08 November 2011

Sexual Harassment Begins Early

More than half of all girls in grades 7-12 experienced sexual harassment during the 2010-11 school year, according to a survey released by the American Association of University Women. The study included student-on-student sexual harassment experienced in person or electronically through texting, email or social media.

Among the harmful effects of sexual harassment, one-third of the victims said it made them feel sick to their stomachs, affected their study habits or made them reluctant to go to school. Let’s repeat that: The harassment was so upsetting that it made the victims physically ill.

Yet, only 9 percent reported the incident to an adult at their school.

Julie Zeilinger thinks she knows why. As founder of the FBomb, a blog written for and by young feminists, Julie has her finger on the pulse of teenagers. At the “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later” conference, which the Ms. Foundation co-sponsored, Julie spoke about the gender conditioning the younger generation has experienced. Despite all of the progress our society has made, many boys still feel entitled to demean girls sexually. And many girls, for their part, simply shrug it off.

Thirty-nine percent of perpetrators in the AAUW study said they were just trying to be funny. But there isn’t anything funny about sexual harassment, whether it’s in the schoolyard, on the street or in the corporate environment.

Until we focus on the underlying culture that permits casual sexual remarks in our own adult daily lives, we won’t be able to protect our daughters from the attacks that so physically sicken us all.