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peer pressure/sexualisation and abuse of girls

(28 Posts)
chrissie9 Thu 16-Feb-12 12:24:21

I am concerned about the pressure, particularly on girls, to be thin, sexy, there for boys and not much else. I am a Mum of 2 girls, also a Head at a Primary School and I am doing my best at these levels to raise self awareness, self esteem and worth etc, but I want to know what can be done at secondary school level when these issues really kick in ,especially pressure from boys, who can have a distorted view about girls largely I feel thanks to the internet porn industry[and media of course].
I know many schools have some sort of programme in place that is rolled out from time to time, but I feel a more organised, concerted approach is needed to what is becoming a rapidly escalating situation, where masses of girls are exposed to crude behaviour[at least] and abuse[at worst] as they go about their every day school life.
Anyone out there got any ideas, or want to organise some sort of campaign...or is there something already out there to join?

Curviest Thu 16-Feb-12 16:17:38

I support you 100% in your concern over this very serious matter. The pornification of the next generation is putting women's right back by decades. We are in danger of losing many long-fought-for rights. I am not a parent or a teacher so cannot help you, but you have my support in spirit!

chrissie9 Thu 16-Feb-12 16:33:28

Yes I agree -it is putting the whole movement back too - I remember marching in the 80's on the claim back the night campaign in London. What has happened since!!
I think that boys are the victims in all this too- what a shallow existence for them too!

flashsale Thu 16-Feb-12 16:47:51

There is tremendous pressure on teenage boys to lose their virginity at an early age. Programmes on TV about Sex 'n' Teenagers only make teenagers who are not sexually very active feel much worse.

chrissie9 Thu 16-Feb-12 18:39:07

yes that's right, my own son felt it and that was several years ago-it seems to be worse now.

KRITIQ Fri 17-Feb-12 13:26:03

It's ghastly. I have a personal concern and also work for a voluntary organisation where this is coming up ALOT in our work with girls and young women. We're really small but may be trying later this year to get something going on this in Scotland. We have done some work and other bits are in the pipeline about training up youth and community workers to recognise and deal confidently with prevention and early intervention where there is sexual bullying and may be signs they are in an abusive relationship.

The NSPCC recently produced this very disturbing report about abuse in young people's relationships, particularly those who are most "disadvantaged" and least able to engage with activities to promote respectful relationships through schools Standing on My Own Two Feet. Before that, they also conducted research on the topic within schools - also disturbing Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships.

It's worth looking into the Porcupine Campaign - young people challenging pornography and sexualisation (again, in Scotland.)

I think there are bits and pieces going on around the UK and further afield looking at sexualisation, pornification, abuse and exploitation.

chrissie9 Sat 18-Feb-12 17:26:01

Thanks for this Kritiq, it's something I will follow up.

startail Sat 18-Feb-12 17:56:03

Pressure from boys???
In my experience 90% of boys are immature, crude and silly.

Most girls are more than able to deal with boys.
Sadly the serious self esteem damaging, drip drip drip pressure comes from other girls.
It's not boys who tell DD1 that she should break the rules and wear make up or that her trousers are too short.
No boy would tease a girl for her trousers being on her waist, her hair style or anything else subtle unless they'd heard a girl do it firstsad

Yes boys bully girls, horribly about obvious things like their weight and sexuallity. However, they are usually very obviously being unpleasant. It's not nice, but any faintly sensible girl in a mixed school quickly learns to tell them to fuck the fuck of on a bad day. On a good day you think of some suitably witty retort.

Please don't turn this into them and us boys vs girls battle.
Boys will always seek out porn, men will always eye up women and any women with half a brain cell knows they do.

The real damage is not done by anything said by the boys, even my 11year old DD2 knows they talk a lot of rubbish. It's the peer pressure from other girls to conform that truly does the harm.

It takes a really strong character to resist conforming to the two inch long painted horror that is the average senior school girl.

