Just a couple of weeks ago, inspirational schoolgirl 15 year old Rae Madoc Jones started a change.org campaign to get three hours of feminism a year taught in schools after being increasingly concerned about insulting and misleading ideas amongst young people about what feminism means. “As a teenager, I am constantly exposed to the harsh reality of sexism, particularly on social media, and people who promote insulting ideas of what it really means to be a feminist,” she told this blog.
On her Change campaign page, she adds: “Recently, I've been noticing boys in my year at school sharing incredibly sexist posts on social media. Whenever me or my friends say, very politely, that we disagree, we are bombarded with people saying that 'they are not sexist' or 'they don't mean it' or 'it doesn't matter'.
But clearly it does matter. Recent news about a planned investigation into sexual violence and harassment in schools makes uncomfortable reading. Over 5,500 cases of sexual harassment were reported to police in a three year period. 5,500. That’s about five cases a day. And this includes some 600 rapes. 600 rapes. At school.
“Lad culture is a big issue,” said one participant in the Women and Equalities Committee study which lead to the investigation. “In my school, lads would come up to girls and grab them, try and push them into the changing rooms and then say ‘don’t get upset, it’s just banter.” Other pupils who took part in the research talked of a culture where boys had a sense of “entitlement” to girls, and that they and their friends were pressured to have sex or face being “bullied for being a virgin”.
This is so very sad. And so very worrying. Of course children play, and fool around and say things they don’t mean. But not always. Casual comments in the playground can turn into a truth universally acknowledged. This recent video from Norway entitled ‘Dear Daddy’ is an incredibly powerful demonstration of how those jokes and remarks that have become part of ours and our children’s dialogue are a very serious issue.
In it a young girl appeals to her father to protect her from what she says is the most dangerous thing in the world – being born a girl in a culture where the everyday language used to describe her is still sexist, and often abusive. But most importantly – when it’s called out – it’s put down to being harmless banter. “By the time I’m fourteen, the boys in my class will have called me a whore. A bitch. A c*nt. And many other things. But it’s just for fun of course. Something boys do. So you won’t worry,” she says. “Perhaps you did the same when you were young. Trying to impress some of the other boys. I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it. Still, some of the people won’t get the joke.”
Just like when we tell girls that boys are mean to them because they like them, telling girls that sexist jokes are just something boys do is short-changing all children. Girls need to know that boys can be respectful and loving, kind and compassionate. They need to expect more from their men than inane jokes and bullying. And in turn, boys need to know that they are credited with more than just being dumb asses who make stupid jokes. By telling boys ‘they are just being boys’, you’re telling them their words don’t have the power to influence things.
That what they say doesn’t matter.
The problem is, that we were raised this way. We were told that it was ok for boys to bully us. That their rude jokes and their nasty phrases that made us feel uncomfortable or ashamed were harmless. We were told not to be so sensitive when boys poked fun at our bodies or called us names. So it became the norm. Just part of growing up. And so now, even when we think we’re not, we’re letting language like this go by without calling it out. Without realising what we’re saying.
The future is theirs, but the problem is ours.
So we have to stop explaining away language that is offensive or abusive as ‘banter’. We have to stop laughing along at sexist jokes – even if they’re supposed to be very, very funny. Which usually, they are not. And we have to start believing in our children. Believing that they are capable of more than puerile jokes and ignorant conversation. Believing that the best a boy can do to show a girl he likes her, is not to chase her and pull her hair, but to listen to what she has to say, and to treat her kindly.
So, adults and parents everywhere, call yourselves out. Look at the language you use and ask how it could be changed. Fathers of daughters, raise up your girls up to know that these things aren’t ok. And mothers of sons, raise your boys up to know that too. Sign this petition. Watch the video. Read this report. Tells us more. And, if you can, talk to your children about why you’re doing it so they understand too. It started with us, but it ends with them.
Emma Johnson is a freelance editor and journalist. When not writing about heritage brands or luxury travel, she blogs about her experiences of moving from London back to her childhood home in the Cotswolds, and raising her baby in the back of beyond.
Check her Blog: countrymunchkin.com
Like her Facebook: facebook.com/thecountrymunchkin
Tweet her up: @C0untryMunchkin