Misogyny Hurts Everyone. It Happens in High School. It Can’t Be Ignored.
June 6, 2022
It doesn’t matter if we had sex before and you should know that. Maybe it has been hard for you to understand what I want so I will make it clearer.
This article is as valuable to me as a suicide letter but the evolution of misogyny from small comments to physical acts of violence is complex and nuanced, incommunicable in 3,000 words.
We recognize roots in early development, lack of responsible fatherhood, traditional household roles, and broken families impacting the childhood of young boys. From the moment we enter the world, we are faced with such harmful stereotypes that no child has the strength to combat. We are taught that teasing and hair pulling are acceptable ways to flirt with girls. Growing into middle school, we are introduced to sexuality and not taught how to keep our hands off female peers’ bodies or to reject the impulse to show off nude photos for the wide-eyed approval of our peers. And then we have the strength to rape, to assault, to be violent.
Do we have authority figures to educate young boys or do we have silent bystanders who perpetrate the detrimental male stereotype to stay silent, bottle it up, and internalize it? Do we victim-blame, minimize others’ experiences, avoid confrontation because it is difficult, and bend to the will of our peers, sacrificing the morals that we claim we strongly cling to?
There are many things left unsaid. Misogyny and its impact on young women and men shouldn’t be one of them. Your connection to misogyny is unavoidable. It’s time to grow into our responsibility of teaching others and start taking accountability for our shortcomings.
We are the problem. As a community and as a society we have failed young men and women. Our parents/caregivers project their misogynistic beliefs onto us from a young age, our educators fail to combat these learned behaviors, and our classmates are spineless, fleeing confrontation in favor of peer approval.
“Why do I not know of anyone with a sexual assault allegation?” says an SRHS student.
If you are unaware of SRHS’s problem with misogyny you are purposefully ignorant. The biggest source of misogyny is from our peers – sexual harassment, objectification, catcalling, unwanted touching, “locker room talk”, stereotyping, victim-blaming, “harmless” jokes, sexual assault, and rape.
There are rapists on campus. You just refuse to acknowledge them.
According to a study organized by Stop Street Harassment, 81% of women reported experiencing a form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control – Division of Violence Protection, 1 in 5 women experience completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. 43.2% of victims first experienced completed or attempted rape under the age of 17.
The goal of this article is to educate. There are no classes, courses, or lessons on misogyny and its effects in high school. Refusing to talk about ways we have felt hurt, violated, or disgusted by the men/male-presenting students around us opens us up to continued discrimination. Communicating injustices is vital to encouraging change from our male/male-presenting peers.
A survey organized by PLAN International and conducted by Perry Undem reports that while 92% of adolescents 10 to 19 believe in gender equality, not all can recognize specific aspects of equality. For example, only 51% of adolescent boys want “equal numbers of men and women to be leaders in work, politics, and life.” Furthermore, 44% of boys believe that there is gender equality for girls, compared to only 21% of girls. There is a disconnect in male adolescents’ ability to recognize sexism in their communities. Because males/male-presenting students struggle to understand that they are perpetrators of misogyny, they avoid their inherent responsibility to combat it, or worse, engage in misogynistic behaviors knowingly or unknowingly.
Many male students and staff declined an interview with us. Thank you to all our sources, non-anonymous and anonymous.
CHAPTER 1 – FAMILIAL INFLUENCE AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT
It would be stupid to discredit the role that our families play in our early development and understanding of our character. The beliefs of our parents/guardians influence our own, the traditional gender roles implemented in our family dynamics influence our expectations of men and women, and the lack of male influence leaves boys wondering about their identity.
Vanessa Torres, an SRHS alum, is currently majoring in sociology at SFSU, “I’ve been learning how there are already gender norms enforced onto a baby right out of the womb.”
Some of these behaviors may not be purposeful, the majority of parents/guardians recognize the harm of limiting gender expression and take conscious steps to not follow in the footsteps of their elders. However, their implicit biases and behaviors remain. Parenting cannot be perfect. It can be difficult to push past tradition. Being able to recognize examples of gendered parenting is a vital first step.
Research published in Child Development Perspectives, a peer-reviewed academic journal, states, “Although gendered socialization is rarely found in broad parenting styles or explicit parenting practices, it is present in implicit parenting practices.” The study categorizes “exposing children to different products and responding to children’s behaviors differently depending on gender,” and, “gendered evaluations of others’ behaviors in the child’s presence and modeling gendered roles,” as examples of implicit parenting practices.
“With parents, it is a lot more subtle. Internalized misogyny, “ says an SRHS senior, “Since I was young, my mother always made sure I knew how to cook. I had to make her breakfast and tea every morning. My brother has never had to do anything even remotely like that. He can’t even take a pan out of the oven by himself.”