DD1 manages it with ease, she has been bullied and ignored for so long, she developed the skin of a rhino.

It is her socially far more astute, conventional sister I worry about.

startail Sat 18-Feb-12 17:57:51

That should have said two inch long skirted horror

motherinferior Sat 18-Feb-12 17:58:09

Oh right, so it's all women's fault, is it? Boys are just poor hormonally driven innocents?

Dustinthewind Sat 18-Feb-12 18:03:17

Can it not be that teenagers face pressure to conform to ridiculous agendas by their peers of both sexes?
So it isn't the fault of either of them, but the society they are growing up in which has been created by adults of both sexes?
Does it have to be another thread on boys are evil, girls are victims. No, girls are sluts and boys can't think other than with their hormones.
Yes they are no they aren't GRRRR.

It's a waste of energy having these conversations that eat themselves, and it goes no way towards beginning to solve any of the problems.

KRITIQ Sun 19-Feb-12 01:10:40

Startail, YOU seem to be the only one trying to turn the discussion into a boys vs girls battle. Sexualisation of girls and hypermasculinisation of boys is harmful to BOTH (although evidence shows that the most long lasting and detrimental impact is on girls, but it's restrictive and constricting for both.)

Yes, girls bully other girls, policing their behaviour, pushing them to conform to standards of behaviour, body shape, appearance and dress - standards that are about being sexually attractive and available to men.

And guess what? Boys bully other boys, policing their behaviour, pushing them to conform to standards of behaviour, body shape, appearance and dress - standards that are about being hard, tough, violent and anything that's not like a girl.

Do you really think this is all just tickity boo and children just need to toughen up, maybe get to the point where they can slap down other kids, and all will be fine? Gah.

startail Sun 19-Feb-12 13:36:21

No, I am saying that the boys side of the problem is often more obvious and dealt with more harshly.
You hear boys making crude comments, you see the porn mags under the bed or on their computer.
The boys made stupid sexist comments at DD2s primary did not do so quietly and rightly got sent to the head.

Girls damaging behaviours are far more about making and excluding friends and feeling part of the group. Rarely if ever do they get pulled up for them in a meaningful way.
It would be a brave teacher indeed who said "wash the make up off your face and get a new skirt you are dressed in an inappropriate and sexually provocative manner".
All they get is a wimpy "your breaking the rules".

If girls make nasty sexual comments to boys, they will ensure they are not over heard. They know no boy would report them.

As the previous rightly said the same dangerous and undealt with kind of peer pressure effects boys too.

This sexualising, polarising undercurrent is dangerous to both sexes and very dangerous to the cause of feminism
However, it is always to easy to jump on the obvious failings of males.
If we report every faintly jokey comment or every faintly sexist advert we look silly, to both sexes.

Humans are intrinsically lazy. The really serious deepening of peer pressure on both sexes is a very difficult thing to address.

Sadly I see many feminists wasting a lot of effort on things which to those of us how are perhaps a little older seem utterly pointless.

motherinferior Sun 19-Feb-12 17:41:12

PMSL at 'a little older'. I am 48.

KRITIQ Sun 19-Feb-12 17:47:21

Me too motherinferior.

Well startail, if you think it's all the nasty girls causing the problems and no teachers, parents or anyone else has the cajones to deal with them, there ain't alot an old woman like me can do to change your mind.

Rather hope there is someone else out there, however, who is countering this bullcrap so your dd's won't grow up just internalising the "girls are to blame" line.

startail Mon 20-Feb-12 00:14:44

No I didn't say it's nasty girls causing all the problems.

I agreed with the previous poster who said there is a polarisation towards male and female stereo types.

Boys and girls both exert unhealthy pressure on their peers to conform.

Unfortunately boys tend to be loud, violent and overtly sexist. Therefore, their behaviour is noticed and acted upon.

The quieter confidence sapping, insidious pressure girls put their peers under to conform is much less obvious.

Both are victims of adults failure to address the trend to make the very masculine and very feminine the only role models in town.

