Violence and the child

The importance of realizing the connections in violence

This post dedicated to Stephanie Chaisson, and all victims of violence.

Two things recently happened in the same week, which may initially seem unrelated, but the parallels were striking to me.

On Monday, March 26th, 2012, a woman was gunned down on the west coast of our province by her estranged husband. While an incident of this nature makes our news coverage and then fades from daily thought, please be assured that this is an ongoing problem in every corner of our province. Nor is she is the first woman to be killed by her spouse here. I am not about to draw a hierarchy of emotional abuse to physical assault to death because while sticks and stones break our bones, words devastate and destroy our souls. While even one child lives with a sinking feeling in their gut in anticipation of their father’s arrival, it’s one too many. This issue has been a part of our awareness and concern for several decades but are things any better?

I think for the most part, we can agree as a culture and society that abuse and violence against women and children is not okay. In a VOCM Question of the day asking “Do you think a greater effort must be made to reduce violence against women in today’s society?” most people agreed. Indeed, the criticism to the question was that it was gendered, and shouldn’t we be concerned about making an effort to reduce violence for men as well? Agreed.

While even one child lives with a sinking feeling in their gut in anticipation of their father’s arrival, it’s one too many.

Several days later Torquil Campbell appeared for his regular installment of “Rant or Rave” on CBC’s Q with Jian Gomeshi. He was speaking on fighting in hockey. It was a rant.

“I feel traumatized by it, I feel offended by it, I feel sickened by it, and I look at it and think that’s dysfunction, and it’s deviance and there’s children watching this. And it occurs to me that if you let your seven or eight year-old son watch two grown men try to injure each other like that, you might as well take your eight year old daughter to a strip club. You are enforcing every negative stereotype about their gender. You are telling them that violence is a way to solve problems, it’s a way to express yourself and it’s ugly. And it’s got to stop. And it doesn’t have to stop five years from now, it’s got to stop right now. It’s dysfunctional and deviant and this country celebrates it and we need to stop doing that.

Agreed. Bravo Torquil. Good on you for calling a spade a spade.

…what are you telling yourself about why one form of violence is okay and the other is not?

I ask you stop for a minute and think about whether you agree as well. Formulate, think, contemplate and challenge yourself. If you are in any way dismissive of defensive of fighting in hockey, read it again. What if he wasn’t talking about hockey in this rant but instead domestic violence? Is that violence dysfunctional? Do you support that violence in any way? What about bullying or gay bashing? Deviant? If you are in disagreement with Torquil, what are you telling yourself about why one form of violence is okay and the other is not? If we should indeed be making an effort to reduce violence against all members of our society, how can we encourage, support, and hold up fighting within hockey, and indeed any sport?

Jian responded that violence in hockey is not new. Defenders of the sport might say that it’s part of the culture. Indeed. That’s the point. Violence is engrained and accepted in our cultural understandings of men and women.

Harsh Reality

So why do I care about violence in hockey, and what does it have to do with parenting? Because our children are going to grow up in a world in which violence is normalized- in which their thoughts and feelings and discomforts are minimized. Girls will be told it’s not lady-like to get mad. Boys will be told it’s not manly to cry. Unless – like Torquil says – this stops now, my daughter will be one of four girls to be raped. Personally, I don’t think we have time to waste on this. As a parent I care particularly because 60% of victims of sexual abuse and assault are under the age of 17. Think about that for a moment. Think of your daughter and her three closest friends. Say their names. Which one of them will it be? What effect will it have on the others?

I’m tired of caring about who gets upset about it. It’s not about fighting in hockey per se, rather it’s about what it represents: that violence is fun, enjoyable, a way to solve problems, and a way to make a career profitable. Toddlers and children often hit or thrash out in anger and frustration and as parents we spend a great deal of time helping our children understand that it’s wrong and helping them find other ways to handle their emotions. I’ve never seen a parent sit back happily and remark how that child will be a great athlete, entertainer, or have a successful career by expressing themselves this way. While a parent may shrug and claim that siblings will work problems out by being violent with each other I’ve never seen this supported outside of the sibling group. And probably for good reason.

Boiling Frogs

I once heard that if a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out immediately. However, if the frog is placed in tepid water and the temperature is raised slowly the frog will boil alive. I have not researched the accuracy of these statements beyond the metaphor but I think it speaks for itself.

When our children are exposed to anger, it disturbs them, as Torquil points out. I don’t see why we think this is okay. The same way we acknowledge that other forms of hate are taught or indoctrinated into our children, so is our cultural acceptance of violence, in all its forms. As much as our daughters will be injured by cultural and societal violence, so will our sons. They too will be victims of violence, as they are taught they should suppress their caring and compassion for each other and that it’s acceptable to hurt others with their emotions. Oh yes, I understand that women and girls also have the capacity for violence but to borrow from Gavin de Becker, “the fact is that men in all cultures and at all ages and at all times in history are more violent than women.” It may not be politically correct, but it’s statistically accurate. And I think if we are going to get anywhere with this I am going to join Torquil in calling a spade a spade. If we are going to help our boys and girls carve out a better world for themselves, we owe it to them.

Should our children’s existences be sugar coated and overly protected? No. But there’s enough bad in the world already…

Should our children’s existences be sugar coated and overly protected? No. But there’s enough bad in the world already, and we’ve got enough to combat as parents to keep our children safe without introducing it on purpose. Should we be introducing violence to our children on purpose, flavoured as a fun, normal part of an accepted reality in our country, part of boys being boys and men being men?

Let’s ask Stephanie.

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