In the 6th grade there was this boy who took it upon himself to test my boundaries. Nearly every afternoon, as the bell rung, I would find myself running for the divider doors in a sprint for home. Not being that fastest of runners, I would never fail to miss the ass slap and catcalling from him and many of my classmates. What could be argued as something as simple as boy-likes-girl or boy-teases-girl was nothing of the sort to me. In contrast, the daily barrage of bullying made me feel disempowered and embarrassed.
Eventually, I told my mother who in turn spoke with the school principal. His reply was simply “boys will be boys” with little else but a reminder of adolescent patterns. Nothing was said or done. Luckily for me my mother was never one to keep her mouth shut. She decided to speak directly with the boy’s mother and have a few words about what she deemed appropriate. I can’t tell you what his mother said or didn’t say to him, only that when I got to school on Monday everyone called me a snitch and I became the current target for ridicule. The girls were especially harsh, annoyed at the ‘attention’ I was receiving from the boys.
I’ve spoken with people over the years that argue that we, as advocates, take the issue of sexual harassment and bullying too far. They cite that such zero tolerance rules and behavioral guidelines will encourage children to act out more outside of the classroom. Or that it creates little room for experimentation with the opposite sex. But how often do we, as a community, communicate with our children and young adults to discuss issues of gender and personal boundaries?
I think that by setting rules and examples for respect, we allow these same youth to live more freely without fear of harm from their peers. I believe that a girl should be able to go to school without worrying about whether or not she will have to defend her body against unsolicited contact or that boys can walk down a hall without being thrown up against a locker simply because they don’t fit into some ridiculous social standard. If a behavior is unwanted or unwelcome, it is unacceptable in my book.
Admittedly, children have a natural curiosity toward the opposite sex. Hugging, fondling and kissing are examples of exploratory contact that, when paired with an unwanted recipient, can create problems. Simply because such acts of exploration are deemed “normal” doesn’t constitue a right to cross personal boundaries. Acts once seen as innocent rights of passage can very easily grow into more aggressive acts of violence if they are not resolved in early stages of development. For those of you who still view acts by children as child’s play I have 6 words for you: Kids grow up and become adults.
But don’t just take it from me: A survey conducted by the AAUW (2002) on 2064 students in 8th through 11th grade indicated that 83% of girls and 79% of boys have been sexually harassed. Not surprisingly, in the same survey 42% of school employees admitted to being harassed by each other.
In education, many seasoned professionals have met the issue of sexual harassment with a resistance to change. My elementary school principal being a perfect example. Talk to your kids. Talk to your school administrators. Learn more about the policies and follow-through for sexual harassment and bullying in your communities. You can be the impetus to get your school system to wake up and begin to take harrassment and bullying seriously. In the process, maybe boys will be boys and girls will be girls by showing respect for the humanity in each other.
For more information on sexual harassment in schools, check out this link: http://tinyurl.com/mqr7sd