I just dislike the strand in feminism that always looks towards the failings of men, without accepting that many women, under the guise of being fashionable or popular, behave in a way that damages their own cause.

diotima Wed 07-Mar-12 01:26:55

I've got 13 year-old B/G twins. 90% of the peer pressure/sexualisation and bullying of girls seems to come from other girls. You only have to look on their FB accounts. They spend half their time talking about their own and each other's appearance. For every comment made by a boy there are 10 by girls. The bullying is all about groups, pecking orders, alliances, who's in, who's out, who's popular, who isn't, who's on your side, who isn't, and a lot of behind the back stuff. There also seems to be a fair amount of hitting done by girls these days. My son has been hit by loads of girls and isn't allowed to hit them back (he doesn't want to hit them, or boys either - he hates fighting!) The girls are also horribly verbally cruel - much more relentless than the boys and more likely to join in with each other - that also seems to be part of the peer pressure. The pressure to conform is enormous and the space for non-conformity seems ever narrower. There were loads of variously badly-dressed, un-made-up, geeky, tom-boy, interesting and different girls who didn't give a damn when I was at school in the 70's. In fact, most were like that. Now they nearly all seem to aspire to be pretty/gorgeous/hot and skinnnnny. They also seem to be interested in classifying the boys according to how 'buff,' good-looking and popular they are. There's also a lot of cleavage and leg on show! It's all very worrying. Whatever's happening on mumsnet forums, that's what's happening in school. My daughter doesn't give a damn what the boys think. She cares a great deal about the judgement of girls. Maybe that will change as she gets older, but that's how she's been since around 10.

MrsClown Wed 07-Mar-12 12:25:25

OP - go on the OBJECT website you may get some interesting information from there.

I agree with you, very worrying.

diotima Wed 07-Mar-12 20:13:50

I also agree with startail - the negative attitudes, behaviour and culture of girls are not challenged directly or robustly enough. I'm afraid it rather is the case, as KRITIQ puts it, that few "teachers, parents or anyone else has the cajones." The fact that KRITIQ characterised this unfortunate state of affairs in ironic tones, as though such a suggestion was absurd, is very much a part of the problem. The only people doing serious work in subverting this culture where it counts are the non-conformist kids, and they're having the hell kicked out of them. What is truly ironic is that 40 years of feminism seems to have achieved less independently-minded school girls!

In 1975 at my school (I was 15), we organised pretty-much the entire student body to refuse to return to class after lunchtime because the school had refused, despite our petitions and representations, to change the rule which prohibited girls from wearing trousers, even in winter. We assembled on the sports field determined not to budge until they agreed to change the rule. Not a single adult, including parents, knew about this planned protest so far as I know - we didn't trust them! The boys agreed with the girls that the rule was unfair and stupid. The reason they agreed was because it was patently bloody unfair - they could see those of their friends who had the misfortune to be girls suffering in winter (this was in the bloody Highlands of Scotland too)! OK, some of the kids were on the sports field for a lark rather than out of conviction, but who cares! When the lunchtime bell went those who weren't planning to join the protest, seeing they were in a minority, changed their minds and joined in. In due course, one of the teachers came out to hear our terms and then strode off when it was clear we weren't planning to move. Ten minutes or so later, the headmaster and every male teacher came out of the main building holding their straps (corporal punishment in those days!). The headmaster told us we had 3 minutes to get to our classes or every single boy in the school would be belted (corporal punishment was only for boys). A quick discussion ensued, in which we decided that was too much to bear and we gave way. However, within a term the rule was changed.