Cooking may seem trivial or unimportant but these expectations of household responsibilities shape our early understanding of our gender and identity. Parents/caregivers are modeling how a household should function and what roles girls and boys should assume. We are telling children who they should be.
“These roles give a dehumanizing role to young girls during their childhood. They are taught to think it’s okay to let people, especially boys or men, step all over them and use them for their own needs,” says Torres.
Additional issues arise when gender biases and flaws in our social services and healthcare system make it difficult for male caregivers to engage in domestic roles. Many male caregivers instead take on a proving role, spending countless hours away from home. An essay published by Promundo recognizes barriers and constraints placed on male caregivers, “including restrictive gender norms and expectations, the absence of enabling policy environments, and exclusion from key services.”
This lack of significant male influence or role models in a boy’s early childhood can leave him feeling alienated and confused about his identity. Stewart Allan, an SRHS teacher, recognized how his childhood was impacted by the absence of a father figure, taking years away from teaching to be the main caretaker for his youngest child.
“A boy’s understanding of his identity is built on negativity. He looks at his mom and goes, ‘That’s what I’m not.’ So when a woman is caring or nurturing the boy is thinking, ‘So everything she is, I must be the opposite,’” says Allan.
My uncle is a perfect example of how male role models influence a boy’s character, a lack of positive male influence evolving into anger projected toward women. After my uncle’s parents got divorced, he lived with his father in a one-bedroom apartment. His father was a terrible role model, often voicing violent sexism and homophobia. In turn, my uncle has become a very misogynistic, angry, and narcissistic person. He told me about a girl in his high school who liked it when the boys would slap her ass because her bra strap was showing. “She was asking for it.” He said, “Women lie about being raped, that’s just what they do when they are mad,” and, “sexual assault and harassment aren’t common. If they were common I would know because women would tell me.” Yet when I tell him about my experiences and the experiences of my peers, he doesn’t believe me.
CHAPTER 2 – MISOGYNY IN THE CLASSROOM
As we enter the classroom, the misogynistic behaviors introduced at home flourish in the presence of our peers and new adults. We naively enter a melting pot of bigotry, misogyny, and hate. Degradation of female/female-presenting students, blatantly sexist remarks from teachers, and lack of action from staff foster a rampantly misogynistic community that female/female-presenting students are forced to endure as part of their education.
Akin to the implicit biases taught by our parents, educators teach us expectations about our intelligence, drive, and what careers we should pursue. A study conducted by the National Education Union summarized, “Teachers are ill-equipped to address sexism, and female students, in particular, feel unsupported in the face of normalized sexism and sexual harassment… teachers report being unclear about what constitutes sexism or how to explain to students why it is harmful.” While educators are not solely responsible for sexism in classroom settings, it should be the duty of all schools to educate young children on issues of sexism and misogyny. The lack of this is an educational failure.
“I have seen that men are regarded as smarter, stronger, efficient, productive, etc than women are in a classroom setting. It makes women – especially women of color- doubt themselves strongly,” says Torres.
Assumptions about gender-based educational success from educators greatly impact female/female-presenting students’ self-esteem and drive to pursue male-dominated degrees. A study on School Sexism and its Educational Implications states, “gender bias in the classroom discourages ambition and achievement in girls… unfortunately, educators track boys and girls into different paths based on one’s gender.”
“My calculus teacher was more connected to guys because since more guys go into math majors he assumed they were there to, ‘actually learn.’ For girls it was just like, ‘you are taking this class because you want it to look good on paper,’” says a female SRHS student, “That’s kinda why I dropped the class.”
The sexism from teachers at SRHS extends further than assumptions about educational abilities and intelligence, slut shaming remains a prominent issue among staff members.
“Teachers would excuse the behavior of a lot of the male characters in the books we read in class, but they would call the female characters, like Desdemona, sluts,” says Rheya Basu, an SRHS senior. “With the male characters in Othello, they would say men are violent and that is just how they are.”
With interviews from SRHS journalism student Jay Jones revealing multiple student accounts of inappropriate comments from teachers on students’ clothing choices and bodies, this behavior is not shocking. These comments have no place in an educational environment. Any teachers and staff who participate or perpetuate these ideas are encouraged to reflect on the consequences of their comments. Research highlights connections between slut shaming and depression, particularly common in childhood victims of domestic abuse and assault. “This invites us not to trivialize slut shaming victimization but rather to consider the impact it can have on the well-being of young people.”
Furthermore, interviews with students have uncovered a pattern of passive behavior from SRHS admin when it comes to female/female-presenting students voicing discomfort with peers in a classroom setting.
“I had an issue with another student once, and after a meeting I had with a member of admin, nothing was done,” says Basu, “To be that vulnerable in front of male teachers and admin just to get a fraction of the comfortable experience that boys naturally receive in a classroom -and in the world for that matter- is infuriating and exhausting.”
