Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sex and the Classroom

Seems that suddenly sexual harassment and sexist bullying in schools is being taken seriously in some quarters. I hadn't really thought about it until now, at that age I was rather preoccupied dealing with the abuse I was getting at home (which I'm sure made me an easy target, but so what what - easy targets deserve to be bullied no more than anyone else). But thinking back sexual harassment happened a lot when I was at school. When I was about 12 I remember boys in my class making sexual remarks to me and pretending they were aroused by me as a way of teasing me. At 13 I had moved on to upper school and there was a boy, older than me who sometimes followed me around and grabbed my bum. When I turned on him and demanded he stop he denied that he was doing it and ridiculed me for "thinking he might fancy me" (I didn't - I thought he was trying to upset me). Like Cath I told no-one. I was far too embarrassed about it - but also I didn't know it even really counted as bullying and I certainly didn't know that anyone would deal with it without humiliating me in the process.

And sexist bullying - well it's hard to know what was sexist and what was just "regular" bullying but certainly it was a fairly constant feature of school for me. Getting punched and kicked and pushed around and screamed at by boys was what happened at school. I was bullied a bit by girls too so it's hard to draw a line but of the four bullies I remember the most vividly, three were boys.

Some of the stories coming out in the documentary and recent surveys do seem to me to suggest the problem is growing and I can't help thinking of course it's growing - school boys these days have access to Lad Mags, to internet porn and to a much wider standard of sexism in the media. Hey if Jonathan Ross and Jeremy Clarkson do it on national TV - why can't I?

Photo by Ian Britton from

1 comment:


The issue of pre-teen and teenage boys sexually harassing and even sexually assaulting pre-teen and teenage girls is not a new problem. It has been around for decades. However, now younger and younger boys are engaging in even more sexually explicit acts of sexual violence against girls. There was a period during what is called 'second wave feminism' when this issue was recognised and it was challenged.

Now, of course we have the so-called post-feminist era and the issue of boys sexually harassing girls within the school environment is a non-issue. That is apart from Womankind who have been working on this issue for a number of years with some considerable success. More details are available at their website.

But, we need to look at how popular culture teaches both girls and boys that male sexual harassment and male sexual violence against females is 'sexy, cool, hot and of course a harmless activity.' Popular culture alone is not responsible for the rise in boys sexually harassing girls but it certainly reinforces and condones a very narrow perspective of how 'real males' are supposed to enact their masculinities. Likewise girls too receive a constant barrage of messages that the only appropriate way to be 'girl' is by turning oneself into a male's sexualised commodity.

If both girls and boys only receive one narrow patriarchal message it is not surprising so many boys enact this behaviour and so many girls believe there is nothing they can do to challenge such behaviour.

What will happen when these boys reach adulthood - well given their behaviour will not have been challenged what prevents these boys from continuing to enact their so-called male sexual privileges and misogyny on adult women. Likewise girls growing into adulthood will believe there is nothing they can do to challenge such attitudes because culture continues to condone, justify male behaviour whilst simultaneously blaming women and girls for men's and boys' misogyny and sexual harassment.