There’s no doubt the sexual harassment of teenage girls continues in schools despite all the public discourse and political rhetoric in Australia over the past few months. We are talking about behaviours that are so entrenched in our schools and society at large that I believe it will take at least a generation or two to clear out (if we are lucky).
At a dinner party with friends recently, I had the pleasure of chatting to a couple of girls in their final year of high school. It wasn’t long before Jamie* was telling me about the discomfort she and friends feel due to the frequent commentary from male peers about their “body count”.
What is a body count?
A body count is the number of girls these boys have had sex with. Apparently, it is common for some boys to boast about this count, ask girls to add to it and so on. This all happens while these teenagers are trying to complete their most important year of schooling.
Rage rose within me as I heard this story and I had to pause to take a deep breath or two. Aside from the appalling language used by the boys – body counts generally describe dead bodies – the fact these girls could not complete their education without sexual harassment is unconscionable.
When I asked Jamie about the reporting mechanisms she could use to have the behaviour stopped, her answers were disappointingly and sadly familiar.
She said nothing would be done about one of the ringleaders because he is a [insert one of the following: rising sports star/father is rich/parent is a barrister] and therefore untouchable. She said the boys had been spoken to previously and nothing changed. Finally, Jamie said there was no point going to Mrs X because, “ She thinks there is nothing you can do about it and will just tell us to ignore it.”
Every woman and teenage girl at the table was familiar with these types of answers because we have all used them. Our reasoning for these responses is sound and based on our real-life experiences. But it is also one of the reasons nothing has changed since I was in high school.
It is a lot to ask a teenage girl to report these behaviours. It requires strength and courage to stand up and call these out in schools. Teenagers can be just as unforgiving as adults when someone attempts to disrupt the status quo.
What are the reporting mechanisms in schools?
Fortunately, after further discussion, Jamie was able to identify an individual teacher who might be sympathetic and more likely to take action. But I was disappointed her school had not yet established or clearly communicated reporting processes to empower their students.Frankly, the school should have had established pathways so Jamie knew who she could talk to. Ideally, every teacher should also be trained in receiving and following through on these complaints so students feel safe.
If you have a school-aged child or teenager, I would recommend asking the school what their reporting and processes are for sexual harassment and abuse complaints by students and how these processes are monitored and assessed. I would also ask how their teaching and administration staff are trained and supported to manage these processes. I know many women in particular are seeking ways to help create the changes we know are needed and this might be a way you can be involved in your community.
Girls should be able to attend school and be safe from harassment. But they’re not. Many of you may feel surprise this is still an issue. You may wonder how it is not solved yet. After all, haven’t we talked about it enough? I am also aware some parents are still indulging in hopeful naivete when it comes to the behaviours of their teenage children. Comments like, “My son wouldn’t even know about that stuff/would never say something like that” are still common.
I understand these reactions and wish it was that simple. But the truth is, this problem is not going away in the near future and it is widespread. Teenage boys are certainly hearing this type of commentary at school even if they are not participating in these behaviours. This is an uncomfortable truth we all need to face directly if we are to change things. We need to have frequent, open and honest conversations with young people about these issues. The time for believing we are protecting them by not discussing things is over – that approach only puts them at higher risk.
On a personal note, I found it interesting that when discussing the issue with Jamie, I did not look towards any man at the table for support in helping her to work out the next steps. It was her mother and the other women and girls I looked to. This was not intentional exclusion on my part and certainly her male relatives were concerned about Jamie’s experience. I suspect my approach was a default response because I have given up waiting for men to step forward to address these issues and indeed, I have no expectations they will. It is still a rarity when I do see a man or boy speak up or more importantly, be willing to act in these situations. I hope this changes in my lifetime but, for now, I know it is women and girls who must continue to be strong, courageous and take the lead in this battle.
It’s been a shocking week in the news or, at least, that’s what a lot of people have said online. They are shocked and appalled by the news of a female Liberal Party staffer, Brittany Higgins, being raped in our nation’s Parliament (there is now a second report from another woman). They are shocked by the flood of sexual assault and rape reports from girls and women who were assaulted by boys from private schools in Sydney. The shock is compounded by the one-year anniversary of the horrific murder of Hannah and her three children at the hands of her estranged husband.
Everyone is shocked. Except we’re not really shocked because that word suggests an element of surprise, and I’m sure most women aren’t surprised at all. We’re not surprised when it’s reported the Prime Minister and his staff may have covered up Brittany’s rape or that the alleged perpetrator went on to a cushy job in the private sector. We’re not surprised that all those private school boys who assaulted their female peers have apparently gone on to live their lives without any repercussions whatsoever. We weren’t surprised when poor Hannah and her children paid the ultimate price in a society where women are still not safe from predatory men.
