Sexual harassment can take many different forms, however, all actions are based on the social construction of inherited male power and gender conditioning. Unsolicited and unreciprocated male sexual behavior, directed toward females, is often regarded by some as a normal male practice. Such learned functioning undermines the autonomy of women and girls. This cannot remain unchallenged because it is hurting our daughters and affecting their learning at school.
Sexual harassment occurs in school settings too, between male teacher to female student, male student to female teacher and from student to student. Australian research has shown a dominant school culture where girl’s experiences of sexual harassment are dismissed by male teachers as “boys being boys” and acting out their developmentally appropriate behaviors. A response like this may only actively encourage a culture that expects boys to harass and intimidate girls. Whilst some boys NEVER harass their female school peers, sexual harassment is nevertheless available as a means of exerting their perceived male social and sexual dominance.
Some examples of reported sex based harassment at school are:
• Lifting girl’s dresses with rulers, hands, feet or whatever is available, as the boy walks past.
• “Pinging” girl’s bra straps.
• Pinching bottoms.
• Staring up girls dresses as they walk up the stairs.
• Girls being sexually harassed, abused or put down for getting correct answers or good results in their work.
• Pushing, jostling, touching, feeling or being brushed up against.
• Stand over tactics.
• Sexual propositions.
• Preventing girls from complaining about sexual harassment.
• Calling girls names like moll, slut, smarty pants, idiot, etc.
• Jabbing girls with compasses referred to as penises.
• Chasing girls out of areas that boys perceive as theirs.
• Ridiculing boys by using girls as a negative reference, i.e., “you’re playing/crying/acting like a girl.”
Worldwide educational evidence suggests that sexual harassment of schoolgirls as young as five operates as a way for prescribing female behavior and limiting their participation and choices. Some of these little girls no longer want to go to school because the boys are nasty to them. Appalling!
Since 1993, Sexual Harassment between adult (16+) students in Australian schools has been against the law. I undertook some research in 1995, (“It just shouldn’t happen.” The Sexual Harassment of Schoolgirls by their Male School Peers. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) and found that some female secondary students coped with the harassment by changing subjects or dropping out of school altogether. Nothing ever happened to the boys who continually harassed these girls because the blame was always put back onto the girls – they just didn’t have the emotional resilience to put up with boys being boys. Ummmm!!
What is sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual attention that is offensive, humiliating or intimidating. If both participants enjoy the exchange, it is not sexual harassment.
Why does it happen?
• From the time babies are born, many are treated differently according to their gender. Traditionally, boys have been trained to grow into macho, strong men: leaders. Girls have been encouraged to be sweet, pretty, passive little things: subservient.
• Acts of unwelcome sexual contact directed at women have in the past been viewed as normal male behavior – a genuine expression of desire and appreciation: harmless male interaction. Many people still think this is a normal way for men to behave.
Sexual Harassment is about Power:
• Sexual harassment IS NOT about sex or appreciation, it is about power. A 15-year-old student took a part time job at a take away shop. She was continually hassled by her adult male boss to have sex with him or she would lose her job. One evening as she was putting out the rubbish in the back lane, he tried to rape her. Why would he want to have sex in the rubbish? Because it’s not about having sex, it’s about trying to prove power over.
• Sexual harassment is about males using behaviors, words, touches, text messages, looks, pictures, wolf whistles to display a need for power and control over females.
Sexual Harassment is a gender Based Harm:
• It may sound like I’m picking on males, I’m not. Not all men sexually harass, nor is it only men who do the harassing.
• Statistics report that it is the male that usually does the sexual harassment to females. On that basis, sexual harassment can be called a gender based harm. That is, it happens mostly to females because they are female.
October is Sexual Violence Awareness Month in my part of the world. It’s a great month to start training our daughters not to put up with sexual harassment. Every school will have a Sexual Harassment officer. Report, report, report. End male violence against women and children. Start in your own homes by ensuring that you do not tolerate sexual putdowns of either gender.
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