Why "It Just Means He Likes You" Is No Excuse

by Eliza Castile

Domestic abuse doesn't happen in a vacuum. It owes itself to a number of cultural as well as personal factors, and as the Australian anti-domestic violence ad "Respect" shows, its roots may reach as far back as childhood. According to Mic, a 60-second television spot released in April by the Australian Department of Social Services shone a spotlight on one of the most harmful lies children are told: That boys bully girls as a sign of affection, and by extension, that girls should be flattered by the attention — until it turns ugly.

The video traces this concept as it evolves from pulling pigtails as a child to physical violence in adulthood, beginning with an incident in which a boy slams a door in a girl's face. "You're OK," her mother says as she helps the girl off the ground. "He just did it because he likes you."

The video jumps to a park, where a child sees her friend chastised for throwing "like a girl," and again to a party, where someone snaps a picture of his peer's cleavage without her consent. Technically, each incident could be worse, but as they build up over time, it's clear how culture is complicit in excusing and perpetuating intimate partner violence.

The mother's words circle around to make another appearance during a couple's fight in a parked car. After the man strikes his partner's car window, she reminds herself, "You're OK. He loves you."

Finally, the video ends with a more traditional scene of intimate partner violence: A man advancing on a woman after pushing her to the floor. As it turns out, the man is the child from the beginning, who suffered no consequences for hitting a girl with a door.

"Violence against women starts with disrespect," the narrator concludes. "The excuses we make allow it to grow."

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, just over a third of Australian women reported experiencing physical violence in the previous year, and the majority of these incidents occurred at home. The United States is home to similar statistics, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and one in seven women report being stalked by a partner to the point where they feared for their own or someone else's safety. (It should be noted that men are hardly the only perpetrators of domestic violence, but the PSA focuses on male-on-female abuse.)

Although no single factor can be considered the "cause" of domestic violence, the PSA makes it clear that larger cultural attitudes towards women are partially to blame for male-on-female violence. Children of both genders are taught to equate physical violence with male affection: Boys suffer few consequences for bullying, and girls are told to excuse their actions because it's boys' way of showing emotion. Is it any wonder that such beliefs translate to domestic abuse in adulthood? As the PSA points out, domestic violence will continue to occur for as long as society excuses the perpetrators and blames the victims.

Check out the video below:

Images: Department of Social Services, Australian Government/YouTube (2)