Perhaps a better word would be sad. Incredibly sad. A heartbreaking sadness that sits in your chest and never leaves because you feel so helpless, particularly as a woman who wants every woman to be safe no matter where she is or what she is wearing.
It was only when he thought about Brittany as a woman attached to him genetically that he could see her as a human. Anyone who knows this man is record was not surprised at his lack of empathy (remember the bushfires) or support for women,
Meanwhile, social media posts call for more teaching about consent in schools, starting with younger children than we do now. The calls seem to asks our schools and hard-working teachers to take on even more of the social responsibility for how our children turn out. Over-burdened teachers with heavy workloads reply, “Really? When will parents and the rest of society take on the load? How much more do you want us to do?”
Some mutter about porn being the cause and, yes, porn has negatively shaped expectations for many men and boys when it comes to what sex, and girls and women should look like and enjoy. But porn isn’t to blame for the ongoing violence towards girls and women. This violence happened to my generation and all the ones that came before. It continues even now.
There is a saying that rot starts from the top and in this case, I believe the change we need must also start there as well. Unfortunately, for women, this change is something men must initiate – the men who hold leadership roles in our government, schools and communities.
The perpetrators of this violence are male. Boys look to men for cues on how to be men so it is men who must speak up.
Wouldn’t it be great if the Prime Minister stood up and said loudly with no spin or prevarication: “Any man who has sex with a woman without her full, eager and willing consent is a rapist and a despicable human being as far as I am concerned. As such, I would expect them to be pursued and prosecuted within the full scope of the law, and if that didn’t happen, I would want to know why.”
Wouldn’t it be great if teenage boys were also told that by their male teachers and by men in their homes and communities?
Wouldn’t it be great if every man in a leadership role in a football code did the same?
Wouldn’t it be great if they said it, meant it and followed through so every woman or girl could feel safe and know that “good men” really do exist?
A heavy sadness has been growing in my heart for some days now. It arrived when I opened Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women and read about the vicious and violent threats she has received from men throughout her career, simply for voicing her opinions.
My heart grew heavier still as I watched Promising Young Woman at the cinema last night.
A book and a film both released in the past 12 months. Both cover the abuse of women. Both shining a blinding spotlight on what women know to be true – we are not safe.
The fact I need to put a trigger warning at the start of this post demonstrates just how unsafe we are – almost every woman I know has experienced some kind of abuse at the hands of man. And when many of us write about women standing up for themselves, we also include the words – if it’s safe for you to do so. We write this because for many women, it’s not safe to speak up.
I had to put Laura’s book down after reading the first 20 pages. I will pick it up again but I need to steel myself to proceed (and I haven’t even got to the really confronting parts yet).
However, I did watch the entirety of Promising Young Woman and I would describe it as brilliantly written, incredibly confronting and disturbingly accurate. It shows what women know to be true and also how men and some women dismiss, cover it up and justify it to themselves.
The film centres on Cassie, a young woman who dropped out of medical school to care for her best friend, Nina. Nina was raped while drunk during college and her rapist got away with it.
Cassie is on a mission to seek retribution.
Promising Young Woman could only have been written and directed by a woman. Its realness is unavoidable. I also feel it should be compulsory viewing for every girl, woman, boy and man over the age of 16.
The frequent refrain of “but I’m a nice guy” provided many teachable moments. Male characters knowingly took advantage of a woman who was drunk yet, when caught out, excused themselves with “but I’m a nice guy” and somehow reasoned away their culpability. Men and women dismissed rape as no big deal with comments about how the victim was drunk and asking for it.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
It reminded me of when I was at my post-formal party. It was the end of high school and my whole year went to a school mates’ property to get drunk and celebrate. I was a fairly naïve 17-year-old but even so, for some reason, I asked a trusted male friend if he would look out for me. I knew he would be sober but I wouldn’t be. Later that night, I remember one of the guys from my year (a seemingly nice guy) with his hands all over my breasts and the rest of my body. If it wasn’t for intervention of my sober male friend, things could have got out of hand very quickly.
Interestingly, back then, it didn’t register as an invasion of my physical space or assault. I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone and I certainly didn’t confront the perpetrator when I was sober at school the next day. Instead, I felt like it was just one of those things that could happen and you lived with it – having a guy put his hands all over you, intimately, when you were drunk was something that could happen and you lived with it. There was also an underlying theme that, somehow, you should feel good if a guy noticed you in that way – like you should be grateful for their attention.
