MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 10-Feb-14 13:29:38

'I'd hear three rape jokes a day' - one teenager on the epidemic of sexual harassment in schools

What is it really like to be a girl in school today?

In this guest post, 17-year-old blogger and activist Yas Necati recounts her experiences of sexism in the classroom, and urges us all - teenagers, parents and teachers - to act.

Yas Necati

It's Not That Simple

Posted on: Mon 10-Feb-14 13:29:38

(55 comments )

Lead photo

70% of girls report experiences of sexual harassment at school

When I was in school, boys would buy The Sun for Page 3. They'd crowd around the paper in one corner of the classroom and scoff to themselves. It sounds like something from the 70s, but I only finished my GCSEs a few months ago.

I once asked a boy to stop looking at Page 3 whilst sitting next to me in class. He called me a "jealous dyke" and an "ugly shit". We were 12. But we could've been any age; it was a recurring incident throughout our school years. After a while, us girls simply gave up saying anything for fear of being told that we just wanted “better tits”... and truth is, most of us did. Who could really blame us?

Sexism is alive and well in schools. 70% of girls report experiences of sexual harassment at school or college, and school is the most common setting for sexual harassment and coercion. 16% of 15-17-year-olds have avoided going to school because they felt bad about their appearance – hardly surprising when you consider that a quarter of girls are bullied because of the way that they look. 40% of girls feel self-conscious about their bodies during PE and 87% of girls think sexism affects most areas of their lives. The statistics are staggering, and behind each of these numbers are real people with real stories. Looking at my own experience of sexism, it's frustrating to see how commonplace it is. I've spoken to my sister, my friends and reached out to other young women via Facebook to share theirs. We – teenagers, parents, teachers - need to start listening to these stories.

One evening over dinner my younger sister recited her day to me, recalling the still life she'd painted and a joke she'd heard. She paused for a second, grimacing before describing how boys had been watching pornography on their phones in the back of her English class. The teacher did nothing and the girls were too intimidated to react. For my 14-year-old sister, and many girls her age, this is just another day at school.

A rumour went round that a girl in our year had lost her virginity to a boy in Year 9. Everybody called her a slut for the remainder of her time at school. There was no shame placed on him, despite him being two years older and having had sex a lot more times than her. "What's the boy word for slut?" my younger friend once asked. "Respected," I said.


My sister's revelation of her everyday experience prompted me to think further about sexism I'd experienced at school – and the way in which gender biases and expectations start so young, for boys and girls.

When I was 11, a girl in my class punched a boy of the same age in the face. His cheek had swollen and with a quiet voice he told the teacher that she'd hit him. Mrs. Cedar chuckled and chimed, "Aww, Liam, did you get hit by a girl?" Immediately others began to laugh. Liam's inflamed cheek turned an even deeper shade of cherry-red. Needless to say he probably never made the same "mistake" again. Can you imagine how the teacher would've reacted if the genders were reversed? We're contradicting ourselves - encouraging children to ask for help, but basing our reactions on gender biases and expectations. This instance may have been subtle, but it's the small actions, and everyday socialisation, that shapes people's minds for the future. This boy's masculinity was checked before he could even ponder it. The culture that we're taught we later put into practice.

In secondary school, Year 7, I remember a rumour going around that a girl in our year had lost her virginity to a boy in Year 9. Everybody called her a slut for the remainder of her time at school. There was no shame placed on him, despite him being two years older and having had sex a lot more times than her. "What's the boy word for slut?" my younger friend once asked me after she'd been the victim of sexual bullying for wearing "suggestive eye-liner." "Respected," I said, although I couldn't possibly explain to her why…

Fast-forward a few years to the biggest decision of our lives to that date: GCSE options. I remember my friend telling me he fancied becoming a paediatrician so naturally was thinking of taking Child Development. But there was a problem - Child Development is a "girl’s subject," right? He decided to opt out and a few months later switched career path. Only one boy, Jim, took Child Development, though managed to "hide" it from the other students during enrolment. When the term started and the boys found out, he was subject to severe harassment and bullying. A few weeks into the course, Jim dropped out. He continued to be teased for the remainder of his time at school.

In my final GCSE year, a boy kept calling me "hairy gorilla" for choosing not to remove my leg or underarm hair. When holidaying in Cuba that year, despite the heat, and the fact that I love swimming, I completely avoided the pool (the exposure!). After a whole week of hiding, I decided I'd finally 'take the plunge' on our final day away. For the rest of the academic year, a boy followed me around pointing at his underarms every time he saw me.