In my kid's school girls are allowed to wear trousers. None of them do except 6th formers (they're allowed to wear their own clothes). My daughter refused to wear a dress at primary school from year 4 onwards and only wore trousers. The pressure at secondary school was too much for her, particularly because we'd just moved to a new area. The need for her to find her feet, not stick out too much, make new friends, be accepted into a group, not be ridiculed and rejected (especially by older scary kids) was too great. This is a girl-culture problem in school and it isn't being tackled as such. I think it will be a generation of kids, boys and girls, who will change this, not their parents - just as happened before. Kids know their own situation better than adults and don't have any orthodoxies to protect. I don't think it will be OBJECT, but then I'm a bit of an old hippie.

MrsClown Thu 08-Mar-12 14:43:50

Diotima - I am from your era. I was lucky the school I attended had an excellent school council and the trousers issue was one of the first things I dealt with when I was on it. We were lucky and didnt have to go that far.

I think this subject should be taught in schools. The gen OBJECT have may help them with that.

tethersend Thu 08-Mar-12 15:19:19

Misogyny in secondary schools is endemic IME.

"It would be a brave teacher indeed who said "wash the make up off your face and get a new skirt you are dressed in an inappropriate and sexually provocative manner"."

I have heard this said to girls by teachers of both sexes, and it characterises exactly what is wrong. The responsibility is put onto girls not to provoke the boys- who we all know cannot be held responsible for their actions hmm

Girls are blamed for dressing inappropriately and 'leading the boys on' (direct quote from one female head of year I worked with); the status quo is never questioned or challenged (telling girls that a boy has hit them because he fancies them), male teachers are deferred to and command greater respect amongst staff and students than female, and don't get me started on the Curse of Hair and Beauty.

Girls can be vile to one another- IMO, much of this bullying behaviour is due to the fact that they are conditioned by a patriarchal society to complete for male attention from a very young age.

diotima Fri 09-Mar-12 01:21:21


If the issue is the sexualisation of girls due to peer pressure or whatever, why not tell them to remove make-up and wear something more appropriate if they turn up at school looking like Britney? I suppose you've realised that look is intended to be sexual! Britney knows it, the world knows it, but girls do not know it well enough. There's nothing wrong with it in it's place. That place is not in school and it's not among children. Girls should take responsibility for how they appear to the extent they can. To the extent they cannot, they should be regulated by responsible adults because they cannot be relied upon to do it for themselves. It's asking too much of them.

My son has just turned 13. He doesn't want girls to be so focussed on their appearance. He wants them to be themselves. He likes them as themselves. He also wants them to be open, honest, friendly, kind, quirky, funny, silly, rude, irreverent, interesting, sincere, authentic, trustworthy - those sorts of things. He's been watching most of the girls who started out like this change into something else. This is not under his influence - he doesn't like the change and doesn't want the change. He thinks most of the girls don't either, but they submit to pressure from their peers. He tells me they're not being themselves - they are changing under the influence of other girls in order to fit in. He says they think they're being mature, but they are not being mature - they are being like sheep. They are putting on an act, being inauthentic and becoming shallow and superficial. They've become untrustworthy and unreliable as friends, especially to boys. He says they don't have their own minds any more because they dare not be themselves - they care too much about what their female friends think. I believe him because he's smart and doesn't tell lies. He's also got a twin sister who has to walk that narrow line between being loyal to herself or being loyal to her group. If she is not loyal to her group she is liable to be punished. All of this regulation of behaviour and insistence on conformity is something going on between girls and it's all to do with power. That exercise of power is pernicious and should be tackled head-on. It needs to be discussed and challenged.

The 'fact' that girls are behaving cruelly to each other because they are "conditioned by a patriarchal society to complete for male attention from a very young age" is not a 'fact' in the sense in which that word can be properly used. There is too much loaded into the statement for anyone to call it 'factual'. What we can say is that it is not the experience of girls that they are being "conditioned by a patriarchal society to complete for male attention" in any sense that has real meaning for them. Put this to the next 12 year-old girl you meet and see what she makes of it! What has real meaning for her is her own immediate and direct experience. That is the focus of her interest, attention and concern and her focus should be ours. She needs practical help and guidance and alternative models. She needs to be told to focus on her character and not her appearance! She needs to told she's allowed to be herself and to be true to herself and to be strengthened in this conviction. She needs to be told she's allowed to act her age.

