Schools, sexism and bullying

(20 Posts)
ChangedNames Mon 07-Oct-13 15:11:29

I would love some input from all you wise FWR women (and men), please. I have namechanged because this might potentially make me very recognisable (I’m an occasional regular).

I am mightily pissed off, really, really pissed off. Our daughter is not happy at secondary school (former comp/academy) – the school itself is good, academically, and she is doing very well (top sets etc). She’s got a good group of friends. But she often comes back quite upset and unhappy. She wants to change schools, preferably to an all-girls and/or grammar school.

The main problem seems to be the behaviour of boys. Not all boy, but also not just a small group of boys. There is an awful lot of name calling and unpleasantness directed at girls (possibly not all, but not just a few, certainly not just our daughter). Things like commenting on appearance and behaviour, ‘give me a hug’ etc. Calling girls ‘bitches’, ‘little bitches’ or ‘fat bitches’ seems to be particularly popular. Bullying essentially.

We had a lot of tears, angst and teenage tantrums at the end of the last academic year. We contacted the school and spoke to her tutors, head of year, and anti-bully teacher (can’t remember the exact title). Initially we were impressed by their response as they seemed to take it seriously. We had a look at a couple of other schools, but in the end decided to wait and see what happened. Our daughter seemed ok with this and was reassured that we were taking her seriously, looking at other schools etc. (Though she wasn’t impressed with us talking to school!) We agreed to wait and see, as well as talking to the school again early this academic year.

A few weeks into the new academic year, our daughter is still unhappy and is once again talking about wanting to change school. My husband has just spoken to one of the senior teachers to set up a meeting. Whereas last term we felt that they were taking this seriously, this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

Apparently it’s our daughter who has the problem because she can’t deal with ‘normal adolescent male behaviour’. hmm She needs to build her resilience. Which may be true to some extent – but she is not in the wrong, why does she have to change!? And the fact that other girls seem to cope with it better doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. In fact, I think it may be more of a problem, because those girls are likely to internalise it: that's just how boys behave, boys have a right to comment on what I look like and how I behave and I’d better change my looks/behaviour accordingly. It doesn’t bode well for healthy relationships.

In my opinion, this is yet again an example of girls/women being told they have to change, they’re too sensitive etc and that that’s just the way boys/men behave. It is a fundamental problem which is indicative of a lot of problems in gender relations. As far as I’m concerned there is an underlying sexist and misogynistic culture which is so endemic and pernicious that it’s accepted as ‘just the way it is’. That’s just the way ‘normal adolescent males’ behave and girls just need to deal with it.

It is sexist, misogynistic bullying. As I’ve said, it’s not all boys who behave like this, but it seems a large enough group. I would also dispute that it’s ‘normal adolescent male behaviour’ – I think that’s rather insulting to boys. Also, if there were persistent bullying of a group of children of, for example, a certain ethnic group, it would be stamped on pretty quickly by the school (hopefully, and quite rightly so). Why is it ok for girls to be bullied like this by (some) boys?

In my opinion, the school needs to target this very specifically and ‘call a spade a spade’, i.e. talk about sexism, misogyny etc. They seem to be very proud of their anti-bullying, team-building etc days/assemblies, but I think that’s just empty rhetoric, it doesn’t change anything.

Anyway. We’ve got a meeting set up. I would love your opinion on this. Am I barking up the wrong tree? Does anybody have any experience with this?

BuffytheAppleBobber Mon 07-Oct-13 15:46:30

I don't have any experience (yet, and I hope I don't get any to be totally frank) but I don't think you're in the wrong here. It is absolutely wrong that your dd should be asked to change her behaviour because of this sexist and abusive behaviour from the boys. Such a response isn't good for her, and as you quite rightly point out, isn't great for the boys either.

One thing that seemed to work fairly well when I was complaining to ds's school about a sexist school play was to change gender for race. Ask the school: would they have given similar advice to the parents of black children receiving racist abuse? Would they have been told "that's just how white teenagers behave" and they'd better get used to it? No, they would not, and if they did then their parents would probably be taking legal advice right about now...

Don't know if that's helpful? You are right to take it seriously and if they don't listen in your meeting I'd write a strongly worded letter to the Governors, LA, whomever was in charge.

unfortunatedischarge Mon 07-Oct-13 16:15:33

normal adolescent male behaviour’

Fuck off is that normal behaviour for anyone. angry please write your local paper (anonymously for your daughter's sake) explaining that according to the school being a sexist bully is "normal". And yes, please question if a black child was being harassed should they expect that from a white child? Fucking idiots. I'm so angry on your daughter's behalf. Poor thing. If there is an option of an all girl's grammar I would try and get her there. She shouldn't have to leave but she also deserves a bit of peace.

