Let’s stop saying “He probably likes you”
The message we give to young girls that “he probably likes you” as an excuse for poor behaviour, gives boys early permission to act as they wish with no consequences
How many times have little girls been told that when they complain that a boy pulls their hair in school or are mean to them, it’s because they have a crush on them? The response “he probably likes you” is common and then followed by “it’s his way of showing it”
This tweet caught my eye.
Never tell a little girl that when a boy is mean or rude to her it’s because he has a crush on her. Don’t teach her that abuse is a sign of love.
— Mohamad Safa (@mhdksafa) September 28, 2022
Lost learning opportunities
There are a number of lost learning opportunities from inappropriate behaviour that girls carry with them into womanhood:
- It is an acceptable way to show affection: We are inadvertently normalising and behaviour from a very young age. We are suggesting that meanness and even abuse is an acceptable way of way of showing affection.
- Boys need to learn to identify their emotions and share them appropriately: Layer on the additional element that even though someone feels something, it’s not always OK to act on it. It should come as no surprise, based on these unhealthy early experiences, that in the U.S. teen girls and women report violence in their dating relationships at three times the average national rate. When we brush off this inappropriate behaviour as an acceptable way of getting attention, we lose the opportunity to teach boys a valuable life lesson around how to express their emotions in a healthy way.
- Boundary setting: When we dismiss this behaviour with the words “he probably likes you” we also lose an opportunity to teach girls about boundary setting. We don’t show them that it’s OK to remove yourself from a situation they don’t feel comfortable with and the problem lies with the perpetrator. It is acceptable to refuse to play, hang out with that person or at later date, so young girls learn that hurtful behaviour whether emotional or physical is not part of a healthy relationship.
- Not all relationships are romantic: Saying “he probably likes you” also suggests that any friendship between boys and girls is romantic. The are many ways for boys and girls and women to interact as friends, classmates, neighbours and later as workplace colleagues.
- Trust their own judgement: girls need to learn to trust their own judgement. If a behaviour makes them feel uncomfortable they should be allowed to own that feeling and speak up about it. They do not deserve to be placated or brushed off. In later life, this surfaces as “he didn’t mean anything by it” and “it was just a joke.”
Worth a read: Male Allies – Knights in Shining Armour or Reducing Accidental Sexism?
Long term impact
That morphs as they get older into “frenemy” good girl / bad boy tropes, frequently seen on teen shows and movies. Think Beauty and the Beast, Breakfast Club and Grease. And then a stage further of adult women being attracted to men who treat them badly, thinking that they can “win them over “ and true love change them.
The message we give to young girls that “he probably like you” as an excuse for poor behaviour, gives boys early permission to act as they wish with no consequences, whether in the classroom, or meeting room. Instead of embedding these stereotypes at such a young age use the situations as learning experiences where girls and boys learn to express their authentic emotions.
3Plus can help make your office an equal space for both genders with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.