Now for adults:

Adults, among other things, are sexual beings. It's one of the privileges of being a grown-up! Grown-ups can handle it. There are various ways adults use their appearance to highlight the fact they are sexual beings. Having identified this to each other, they can then negotiate the terms, and fuck each other silly if they want to. Alternatively, they can just tease the hell out of each other - it's part of the fun. You need to be an adult in order to be in control of this. There are rules, boundaries, ways of keeping yourself safe and ways of making sure you only play the games you want to play with those you want to play them with. There are even power-plays involved - most of which are okay. That's fine! Grown-ups playing grown-up games is fine.

From typically around 11 years old girls begin to develop adult bodies. Obviously, there is considerable variability in their development - one girl of 13 can look 10, while another can look 16. The fact they're developing adult bodies doesn't mean they're ready to function as sexual beings. One way of emphasising this is by dressing modestly and not getting too bound up in how they look otherwise it can cause problems for them. They discover they can attract attention and have power as sexual beings. Part of it has to do with focussing on their appearance - including being too concerned about looking pretty, hot and gorgeous. Girls of my son's age who get involved in all of this are not attractive to him. They are distinctly unattractive to him! Friendships between boys and girls become difficult because a new dynamic is introduced. It's not the boys forcing the pace on this - it's the girls. Adults need to explain this to them. Even if the boys are developing a sexual interest in girls, it's something new to them and something they don't need to project onto their friends. They lose more than they gain because they move from a world they're comfortable with into a world they're uncomfortable with. Sadly, it's also a world where girls lose more than they gain. They should be doing other things, such as concentrating on their school work and having fun with their friends, male and female (kid fun - not adult fun!). They should be being immature because they are immature. I don't think the problem is that boys are not taking sufficient responsibility. Nor do I think the problem is that girls are not taking sufficient responsibility. I think the problem is that adults are not taking sufficient responsibility. They don't realise well enough that they must because children can't.

There have been social changes which mean we are all exposed to more sexual images and there is greater emphasis and value placed on appearance. This reflects a broad cultural change. Certainly children are exposed to this and need some guidance. The main guidance they need is that the images are of adults, not of them.

It seems to me there are two problems which need to kept distinct. One is to do with the objectification of women and, increasingly, the objectification of men. The other is to do with the difference between adults and children. Parents are the main authority for guiding and regulating children up until the point they are ready to enter the world of adults. Too many are copping-out in my opinion, especially with their daughters. They are looking to children to be adults because they don't want to be adults themselves.

startail Fri 09-Mar-12 01:37:45

Diotima Well said!

My DD1 wants to be herself not teased for being something she isn't.
She doesn't want to wear make up, stupid skirts and shoes or hipster trousers.

She gets on great with the boys, chatting and messing about. It's other girls that are the problem.

Schools need to enforce their rules and impress upon their pupils that school is for learning, both academic and social skills, but not adult mating rituals. It is not a night club. (Not that you'd realise looking at some of the sixformers skirts)

diotima Fri 09-Mar-12 11:22:23

startail DD1 sounds delightfully independently-minded and full of strength and courage. Good for her! I'm sure DD2 will find her own way of being the same, which will also be entirely hers smile. Don't worry - I've got a feeling this runs in your family.

ttosca Tue 24-Apr-12 23:01:20

Have a look at this image I took of my local La Senza:

This is utter crap, and is everything wrong with the world of advertising, cosmetics, consumerism, and sexualisation of children in one.

Similar to most fashion brands, La Senza owns and operates other labels, including La Senza Girl clothing stores for teenagers as well as clothing for younger children, La Senza Express stores for bras and panties, and La Senza Spirit for activewear.

I don't even want to think what would go through a young girl's mind who shops at La Senza Girl when she reads that garbage in the window.

You can make a complaint here:

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