A highly gendered phenomenon


Anyway, even though I have no immediate plans to out any of the people who put a little sparkle into their drab lives by calling me and some of my friends cunts and manginas and worse than genocidal dictators, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do anything at all. Nuh uh. I’m going to go on kvetching and nagging, like the other women bloggers who have decided no thanks, not having any more of that.

I’m going to call your attention to the AAUW report on sexual harassment in schools, for instance. I’m going to quote from it.

Girls were more likely than boys to say that they had been
negatively affected by sexual harassment—a finding that
confirms previous research by AAUW (2001) and others.
Not only were girls more likely than boys to say sexual
harassment caused them to have trouble sleeping (22
percent of girls versus 14 percent of boys), not want to go
to school (37 percent of girls versus 25 percent of boys),
or change the way they went to or home from school (10
percent of girls versus 6 percent of boys), girls were more
likely in every case to say they felt that way for “quite a
while” compared with boys. Too often, these negative
emotional effects take a toll on students’ and especially
girls’ education, resulting in decreased productivity and
increased absenteeism from school (Chesire, 2004). Thus,
although both girls and boys can encounter sexual harassment
at school, it is still a highly “gendered phenomenon
that is directly and negatively associated with outcomes
for girls” (Ormerod et al., 2008).

It’s not harmless. It’s not just “how it is.”

Many of the students who admitted to sexually harassing
others didn’t think of it as a big deal (44 percent), and
many were trying to be funny (39 percent). Only a handful
of students who harassed others did so because they wanted
a date with the person (3 percent) or thought the
person liked it (6 percent). Thus, sexual harassment does
not usually appear to be a misunderstanding. Few harassers
see themselves as “rejected suitors,” and many appear
to be misguided comedians or simply students who are
unaware, or unwilling to recognize, that their actions
may bother others. These findings suggest that prevention
efforts need to address when humor crosses the line and
becomes sexual harassment. Moreover, for some students,
understanding that sexual harassment can indeed be a big
deal for other students is a necessary first step.

Of course, for the ones who do it precisely because they do understand that it’s harmful, it’s more difficult to know how to improve their thinking. What’s a school to do? Sit them down and look them in the eye and say “why are you so determined to be a malicious piece of shit?” Well no. I don’t know what they can do though.

Comments

  1. says

    What’s a school to do? Sit them down and look them in the eye and say “why are you so determined to be a malicious piece of shit?” Well no. I don’t know what they can do though.

    Are you sure they can’t do that? Or shouldn’t?

    many appear
    to be misguided comedians or simply students who are
    unaware, or unwilling to recognize, that their actions
    may bother others.

    But not a majority, if I read the stats right. Looked at another way, 56% knew it was a big deal, 61% were not misguided comedians trying to be funny, and 94% did not think the person liked it.

    Those are depressing numbers, but do jive with personal experience, especially that last one.

  2. ad hominum salvator says

    “A lot of other students have told us that you’re not well liked.”

    Start there, even if it’s not true. It’s a good opener, really gets their attention.

  3. naturalcynic says

    Perhaps it would be a good time to introduce the bullies to the names Harris, Klebold and Columbine High School. It seems that most of the school shootings that occurred a decade or so ago came after periods of severe harassment of the shooters.
    There can be dire consequences.

  4. says

    I’d suggest you deal with the little shits harshly. One warning, then expulsion and criminal charges. All perfectly legal.

    And, uh, parents? Parents have gotta realize that kids act differently in school than they do at home, sometimes drastically different. Also that, uh, if your kid is accused, even once, of bullying or harassment, it’s time to take a good close look at your home environment — chances are, the kid’s learning some (if not all) of it from YOU.

    I know, everyone wants to think that their kid is perfect, and be assured that they’re doing All the Right Things as a parent. And I, I get that, it seems to be part of the whole “protect my cubs at all cost” thing that evolution and instinct gave us. It provides a distinct advantage to the species’ survival, to protect the cubs and thus, protect the future. I guess the problem, um, lies more in the tendency to be biased in favor of our own (or closely related) offspring, and thinking “my cub would never (insert Bad Thing here).” It, it’s… I don’t know if it’s a bug or a feature, or just a really buggy (and poorly implemented) feature, but whatever it is, it is. Humans have a knack for believing in (and rationalizing and justifying) some really weird (and truly horrifying) shit, like a cracker literally becoming the flesh of your god, or that people can return from the dead after three days, or that Atum/Ra masturbated the universe into being, or that God wants you to abuse your children and call it discipline. (See? Bizarre!)