Darkesteyes Mon 07-Oct-13 16:57:40

You could also contact the EverydaySexism website There is also a site called everydayvictimblaming.com.

I think they would be interested to hear about this and you could drop the names of these websites into the conversation at that meeting.

Agree with Buffy Totally.

dreamsdreamsgoaway Mon 07-Oct-13 17:03:53

That is fucking ridiculous. Those boys need to be told that behaviour is not acceptable.

If they did that at work they'd be immediately fired, so they might as well get used to behaving like normal human beings now.

rosabud Mon 07-Oct-13 17:12:34

I am not surprised at this. I work in a school and see it all the time. The other thing I have noticed is that when class discussion is taking place, the boys are more likely to "tune-out" when a girl gives her point of view - this may be by openly chatting to a firned and ignoring the girl or it could be by fiddling with a pencil and making silly faces at a friend (depending on how strict the teacher is); it is not always 'intentional,' it just seems to be an internalised code that you don't have to listen to the girls. Another thing that happens frequently is that boys' behaviour is more likely to be disruptive in the classroom so teachers will often work harder to keep them 'on-side' (again, not always consciously) by either stopping to address their behaviour, targeting questions at the boys, listening to their responses more often or challenging their responses with higher-order questioning.

My daughter, who is quite shy, was also afraid to answer in some classes because she knew the boys would deride her response.

All very depressing.

NicholasTeakozy Mon 07-Oct-13 17:28:52

The school is dealing with this badly. It most definitely is not normal behaviour at all, these little bastards need to be educated that their treatment of girls and young women is not acceptable. Your daughter should not have to suffer this, it's discusting (MN approved spelling).

KaseyM Mon 07-Oct-13 17:43:52

I have a similar problem but with my DS who is bullied for not liking football, for not being aggressive and for liking playing with girls. The choice of insult to put him down is "girl".

I hate this, not just because it hurts my lovely DS buy because it assigns girls to inferior status. DS says that the boys are always looking down on the girls. It is part if the everyday hierarchy that happens at schools but it seems to be accepted as normal or a bit of fun.

I tried to bring it up at a recent meeting but I don't think they understood and I wanted to (but didn't) point out that if it were a case of using a racial slur it would be rightfully jumped on but when it's girls being told they are second class citizens it is ok.

Darkesteyes Mon 07-Oct-13 17:50:38

Your DS sounds lovely Kasey

KaseyM Mon 07-Oct-13 17:51:58

Sorry I realise there wasn't much practical help in that last post! So I just wanted to say that I worked for an all girls school and would recommend it. Girls are more likely to take up science if that is what they want and obviously I can't say for all girls' schools but the one I was in had a very supportive atmosphere.

Good luck OP

KaseyM Mon 07-Oct-13 17:53:32

Aw thanks Darkest! smile

ChangedNames Mon 07-Oct-13 18:15:08

Thank you for all your responses – it sounds like we’re not alone!

Buffy, I think you’re quite right that changing gender for race is a useful exercise. It also applies to the ‘normal male adolescent behaviour’ nonsense – you could argue that it’s normal for humans to form stereotypes, ingroup/outgroup behaviour etc, but that does not make it acceptable.

The whole ‘normal adolescent behaviour’ thing has particularly riled me. Adolescence is a time for forming/confirming identity etc and maybe for boys it is typical to form groups and develop an identity distinct from others (i.e. girls), but that does not have to include sexist bullying.

Rosabud, thank you for sharing your experience of classroom behaviour, that’s really interesting and our daughter has said pretty much the same. Boys will often make dismissive remarks or use dismissive body language when girls answer questions, particularly in science and maths. In some classes this is quite subtle, apparently, and the teachers may not necessarily be aware – or maybe some are more aware of it / willing to be aware of it. It is so disempowering for the girls.

I agree, Kasey, that it can be a problem for ‘less typical’ boys too. An ‘everyday hierarchy’ is exactly what this is about. Our daughter has talked about a similar hierarchy on the school bus: the older ‘cool’ boys pick on younger boys (and presumably boys who are not ‘cool’) and all the girls. Great.

Maybe an all girls school is the way to go. But even if we move our daugther, it doesn't change that whole deeply embedded sexist culture in that school. It makes me so cross. Do you think there is something that can be done about it? Some specifically targetted programme?

Darkesteyes Mon 07-Oct-13 18:29:36

Changed i know you didnt direct the question at me but i was discussing something like this on Twitter a while back.
I tweeted that there should be a module taught in school called Relationship Psychology. It should include a section on things like sexism and also why the compartmentalisation of women is wrong...teaching them about the Madonna/whore complex and why viewing girls/women as slut/frigid is wrong.

Relationship Psychology might not be the best title for it....i dont know. I came up with it in the heat of the moment.
But certainly something needs to be done.

