I kept thinking that as I read through Rhonda Bodfield and Carmen Duarte's story in the Arizona Daily Star outlining the prevalence of sexual harassment in schools. I won't repeat the specific cases the Star found, but they push into the realm of criminal activity, and in most cases, the perpetrators honestly didn't think they were committing a major offense.
What's worse, the harassed girls often brush it off:
"Some girls have low self-esteem and are embarrassed to say anything or to stand up for someone else," said Renee Valencia, 17.The disrespectful mentality comes from all over:
Vanessa Gonzales, 17, the former manager of junior varsity and varsity volleyball teams, said sometimes it's best to ignore it. "Because if you tell them (the harassers) anything, then it just leads to them calling you a [female dog] and others giving you a hard time," she said.
And, [Wellesley Nan College researcher Stein] said, kids see it in the larger culture. At sporting events, players often do a quick bum-pat as a nonverbal expression of "good job." "They've seen this behavior as being very acceptable," she said.
"Everything is so sexualized now that it's hard for kids not to pick up on it," said Susan Fineran, who co-wrote the report that ran in Sex Roles.Which leads to a question the article never asks: Where are the parents?
Every teenage boy needs to hear and understand a form of this statement before entering puberty: "Girls deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of what I see on TV or in the movies, or among my friends, because that's how real men treat ladies. It is not appropriate to touch them in their private parts, no matter how they're looking or what they're wearing or what my hormones are doing."
I never remember Mom or Dad having a talk with me about treating ladies with respect, although I do recall a rule posted in every one of my elementary school classes: "Keep hands, feet and objects to yourself." That was enough. Nobody felt the need to bring the things your bathing suit covers into the discussion. This was at least a decade before the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings brought sexual harassment to the forefront. We also didn't have significant numbers of young women appearing underdressed like Madonna in her teeny-bop phase.
Nowadays, we can't pass this lesson in character development to schools anymore, if we ever did.
Jim Fish, TUSD assistant superintendent for middle schools, has told all of his principals to take a preventive approach to sexual harassment.Or worse, we abdicate the responsibility with an excuse: "Boys will be boys." Sometimes, it's "Girls will be girls." Hey, if the guys can act inappropriately, why can't we?
"You need to sit down with kids and be clear about what is acceptable and what is not," he said. "We make too many assumptions about what kids should know."
So the kids are left to make up the rules, thinking that grabbing private parts and asking for sexual favors is a normal part of growing up. You can't blame that on MTV or the radio. The media is not in charge of drawing the lines.
But what angers and saddens me the most is the air of resignation among teenage girls who feel it's better for them to shrug off the boorish behavior than stand and yell "STOP!" Perhaps they don't feel like they're real women if they do. They don't feel like they're real women if they're wearing a skirt that comes down below the knee or a cleavage-free top. Don't even get me started on high heels. Ladies don't feel they have options because our culture doesn't reward modest, moderate people anymore. One of my former co-workers had a button in her cubicle: "Well-behaved women rarely make history." Maybe. But I'm willing to bet you most women who made history at least didn't sell out their standards of decency.
Dearest Ladies -- and I mean that term in respect, not patronization -- you are worth more than the going rate. Demand respect. Do not be culturally conned. Live in the world, but don't be of the world, as the Bible tells us. And do not be afraid to draw the line, because everybody else is expecting somebody else to draw it for them. You don't have to demand men bow to you -- although it looks nice -- but you must insist your body is not a toy.