    Um, I guess what I’m trying to say is that, over all, bullying and harassment are Serious Business, and should not be brushed off with a “not my kid.” Even if you think your kid could/would never engage in bullying behaviors, it’s worth the time and effort to sit them down and really talk about it. And not just a one-off “let’s talk about bullying” thing, I mean, make it an ongoing thing, where your kid can be comfortable coming to you with their troubles.

    Aaand I’m rambling — shutting up, now.

  5. emily says

    It doesn’t end in high school, either. I’m an undergrad, and one of the PhD candidates took it upon himself to tell the whole world that I “fuck everyone.” I reported it to his superiors, and they took it seriously, and dealt with it according to my wishes. He’s since gone to a different institution, thankfully. The punchline is, he was studying moral philosophy. How can a supposedly smart person be so stupid?

  6. says

    What’s a school to do? Sit them down and look them in the eye and say “why are you so determined to be a malicious piece of shit?” Well no. I don’t know what they can do though.

    That’s the first mistake: Don’t think about what schools can do to stop the harrasment, think about what they can do to keep the harrasment from ever starting.*
    I know weR’e all very fond of science and education and having kids who know a hell lot of stuff so they can skip their freshman year, but that is a very narrow perspective on education.
    To quote one of my own teachers: “First and formost I don’t teach a subject. I teach children.”
    Education focuses too much on things you can meassure and test and mark and that is wrong.**
    Sure, you can’t put a grade to “being a decent person”, but isn’t that much more important than knowing the square root of 256?
    So, positive ideas:
    -Real, decent sex-ed from kindergarten onwards. Teach them their body parts, to feel comfortable in their bodies, take away the shame and the stigma. Teach them about sexual harrasment and boundaries and respect.
    -Class councils and social interation classes. If there’s an pressing matter stop whatever you’re teaching and deal with it. They’re not going to learn much anyway if their mind is on something completely different. Create an atmosphere in which students dare to come forward and in which you deal with the issue constructively. If the wrongdoer is the centre of negative attention of 20+ people, they become the victim.
    You might think that that’s only fair, but all it does is satisfy a desire for revenge, not stop further harrasment.

    And, uh, parents? Parents have gotta realize that kids act differently in school than they do at home, sometimes drastically different. Also that, uh, if your kid is accused, even once, of bullying or harassment, it’s time to take a good close look at your home environment — chances are, the kid’s learning some (if not all) of it from YOU.

    The opposite is true, too. Kids who are assumed to be trouble-makers will be trouble-makers.
    Kids look for roles to fit in, and if ou offer them the position of pain in the ass, they’ll take it. Make teachers aware of that, of their own biases. And don’t assume automatically that the kid hitting is the guilty one.

    Sorry for the tealdeer, I hope it was at least a constructive one

    *That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do anything once it has started.
    **Not to mention (OK, that’s a rethorical lie, I do mention it) the research on how pretty unreliable and absolutely not objective marks are

  7. Beth says

    Schools could start by stopping closing their eyes and pretending these things don’t happen if they don’t see them. Not many students are going to play grab ass in front of Teacher. No, they’re more likely to do it behind the teacher’s back or when the teacher is out of the room. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of student witnesses or even that the offender won’t admit it if asked. (After all, if they think it’s funny, admitting it would be hilarious.) But I won’t get into my own issue of “I didn’t see it, therefor it doesn’t exist”.

    Seventh grade, 12 or 13, is pretty young, but I think this kind of behavior ought to be nipped in the bud, treated like it’s the serious offense that it is from the beginning. In seventh grade, there was a boy in one of my classes who sat beside me in the next row of desks. He made it his practice to sit down and “stretch”, aiming to touch my chest. Now and then, he’d reach his goal but usually I swatted his hand away. One day the teacher caught me doing this and asked me what was going on. I exclaimed, “He’s trying to touch my breasts!” and went on to say he did this most every day. It was clearly true by his expression and stammer. His only “punishment” was to move his desk back into the row where it began, inches further away. There wasn’t so much as a stern talking to.