In my final year of school I became a little despondent. Years of experiencing sexism and watching others experience sexism was starting to profoundly affect my happiness and well-being. I began counting rape jokes. I realised that I'd be lucky, walking through the corridors, not to hear three a day. I became a feminist, not because I felt it was important, but because I felt it was essential. When I told my teacher she said I should "just give up" as I was "wasting my time."

Starting college a few months back I decided I should act. I set up a feminist society with a girl in the year above, and welcomed everyone along. The response, though mainly positive, didn't compensate for the years of sexism and discrimination we'd all suffered. We felt comforted that others had similar stories to our own. Yet these are stories of assault, bullying and shame; why should we have to experience this?

We're currently working on a local project - similar to Everyday Sexism - collecting experiences of sexual bullying and harassment within the college. After only a few months we found most young women had a story to share. One girl was the constant target of rape jokes and sexual threats because of her sexual orientation; another was told by a boy that he would "make her straight." I know so many young women who've been forced into doing things against their consent. I know young women who've been raped.

Sexism is alive in schools. The teenage years are an uncertain and difficult time for many as they grapple with their identities and try to sculpt themselves into the adults they will become. The culture in schools has a huge impact on this development. Although changes are happening, we've got a long way to go before achieving equality in the classroom. We need a massive shift in the way we educate our daughters and sons, both on the curriculum and off it. Sexism in schools has a negative effect for everybody, and it's time we made a change.

By Yas Necati

Twitter: @YasNecati

An incredibly enlightening read. I feel uplifted and despondent in equal measure. I am 38. how can we still be in this place? But with vibrant women like you around, I still feel positive things can change.
I act as a governor in a local school. What would kids like to see happen in schools to raise awareness, to discipline perpetrators and to support potential and actual victims?

tinagwee Mon 10-Feb-14 15:01:32

Great piece. Im impressed with her.
The effects of porn being so readily available to children is just beginning to be seen. I hear of this type of thing a lot though where girls in class have to put up with boys watching porn and treating them in demeaning ways because of what they learn from porn. There is a stop porn culture conference in march in central london. Teachers should probably attend. Parents too. We need to learn about it to know what we are combating.

lovelychops Mon 10-Feb-14 15:34:25

This is an excellently written piece.

But so disgusted it needs to be written in the first place. My children are babies but it makes me so worried for them. School and growing up is such a confusing time as it is, without having to deal with all this.

I think sexism is so ingrained in our society that young people grow up not noticing or feeling it's the norm. It takes people speaking up and pieces such as this to hold a mirror to society. Well done.

mitchvon Mon 10-Feb-14 15:56:50

If school is such a bad place and girls have to run a gauntlet of abuse and threats all the time , how come girls achieve better exam results than boys these days ?

PostHocErgoPropterHoc Mon 10-Feb-14 16:13:38

mitchvon apart from that being a complete non sequitur, are you implying that this piece isn't true?

craftybaker Mon 10-Feb-14 16:51:43

I never thought that there were benefits to going to an all girls school, but this thought provoking piece is reason enough to think again. The situations Yas describes are awful but the question on my mind is WTF has happened to discipline in the classroom? Kids looking at porn on phones in class, looking at the Sun in the corner of the classroom and the inappropriate language / conversations and bullying in this school suggests that the culture of the school is playing a large part in the actions of the children within its confines. I'm also working on the assumption that the school Yas talks about is an inner city comp? I'm 42 now and the mother of a 10 year old boy. I'm horrified to think that there might be swathes of kids behaving in this way. It makes me want to think hard about what else we can do to teach our boys how to respect women.

JacqueslePeacock Mon 10-Feb-14 17:07:01

mitchvon, what?? confused confused confused

This was an excellent, and very depressing, piece. Thank you, Yas Necati.

alsmutko Mon 10-Feb-14 17:17:05

I'd say the ready availability of porn is a sympton rather than the cause - 'girlie' magazies were easily available when I was at school and there were exactly the same comments about 'slags' and 'studs', and some girls were regularly assaulted with hands up skirts (no trousers allowed then). This was in the 70s. Just remembered with a shudder, the vehicles tooting, blokes holloring suggestive remarks ('don't put them away they're nice' as I pulled my coat round me in nippy weather) especially from the workers at the nearby wood merchant, the attitude of 'ooh look, schoolgirls in uniform, let's embarrass them'.
I had thought this sort of thing had died out over the last 30 years but then when my daughter got to her early teens I realised it was just me getting to be middle-aged and therefore invisible. She's overheard 'rape jokes' from her flatmates in halls most recently. Luckily they've always been respectful towards her, so she doesn't feel threatened by them, just uncomfortable. Only another couple of months before she gets to share a house with people she knows are nice people.
Many men are pigs. Luckily my daughter knows it's not all of them.

alsmutko Mon 10-Feb-14 17:23:55

Yes, craftybaker, I agree. My daughter was at a girl's school (inner city comp) with boys in the sixth form. They have feminist group at the school which succeeded in getting the nearby Tesco to get rid of the lad's mags.
Most importantly, she's been involved in a few extra-curricular organisations which have the effect of increasing their young people's confidence and assertiveness.

