I Like Your Butt in Those ShortsNovember 09, 2011
This post is part of a series focusing on sexual harassment in middle and high school, launched in conjunction with the release of AAUW’s latest research report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, which was supported by the Mooneen Lecce Giving Circle and the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund. Follow @AAUWResearch on Twitter for updates.
Like most parents, when my firstborn left the nest for college, I was filled with angst, not worrying about her judgment or common sense, just stressed about all the ignorant people (read: young men) I knew she was bound to encounter. It really hit home last summer as we commuted to work together every day. She dressed pretty modestly, but it didn’t matter what she wore. I would notice young men and grown men (her father’s age) checking out her body. She already knew how to give the “death stare,” but I found myself doing it for her. They would quickly turn away, and the few who looked defiant quickly gave it up, clearly thinking twice about taking me on. I was like Clint Eastwood some days … “Go ahead, make my day.”
When she was a high school student athlete, blatant staring at girls and sexual references to their bodies was the norm. She told me, “Guys commented on my legs and butt all the time. Not just me, though. It was most of the girls, especially the runners and volleyball players who wore spandex. I usually just gave them the death glare or threatened them physically. And guys were really bold with their … ogling. And commenting. They didn’t care.”
Some girls didn’t even try out for sports to avoid the negative environment. Her sophomore year, the school adopted mandatory uniforms. But it really didn’t matter what the girls wore (and who knew you could purchase uber-tight khakis and too-small polo shirts to defy the rules!). Boys felt empowered to treat girls with zero respect, and unfortunately many girls were too frightened, embarrassed, or humiliated to speak up. The harassment of girls began in middle school. She recalled hearing guys in high school talk about “the kinds of things they were doing with girls in empty classrooms in middle school.” I’m sure not all of it was consensual.
But there’s another side of the dilemma. Many girls were extremely angry at other girls for wearing too tight, short, or revealing clothes; modifying their uniforms to look “sluttified;” and (they felt) giving boys free reign to pass judgment on them all. This judging has, of course, migrated to social media, where student Facebook pages from middle to high school to college now “rate” girls or call them out as “sluts” and “hos.” The local term in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland area is “roller,” which Urban Dictionary defines as “a hoe [sic] or a slut, mostly used in the D.C. area for a girl who is a REAL freak. … That girl is a roller — she [is] always with some new dude.” Girls get so little respect that new labels are created to demean them?
We’re talking about young girls! These types of labels do irreparable harm to their self-esteem, body image, academic performance, and even their safety. And try erasing that stigma from your social media footprint as you apply for college, scholarships, internships, or employment. We need to make our schools free from sexual harassment for girls and boys. I hope that AAUW’s new research report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, inspires all of us to create a culture of respect in our schools and communities to keep girls and boys safe. In the meantime, I’m preparing my younger daughter and son for the road ahead.