    Is it any wonder, then that two years later, I was sexually assaulted and threatened with rape on school grounds in full view of teachers? I didn’t know what the guy did was sexual assault at the time, but I did describe everything that happened. The offending party admitted it and his actions earned him 3 days in-school suspension and he had to write me a worthless apology (Really? “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said I would rape you.”) and saw the school counselor a couple times a week for a month.

    I think that schools need to teach about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. I didn’t know what was what as a victim; I find no reason to believe that offenders would know what’s what any better. I really do believe these things should be explicitly taught to age-appropriate levels, even re-taught every year or two until it’s one of those things the students think is a bore and can recite the points in their sleep. It should be known that deeply, imo.

    I also think the penalties for such offenses should be explicit from the very beginning, something told to all students and materials sent to all parents/guardians. Not only consequences at school but any potential legal involvement. I do not believe sexual assault or rape should be handled internally. (If such offenses don’t merit expulsion from the school system, they surely merit removal from the school in question.)

    I think there should be some kind of victim’s rights. For instance, if anyone is to change classes, the victim should not be required to. I think every reasonable effort should be made to make victims feel safe, so as to minimize how much such offenses impact their education. Of course, actually doing something about the offenders would go a fair way.

  8. mmmkay says

    The biggest reason I will never go to a high school reunion is I’m too afraid I will walk straight up to one of the boys that made my life hell and punch him square in the nose. Sexual harrassment harmful? You bet. It’s been over 30 years and I’m getting pissed off just thinking about it.

  9. Pteryxx says

    -Class councils and social interation classes. If there’s an pressing matter stop whatever you’re teaching and deal with it. They’re not going to learn much anyway if their mind is on something completely different.

    Really, really good point, and one that might give traction to the idea among education professionals.

    I think that schools need to teach about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

    Seconding all of that. Most teachers and education professionals don’t know a darn thing about sexual harassment either (nor do they care). I’d suggest making a block of courses on sexual harassment and gender issues a required part of education degrees at the college level. And schools and high schools should have staff training with regular refreshers, just as workplace safety training is done. These could be formal requirements for funding or certification.

  10. Zugswang says

    One of the biggest problems we have to deal with at university is various forms of bigotry. I remember, as a resident assistant, having to send one of my residents to a punitive “diversity training” session because he kept telling really off-color racist jokes, and used “n*****” like it was a conjunction. More than just about everyone else on the floor being uncomfortable with him, his roommate was black.

    Initially, the immediate instinct is to say, “We don’t need someone like this at our university.” The problem with that is, this guy wasn’t malicious, he really didn’t see anything wrong with what he was doing, and he wondered why people were making such a big deal out of it. It does no good to punish someone who doesn’t even understand why he’s being punished in the first place. He was a product of his upbringing, raised in a bone-white small town in Kentucky. Being that this attitude was so ingrained, the only thing he learned from was to mind his language. He still had all the same biases as before (he confessed as much to me later), he simply didn’t express them openly. A few hours of diversity training wasn’t going to overturn 18 years of social conditioning. Developing real empathy (or, at least letting go of some of the more grossly outmoded ways of thinking) took a lot longer, but after a couple of years, I noticed he was making much different company than he was as a freshman.

    No one ever had a “Eureka!” moment listening to someone from Student Relations give a powerpoint presentation on the vices of bigotry, but it does set the baseline for what attitudes and behaviors will not be permitted in the community. Continually fostering this kind of welcoming environment eventually allows people to move from proximate explanations (this is unacceptable) to more ultimate explanations (it’s wrong because…) that fundamentally change peoples’ paradigms.

    Some people are malicious and terrible people, and some people will stubbornly refuse to change. For those wonderful few, expulsion would be a last resort, not some arbitrary “three strikes and you’re out” solution that is applied universally.

  11. Pteryxx says

    Well, one possible benefit to having required diversity training is that no specific person or department “has a problem”. It might also help if training slightly increases the likelihood that someone speaks up across the entire population. The bigoted behavior shouldn’t be confronted only during the training session itself.

  12. says

    They’re not going to learn much anyway if their mind is on something completely different.

    This is why harassment is a recognized civil rights issue in the U.S. It differentially effects access to education.

  13. Zugswang says

    Pteryxx:

    Very true, and many universities already have such programs in place not just for faculty and staff, but for incoming students, as well (all the schools I’ve attended or worked, at a minimum, have generic diversity training, while employees receive more formal discrimination and harassment training during their orientation).

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