Piscivorus Mon 10-Feb-14 17:56:34

I think a large part of this is down to the school culture and discipline. I was at high school from 71-78 and, yes there were jokes and the sexism that existed then in everyday life but at the time that was just accepted but there were no threats, no assaults, no page 3 in school and there was far more respect between us and the boys than Yas' experience.

I was going to suggest that the availability and acceptability of porn coupled with reduced discipline was the cause but then saw alsmutkos post suggesting that maybe it is more about individual schools rather than the time frame.

Ruprekt Mon 10-Feb-14 18:56:56

My son is 9, Year 4.

He walked into a classroom at school and asked Harry if he had seen Jessica.

'Why?' Asked Harry, 'do you want to rape her?'

Am utterly aghast, appalled and saddened by the whole story. Ds does not know what rape is. (He does now.) confusedconfusedconfused

These children are 8 & 9.

mitchvon Mon 10-Feb-14 19:42:43

Actually exam results are relevant to school life. I don't dispute the things that can happen at school, but if it really was endemic like the blogger says then how would it be possible for girls to get better exam results than boys ?

I think the seriousness of sexual harassment should be made clearer in secondary schools. I think what in the adult world would be considered sexual assault or harassment gets overlooked in amongst teens with assumptions that "oh, they're just experimenting with sexual language/they're just being teenage boys".

I am 21, it wasn't that long since I was in school, and even though I went to a fairly nice comprehensive I experienced a similar culture - rape jokes, intrusive sexual comments/questions, 11 and 12 year old girls being called 'frigid', the list goes on...

And teenagers can learn better. For example, if someone had insulted another student racially at school, everyone would have gawped and gasped and the student would have most likely been suspended, so no one did it. The idea that children, particularly girls as young as 11, are being pressured into having sex and being sexually harassed on a daily basis should be made equally as taboo.

I think that for teenagers, having respect for their own and each other's bodies and boundaries should be the number one priority of PSHE lessons, along with maybe drug/alcohol abuse, because it seems to affect almost everyone but no one does anything. 5 years ago when I was in school (I'm not sure if this has changed) no education apart from in biology seemed to be given into sex until we were in year 9/10, and even then it was muffled through by teachers who were red in the face and would rather put on 20 years out of date video tapes of much older teenagers demonstrating what date rape was - useless.

FiveExclamations Mon 10-Feb-14 20:24:27

mitchvon

Because girls are told to get on with it, have a sense of humour and not make a fuss and they take this to heart?

MmeLindor Mon 10-Feb-14 20:29:34

Excellent article, although it did make me want to weep.

Mitch
I don't get your point. Yas didn't say that girls stop going to school, or that they give in completely. They get good marks despite the harassment that they encounter on a daily basis.

This has nothing to do with school results - except in the case that if teachers are lax enough to allow kids to watch porn in the back of the classroom then there are questions to be asked re discipline in the school.

Yas
what would help? It seems to me that education of the younger kids, and the teachers would be a good start.

TunipTheUnconquerable Mon 10-Feb-14 20:44:28

Because if the boys are watching porn at the back of the classroom, Mitch, they're probably not learning much.

PostHocErgoPropterHoc Mon 10-Feb-14 20:53:04

Of course exam results are relevant to school life. I was pointing out that this:

If school is such a bad place and girls have to run a gauntlet of abuse and threats all the time...

Has very little to do with this:

...how come girls achieve better exam results than boys these days ?

The reasons girls achieve better exam results are complex, but my pet theory is that some boys look at the world that awaits them and see no reason to work hard, they end up at the top anyway. It is the same sense of entitlement that leads them to treat girls as there for their amusement.

scallopsrgreat Mon 10-Feb-14 21:16:49

Girls are doing better in exams despite being sexually harassed at school. They are pretty bloody amazing really.

This blog post, although anecdotal, provides yet more credence to a number of surveys in recent years. YouGov one here

nameequality Mon 10-Feb-14 21:43:43

Really powerful Guest blog. Well done Yas.