No one had ever talked to me about how vulnerable women can be in those situations, what could happen and what my rights were to protect my own body. Clearly I knew enough to ask a friend to look out of me but that wasn’t from any direct conversation. I guess it was a more innate understanding of what kind of world I lived in as a young woman. It was just what we lived with.
But I’m sick of living with it and I’m tired of hearing people say that a woman asked for trouble because of what she was wearing or because she drank too much. Equally, I know that just because some guy shows you attention doesn’t mean you should be grateful for it. I’m also so sick of perpetrators getting away with their crimes because everyone thinks they are “nice guys” and “women often lie about these things”.
Women don’t often lie about these things. Why would we when, by making a formal police report, we open ourselves up to condemnation for being a slut and somehow asking for it? Or worse, victims are dismissed by police because a perpetrator “comes across as decent guy” when interviewed. Yes, it happens. Still.
There’s no doubt Promising Young Woman rips the scab off and exposes the darkness beneath. It’s a darkness we all know is there. Some of us try to ignore it, some of us feel powerless to stop it, many of us have been victims of it. But. We. All. Know. It. Is. There.
So please, take your brother, husband, boyfriend, father and male friends to see this film. Have the difficult conversations that arise afterwards. And for God’s sakes, all you men out there who sincerely want to help women: start listening to the experiences of the women you are supposed to care about, believe them and step up. Because women are still being raped and assaulted by “nice guys” and we need your help to stop it.
And as for you “nice guy” perpetrators out there. I hope you meet a woman like Cassie very soon.
In loving and intimate relationships, there are always things you need to negotiate on – where to eat dinner, who is preparing dinner, where to go on holidays, what colour you should paint the walls, how much money you save together for your agreed goals, and so on. These types of negotiations happen in healthy relationships.
Unfortunately, some men believe their female partners should also negotiate with them about other topics like:
What you wear
What you eat
What you post on social media (when he and/or your children aren’t in the pics)
What you wear when you post on social media
What you weigh
The size of your breasts (implants anyone?)
Which other men you can talk to
How much make-up you do or don’t wear.
These topics are NOT negotiation points and if you’re with a man (a term I am using very loosely in this instance) who insists on you negotiating about these, LEAVE.
You may think this advice is rather melodramatic but is it, really? Because I have to tell you, when you agree to negotiate about how you show up in the world, you are on a slippery slope to nowhere good. Your autonomy is not up for negotiation.
And quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about his feelings about this and neither should you. I would also wonder who taught him it was okay to tell you what you can and cannot do with your body. That sounds like a bad case of entitlement and he should get some therapy to resolve that issue while you move onto a man who has a healthy sense of self and respects you as the amazing goddess you are.
The right man will love you as you are and will not seek to control you. He will respect your autonomy and respect you as an individual who chooses her own path. Just like he chooses his.
Lucretia is an author, psychic and intuitive mentor who helps women live their purpose. Need some practical and honest advice about feelings, life or relationships? Visit DearLucretia.com to ask your question. Answers are FREE and your name will always be changed if your question is published.
Earlier today, I learned that feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the stalwart Judge of the US Supreme Court had passed over. Just days ago, she told her granddaughter, “[my] most my fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” The Universe had other plans and now it’s possible the Trump will replace her with a conservative judge who will continue the rolling back of individual rights including those bestowed through Roe versus Wade. The rights of women to decide what happens to their own bodies is under a very real threat.
Then an old work colleague rang me out of the blue and we talked about how women still struggle with self-worth, give their power away to their male partners and need to be vigilant about their safety in ways men never have to be. Women still need to be aware of their surroundings when they go out, watchful of who is around them, wary of walking at night, and consider their personal safety and how a man might react if they reject him. Women still need to do this, even after all the time that has passed since the 80s when my colleague and I were in our teens and 20s.
We talked about how every second woman we know has experienced some form of abuse as a child or an adult, at the hands of a man.
After all of this, I can’t help but feel tired, sad and disheartened. How much more do we have to fight for rights that are so fundamental? Why are there still discussions about what women can and can’t do with their bodies? It’s not as if anyone ever talks about mandatory vasectomies for men? Can you imagine the uproar if someone tried to legislate such a thing?! Still, it seems women’s bodies are still somehow public property while men’s bodies are not. One 87-year-old judge in the US Supreme Court was the last bastion standing up for a woman’s right to choose versus a government’s move to dictate a woman’s decisions regardless of her own personal desires and autonomy. Now RBG has departed, the threat to women’s legislated rights to choose is very real in a country that has, until recent times, been a leader of the free-world.
