the audience can read the body through intention.
However, in my daughter’s situation, I am inclined to throw intention to the wind. Who cares why someone hurt someone else? If the end result is an aching scalp, does it really matter if it was an act or love or an act of pure aggression? And, if the point of telling a child that they were hurt because of repressed feelings is to soothe them, isn’t it equally affective to simplify things. Is it possible that our message should be, “We don’t know why he did it and it doesn’t matter. No one is entitled to hurt your body?”
When a girl hurts a boy, do his parents say it’s because she likes him? Or is this another watered-down diatribe of the patriarchy, teaching girls to tolerate “boys being boys”?
I believe that pink-washing violence sets our girls up for a life in which they will constantly question if the motivation for being mistreated is good intentions and that, as a result, they will be more likely to accept bad behavior.
By Ori Lenkinski