You have spurred me on to write to my local secondary school:

Dear Mr XXXXX,

The Schools Against Sexism Pledge

I live in the catchment area for XXXX School and my son is currently at XXXX School in Year X. I am writing to you as I am very concerned about sexism in schools and in particular sexual harrassment that girls are sadly routinely facing in secondary schools in the UK today.

Part of the reason I have decided to write to you today is due to an article I have just read which a 17 year old girl, Yas Necati has written. I have attached this article. I have taken the following information from the UKFeminista website at http://ukfeminista.org.uk/take-action/generation-f/statistics/.

Violence against women and girls
Sexual bullying and harassment are routine in UK schools. Almost a third of girls experience unwanted sexual touching in UK schools, and close to one in three (28%) of 16-18-year-olds say they have seen sexual pictures on mobile phones at school a few times a month or more.
Nearly one in four 16-18-year-olds say that their teachers never said unwanted sexual touching, sharing of sexual pictures or sexual name calling are unacceptable.
1 in 3 teenage girls has experienced sexual violence from a boyfriend.
1 in 3 young women experiences sexual bullying in school on a daily basis.
If girls experience repeated sexual harassment, they are significantly more likely to attempt suicide.
According to the World Health Organisation, globally school is the most common setting for sexual harassment and coercion.
Over 20,000 girls under 15 are at high risk of female genital mutilation in England and Wales each year.
1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls think it is ok sometimes to hit a woman or force her to have sex.

I am very concerned about this issue. I am asking whether your school will sign The Schools Against Sexism pledge which has been developed by UK Feminista with support from the End Violence Against Women coalition. I have attached a copy of the pledge together with the article I mentioned earlier. I look forward to your thoughts on this matter.

Kind Regards,

XXXXXXXX

all of those who have been moved by Yas's blog post please consider writing a similar letter to your local school

I am also planning on writing to my old school and some other local schools.

Links to the UK Feminista statistics:ukfeminista.org.uk/take-action/generation-f/statistics/

Link to The Schools Against Sexism Pledge: ukfeminista.org.uk/campaigning-in-your-school/

MmeLindor Mon 10-Feb-14 21:48:17

Nameequality
Great idea to write to local schools.

We had a guest post on Jump! Mag recently from Girl Guide Advocate - she wrote about sexism in school and being harassed from age 13yrs old.

The phones in schools issue has been bothering me for a while now. My kids are in primary school and too young for phones, but I know that they will soon be aware of what can be found on the internet if you know where to look for it.

Isn't it possible for schools to scramble 3G signals to make it impossible to get online? I can't believe the technology isn't there to disable kids from looking at porn in school, given the firewalls put in place in most workplaces.

heyday Tue 11-Feb-14 11:22:36

I am not at all surprised by this article, it's just one aspect of the daily battles that females have to endure. However, young women do need to be a bit more pro active in some areas. They can't scream sexism one day then by delighted to be paid a fortune the next for baring her tits in a lads mag aimed solely at men. Girls, stop watching the disgusting, sexist videos that accompany so much of the modern day music. Tweet Miley Cyrus and tell her that her actions do not liberate young women but simply play into the hands of mens sexual perceptions of women. They just set the standard that is expected of women nowadays and make women feel that they simply are just never good enough. One pop star does something sexually outrageous and earns a fortune, the next star has to be even more daring and sexually overt..... Where will it all end?

angelinterceptor Tue 11-Feb-14 11:29:32

what an excellent post - and well written

I have a DS (age 14) and I would be disgusted if he was like this when he is at school with his friends, trying to fit in, be one of the lads!

jumbojoy Tue 11-Feb-14 12:06:36

Unfortunately none of this surprises me. My husband has recently started commuting by train to London for work and has been horrified by overheard conversations by children on their way to school. He recently overheard some lads sitting behind him regaling of their previous evening 's escapades with local 'bitches' and what they did to them sexually over the park or down some alley. He said he couldn't believe the pornographic language they were using in public, let alone the content. When the lads reached their stop my husband looked up to see who these lads were, thinking they were probably college boys or something and was absolutely horrified to discover that they were around 11yrs old!!! Maybe year 7/8!! This wasn't an isolated incident.....every morning he is subjected to more of the same from different groups of CHILDREN! Boys & Girls! We are seriously considering sending our two daughters who are only 6 & 9 at the moment to all girls schools. However as we live in a small village, we are not in any catchment, so will have to move. This is a really worrying situation and we as parents need to do SOMETHING!!!��

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now