ChangedNames Thu 14-Nov-13 11:12:04

Just a quick update ...

We've had a meeting with the school and were actually moderately impressed. They said that there's only so much they can do, considering that it's a problem very deeply embedded in society, but they proposed various strategies to improve things. However, it will of course take time for that to take effect and I doubt it will really solve the problem.

Meanwhile, our daugther was getting more and more unhappy - very anxious, bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, not sleeping etc. It was clearly beginning to affect her mental health.

We've therefore moved her to a different school, a very small independent girls-only school. We loved the school when we had a look around and I think it's definitely the right school for her. Part of the problem was the size of her old school, I'm sure she'll be much happier in a smaller school. However, it's an independent school and both our bank balance and principles are feeling rather bruised...

Thanks again for all your responses!

Darkesteyes Thu 14-Nov-13 12:50:18

Im glad youve found a solution Changed. However the head of the old school needs to realise that if its nipped in the bud at school then it will help it to no longer be a problem in society

SconeRhymesWithGone Thu 14-Nov-13 15:21:42

Darkesteyes I agree wholeheartedly about the importance of teaching about relationships, especially in secondary. The US state I live in has this requirement in its education code:

"The health education curriculum for students in grades 7 through 12 shall include a teen dating violence and abuse component that includes, but is not limited to, the definition of dating violence and abuse, the warning signs of dating violence and abusive behavior, the characteristics of healthy relationships, measures to prevent and stop dating violence and abuse, and community resources available to victims of dating violence and abuse."

OP, I am happy that you found a solution for your daughter. I think that everyone, especially parents and schools, should understand how serious this kind of behavior is--that the kind of attitudes expressed by these boys is the foundation for domestic violence and other violence against women.

NiceTabard Thu 14-Nov-13 21:46:48

Changednames FWIW I think you have done the right thing, it is good that you were able to take that option and while I understand the bank balance / principles stuff I imagine your DD will be so much happier there and thrive, I am sure that will be the case smile

You could consider writing to the school / ofsted / the LEA or something about what happened and it wasn't resolved (I think oh it's society - while true - is a crap excuse in a closed environment like a school) for the sake of the girls who are still in that environment.

It is a bloody difficult one and yet again it's where privilege comes out - if you look at the type of schools that powerful / highly successful women in our society I wonder if it would be even more marked than where the men in those positions have come from. Girls simply don't have any of that crap in single sex schools (although there can be other problems) and it shows in what they choose to study and I bet where they end up.

EBearhug Thu 14-Nov-13 23:49:23

They said that there's only so much they can do, considering that it's a problem very deeply embedded in society

While they're right about that, that doesn't excuse schools which don't try to challenge it at all and instil a culture of respect for everyone.

There's a chapter on education in Kat Banyard's The Equality Illusion, which this thread reminded me of.

I went to a single sex school. It had made me less accepting of sexist behaviour because the first times I experienced blatant sexism, I was just so taken aback by it and never stopped to consider any option besides challenging it. I suspect if I'd spent those early-middle teenage years in a mixed school with more "normal adolescent male behaviour" as your school has described it, I wouldn't have had that same sense of outrage.

sashh Fri 15-Nov-13 09:28:35

Apparently it’s our daughter who has the problem because she can’t deal with ‘normal adolescent male behaviour’

But that is not normal. If it is normal for the school then the school needs to change.

If it was racist language what would they do? Why is it different because it is sexist?

They have a 'duty of care' to your daughter which they are blatantly ignoring.

Do the boys use this language to teachers? If 'no' then it is something they can and do control.

They said that there's only so much they can do, considering that it's a problem very deeply embedded in society

Bollox, it is a school. Back to my point about teachers being called names. A school is not general society it is very different and if some behaviors can be controlled then so can others.

It is a place to learn and the school should be teaching consideration for others. They should be teaching equality and diversity.

If there is bullying on the bus then the bullies should be banned from the bus. If anyone uses the word 'bitch' in any context that is not a female dog then they should get a detention. If you end up with all the boys in detention then so be it.

I'd be tempted to go in with a list and ask

"If a student called you a fat bitch/bastard what would be their punishment?" Then why does my child have to put up with this?

Your daughter is suffering daily discrimination and abuse in a place where she should be safe, it may also be assault. The school are breaking a number of laws in allowing this.

I've found that pointing out not just the organisation, but individuals within it, are legally responsible for some behaviors makes people take notice.

Check your house insurance, you may have some legal cover. I'm not saying go to court, but just talking to a solicitor on the phone has, in the past, and to do with other matters, helped me. They have helped me word letters for instance.

I am so angry on behalf of your daughter

whatdoesittake48 Fri 15-Nov-13 15:09:07

School is the very place where societies embedded problems are born and reinforced...they can also be the place where they are changed.

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