Research published within the last year shows that sexual harassment and usage of misogynistic language in teenagers may be increasing, possibly due to the fact that many parents are not talking to their children about the topic.
The study, which surveyed over 3,000 American high school students and young adults, shows that 87 percent of women aged 18 to 25 have experienced at least one of the following: being catcalled, being touched by a stranger without permission, being insulted using sexualized words (like bitch, slut, ho, etc.), being told something sexual by a stranger, and being called ‘hot’ by a stranger.
Despite the high frequency of these experiences, 76 percent of people reported that they never had conversations with their parents about avoiding sexual harassment. A majority had also never had conversations with their parents about misogyny.
“Pervasive sexual harassment and misogyny are certainly not new, but we seem to be making frighteningly little progress in preventing it,” Professor Richard Weissbourd, faculty director of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project, said. “It’s widespread among teens and young adults, yet both parents and educators tend not to engage young people in serious conversations about why it’s so troubling and what they can do to stop it.”
One school in England, Nottingham Free School, is taking its own measures to combat the prevalence of misogynistic language in its students. The school, which has students ages 11 to 15, created special lessons to teach the impacts misogynistic language can have on women.
BBC was able to sit in on the class and watch as students discussed the sexualized and misogynistic terms and phrases they had encountered in their lives.
One 14-year-old boy said that this kind of language is common amongst his peers, especially “(to) insult your mates, whether that be a joke, or insulting someone, as if you meant to hurt their feelings. It’s so commonly used you don’t think about what the consequences might be.”
“Boys usually use phrases like ‘like a girl’ or ‘get back in the kitchen’ but then I feel girls use ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ and ‘slag’ and ‘sket’ towards each other,” one girl added.
Once the list was compiled, the students also discussed the impacts these phrases have on the girls and women they are directed toward.
“It belittles you as a girl,” one girl said. “You feel really self-conscious and you get anxious. There have been times I didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t want to talk to people because I was anxious or I was worried about what people would say.”
Though the lessons are only being given to a small group right now, the school’s administration and faculty are hoping that these students will be able to discuss the topics with their peers and that the girls will gain the confidence to stand up for themselves. They also hope that other schools create similar initiatives to educate their students.
“That’s where it’s going to start, not just us sitting back and letting things happen,” Severine Wilkins, the class’s teacher, said. “When I did the research, it was amazing how many women actually do just get on with it, because, that’s life, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
The world needs more people discussing and educating young adults on misogyny and sexual harassment to prevent continued use of offensive phrases and stop harmful behavior even before it starts.
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