No world in which children should feel intimidated on their way home
Warning to readers: This letter contains strong language.
On Tuesday Nov. 3 four kids left school and began their walk to the [Wakefield] community centre. For two of the girls and the boy … this right of passage into big-kid had become old hat: balance on the railroad ties while debriefing on the day; pause at the bridge for a look over the edge; get serious and concentrate long enough to cross the road to pick up some Nerds at Wen’s; wait for your lift home, while downing the processed sugar and colouring agents at the skatepark...
For the third and youngest girl – the one being chaperoned on this particular occasion – this was a special day: her first walk to the centre without an adult. Except that the walk turned out to be anything but special.
Five [older] boys decided that they would follow the girls. Four of them took turns calling the girls "hoes," "pussies" and "sluts." They cheered each other on, as they composed ever-more elaborate sentences involving “dicks” and “vaginas.”
The [younger] boy was teased for having female friends — surely they must be his girlfriends.
Pleas for the boys to stop went unheard. Bystanders turned complicit.
The youngest girl assured her youthful wardens that she had heard all those words before, but said she feared for one of her older friend’s physical safety.
One affected parent put it succinctly:
“If it were just a bunch of kids telling each other to ‘eff off,’ it wouldn't be great, but not exactly abnormal. If it were kids telling each other they're stupid or kicking dirt at each other or whatever… again, not great. But this wasn't that. This was a group of [older boys] going after [younger] kids. This is a group of boys calling girls ‘bitch, slut, whore.’”
There is no world in which our sons or daughters should feel intimidated on their way home from school. There is no world in which a little girl should expect or accept such words levied against her by anybody, much less older boys. There is no world in which I, as a parent, should be left explaining to other parents that this was a textbook example of gender-based violence – a manifestation of power imbalance tilted in favour of men that characterizes many, mostly patriarchal, cultures around the world – and pleading with them to take the matter seriously, and to engage in deep reflection and learning with their sons.
But that’s just what happened and the moment for learning is fading. So I felt compelled to put it on the record here.
Gender-based violence does not require intent or knowledge. It is an assault on another person’s humanity and dignity in order to inflate one’s own sense of power.
There is always a perpetrator and there is always a victim, even if they’re still in grade school.
Until we can all work together – as parents, educators, community members – to create an environment in which there is no excuse for gender-based violence of any kind, the possibility that one kid’s walk home prevents another from doing so in dignity and security cannot be ignored.
Parents, educate yourselves, talk to your kids.
In the coming weeks, a group of concerned parents will be organizing free workshops on positive masculinity for dads and sons, and on self defence for moms and daughters. This will be a safe space for all.
A concerned parent