Sexual harassment has been highlighted in the media lately and, though I’m glad awareness seems to be increasing, the messages being put out are not great for women.
● Katie Roiphe at the New York Times writes an article dismissing sexual harassment as something too “vague, subjective, slippery” to care about, and says “Show me a smart, competent young professional woman who is utterly derailed by a verbal unwanted sexual advance or an inappropriate comment about her appearance, and I will show you a rare spotted owl.” I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been sexually harassed I was never derailed but I was hurt, embarrassed, nauseated and angry. And it was still harassment.
● Nonprofit research organization American Association of University Women found in a research study that “nearly half” of 7th to 12th graders out of a representative group of 1,965 students have experienced sexual harassment in the last school year. Girls were more likely than boys to have experienced physical sexual harassment, and female students reported that the harassment that bothered them the most were unwelcome sexual comments. Boys stated that the harassment that had the “worst effect” on them was being called gay.
● J. Bryan Lowder at XXfactor weighed in on the above study and missed the point entirely, referring to the harassment as “youthful mistakes” made out of “adolescent ignorance,” and stating that writing on Facebook that a girl is a “whore” [is not] equivalent to molesting her at a party.”
Okay, this sounds a lot like the old “don’t you have more important things to worry about?” derail. The problem here is that when someone finds it necessary to point out that a particular type of harassment is not as severe as other kinds, they – whether they mean to or not – sound dismissive of said harassment. And this dismissal would be a mistake because it’s not just the level of harassment that we should consider, it’s the cause. Minor and severe harassment or assault are manifestations of the same internalized cultural beliefs. Calling a boy gay in a derogatory manner and beating up a gay kid come from the same belief that being gay is wrong. Grabbing girls in the hallways at school and assaulting them at a party come from the same belief that girls exist as sex objects that don’t deserve bodily autonomy. And if we dismiss school harassment as youthful immaturity we miss a chance to teach our kids better values before their behavior becomes even more harmful to others.
● And in case you missed it, Sady Doyle of the excellent blog Tiger Beatdown recently started a Twitter hashtag called #mencallmethings to illustrate the type of gendered abuse women bloggers receive on the internet. Trigger warning for lots of sexist comments, rape and assault threats, and foul language. It’s an interesting window into the types of comments women writers on the internet have to deal with on a regular basis.