Meanwhile, the truth of Glennon’s words stay with me because I know women give away their power every day – we frequently give it away more than it is taken from us. We give it away because we desire those feelings of safety and belonging that Glennon talks of. We give it away because we have become so convinced that it is the normal thing to do. We watched our mothers do it, our friends do it, celebrities do it, and so we have done it too. We ignore the red flags and accept less than we’re worth. We are too often taught not to use our voices stridently to ask for and claim what is rightfully ours. Instead we are taught to ask nicely and be nice at all costs or otherwise face rejection.
The not-good-enoughness, the I must “help him” at my own expense and the excusals of behaviour and red flags with the age-old “but I love him” continues. And even though on one level, social media provides so many opportunities for individual expression it also strangely, drives strong messages of conformity. How can women rise if we are still trying to fit into a norm that we helped create and exist in, while trying to create something new that is not yet realised?
It’s September 2020, RBG has died and it feels like we aren’t moving forward.
Tomorrow is a new day and I’m sure my optimism will return. My drive and belief that we can change things for the better has not left me. It just feels a little subdued today. I can only hope that, somehow, we change things over the coming decade so that the girls being born today will not have the same experiences in their 20s that this generation is having. Seeking honest and practical advice about the things that matter – love, relationships, coping with life, choosing your path, managing stress and anxiety? Lucretia provides free advice at DearLucretia.com. It’s time to take the filters off and have a real conversation about life! Note, your name will be changed before your question is published to ensure you remain anonymous.
When I was a teenage girl, I read almost every copy of my mother’s collection of Georgette Heyer novels. Set mostly in pre-1800 England, the romantic tales included balls, confused women with love in their hearts, and sometimes ruthless men who softened in the end. It depicted a fantastic world full of chivalry, silk and honour. It was light years away from my very ordinary 1980s life in Australia.
In a most contradictory fashion, my late teens saw me increasingly outspoken about feminist issues. I was and am still a woman who believes passionately in feminism. I believe in equality. Women would not have the rights we do, without feminism.
It has been 30+ years since I started reading Heyer and learning about feminism. In some ways, things have changed a lot during that time. In other ways, not so much.
As an adult, I realise that Heyer’s romantic stories veiled a time when women were usually nothing more than chattels with few, if any, rights of their own – if you’d like a horrifying look into that world, I recommend you watch The Duchess, a film about the life of Georgiana Spencer (let me know if you notice any similarities between Georgiana and the life of her later relative, Diana).
My teenage self thought women would have equality by 2020. I imagine her beside me now – she has disappointment written all over her face.
There is still a long way to go before the scales are equally balanced. Women are still treated as property in many countries throughout the world. Too many women are still treated like that in Australia too – take a look at the domestic violence statistics for the evidence of this.
Women still don’t have equal representation at the top levels of industry or government – we are still greeted by a sea of mainly male faces leading major companies across the globe and dominating our parliaments. Why are women still such a minority? And don’t tell me it’s because women have to leave work to have babies because Jacinda Ardern has busted that myth wide open. In her case, instead of trying to conform to a way of doing things that was established to suit the needs of men, she’s adjusted things to equally suit the needs of a woman.
Despite the evidence that we have a long way to go, I often hear women say they do not identify as being a feminist. But if you want equality for women, by definition, you are a feminist – please visit a dictionary if you don’t believe me.
But the word ‘feminist’ feels too radical for some, it seems. It’s too disruptive. It conjures up…oh, I don’t know, images of screaming women, burning their bras. It also comes with images and stories of women being targeted and harangued by enraged men seeking to maintain the status quo through covert and even overt threats.
If you are a woman and you want equality, smiling nicely and playing within the existing structures and according to the rules and structures that we didn’t create, is unlikely to get you there. It hasn’t got us there yet – why do we think doing things the same way will change anything?
I’m not anti-men and I’m not anti-romance either. I still love a good rom com film and highly value chivalry in a man.
But if you believe feminism isn’t needed, you’re not looking at the truth of the way things are. If you want equality for women, then you are a feminist. This means you also need the tools and support to allow you to speak up, stand out and be disruptive. Because, yes, you will need to disrupt the way things have always been to create a world where power is more evenly distributed. We need to create new ways of doing things that don’t just support the way things have always been done.