Basu is not alone in this sentiment, many other students voicing feelings of isolation from the staff at SRHS. Trends of indifference, slut shaming, and misogynistic assumptions from staff members reveal a larger issue present in our school system; our educators are not equipped to handle misogyny in the classroom.
CHAPTER 3 – PEER RELATIONSHIPS
SRHS students are experiencing a spectrum of misogyny, sexual harassment, and assault in and outside of the classroom, perpetuated by the passive behavior of SRHS students. Female/female-presenting students feel alienated in a community that flees discussion of misogyny and male/male-presenting students feel shunned for non-conventional self-expression.
We are constantly called whores.
I mean, have you looked in a mirror?
They sneak into our locker room, film us showering without consent, rank us on the size of our boobs/butts, trade our nudes like Pokémon cards, place bets on how many people we’ll have sex with, they make Snapchat stickers of our boobs to send to their friends, and they say they want to have sex with us but with a bag over our head because they like our bodies but not our faces.
Did you cut your shirt in half and think it looked good?
SRHS senior, Isabella Alioto, had a previous experience at a friend’s party with a student in her class.
“One time I had to work in a group with that student and the whole time I just felt uncomfortable and like he saw me as some object,” says Alioto, “It made me feel like the “easy” girl, and that he probably was going to do the same to others. It made me feel kind of helpless and like I didn’t belong in the class.”
Upon conducting interviews for this article, we learned this student does not recognize his actions.
I’ve dropped my classes, changed the routes I walk, the places I park, and the people I see. I’ve skipped school, avoided supermarkets, restaurants, parks, and beaches. I’ve felt unsafe with my friends, other partners, in my classes, the hallways, my house, my bed, anywhere, everywhere, all of the time because whenever I see you, I only feel debilitating fear. I wanted to write this article because I realized that very few people cared enough to defend me. It hurt me. I don’t want anyone else to feel alienated from their peers the way I have. They will always have me. You have “changed.” You are “different” but this will stay with me for the rest of my life. The empathy I’ve earned is conditional but your support is forever. Victims win nothing.
I justified it in my head. I guess I’m a sex addict or something.
“I think some guys will say certain things in class and be like, ‘Oh yeah misogyny is so wrong,’ blah blah blah. They’ll agree with all of the things they are told to agree with but inside they don’t agree with those things,” says Alioto, “You’re still friends with him, you’re still inviting him to things, he still has parties and you go to them.”
It’s easy not to care. Confrontation is jarring and the approval from peers rivals all morals. We don’t want to be the “feminazi,” the “bitch,” the “sensitive,” the “c**t,” and the “crazy.”
“Guys have told me they liked me better when I didn’t have opinions, when I didn’t call them out on rape, violent misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc,” says Frances Davison, a senior at Terra Linda High School.
“It’s honestly so dehumanizing. I know I use that word a lot, but it’s what describes what being a woman feels like,” says Torres.
Dehumanizing and loneliness. It is uncomfortable to demand respect. There are countless times when I’ve rolled over and accepted my fate as “lesser.” The men closest to me, the men I love, and the men I respect have never defended me. I understand you but your indifference hurts me.
“When I used to hang out with a majority male friend group, it was a pressuring atmosphere where everyone said misogynistic things or made misogynistic jokes. In hindsight, I should have said something about it but I was too engrossed in getting male validation,” says an SRHS transgender male student.
These trends of passive behavior are not surprising, research states, “A large body of literature suggests a clear, concurrent association between peer approval and self-esteem in adolescence.” Peer validation lifts us up and makes us feel appreciated and valued. I understand why we fold to the whim of our peers, the high of validation will keep us crying for more. Still, our quickness to disregard the feelings of others for the fleeting hint of peer approval is hurting us and the people we love. We are pathetic.
Our refusal to confront misogynistic behavior hurts male/male-presenting students too. Expectations of masculinity, left unchallenged, lead male/male-presenting to bottle up and hide their emotions. Self-expression that opposes masculine norms is shunned.
“For what little times I’ve cried during/at school, I’ve felt ashamed for expressing my emotional state in public,” says Alistair Gates, a queer SRHS senior, “I think I’m so nervous to express myself openly because I really haven’t been taught to do otherwise, to have been shown and expected to meet straight male standards have really affected me and others.”
It is painfully demoralizing to investigate misogyny, the scale of its impact is so wide I feel hopeless. I want to crawl under a rock and pretend I don’t carry the weight of misogyny and rape until I decompose into wealthy soil. I can’t make anyone change, I’m not doing enough either, everyone runs from responsibility, and I feel useless. My call to action is a plea: please listen to the female/female-presenting people in your lives, confront your peers, reflect on your learned misogynistic behaviors, and engage in discussion about misogyny. We are the problem.
“I learned how much people hate me talking about it because they know it’s true or afraid it’s too much for them. A majority of times people decide to step out of the conversation because of it,” says Torres.