Monday, December 5, 2011

Sexual Harassment Is Alive and Well

Sexual harassment is alive and well in American high schools. It is thriving in American middle schools, and even, at times, in American elementary schools.

It may not involve vulgar gestures. For the most part it centers on systematic verbal abuse. As they transition into puberty, America’s children are likely to be taunted by slurs, slanders, and insults about their burgeoning sexuality.

It belongs to the larger problem of bullying, but it is certainly one of its most important aspects. Calling children dumb or retarded counts as bullying, but assaulting them with terms like slut or queer seems to be more common.

How prevalent is it?

Stephanie Pappas reports: “According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, 44 percent of gay male students and 40 percent of lesbians said they'd experienced bullying in the past year, compared with 26 percent of heterosexual boys and 15 percent of heterosexual girls.”

No one doubts that this is unacceptable. Everyone recognizes that it is a symptom. Of what, people are not so sure.

Has this form of bullying become more prevalent than it once was? Or is this just the way it’s always been?

If I had to guess, based on my own distant memories of how it was when I was in high school and middle school, I would say that the situation has gotten worse.

After all, in the old days children rarely used profanity. Since profanity was frowned on, children did indulge their taste for profanity.

At a time when gay students were very, very rarely “out,” slurs against gay students would naturally have been less common.

At a time when adolescent girls were invariably virgins, and when their mothers would never have allowed them to dress like hookers, the word slut was used less often.

How did we get to the point where these forms of abuse are commonplace?

For over two decades now America has been engaged in an ongoing conversation about sexual harassment. Public consciousness has been raised. Everyone knows it’s bad. Everyone knows that it’s pervasive. Thanks to lurid media reports we talk about it all the time.

We even believe that the more we talk about sexual harassment the less there will be. Unfortunately, the chatter seems only to produce more harassment. Among schoolchildren, at the least.

When it comes to the word that is most likely to be used to taunt and malign young girls—SLUT— sex positive feminists like Jaclyn Friedman have declared that women should proudly embrace their sluthood. In that way, they imagine the word will lose its sting.

We have also seen a multitude of SlutWalks. There, women dress like sluts, proclaim themselves to be sluts, and pretend that their activity is going to make the epithet less painful.

Since they do not know any better, these groups consider that they are advancing the cause of sexual liberation.

The same cause has allowed schools to teach sex education to pre-pubescent students. It has convinced the nation that when children talk about sex openly and freely, they will have a healthier attitude toward it. The cause wants sex education to function like a form of mental hygiene.

They insist that a child who knows the right way to put a condom on a banana children will have a healthier sense of his or her sexuality.

Feminism has been central to this movement, especially in its insistence that there is no such thing as sexual difference. Even sex-negative feminists rail against the double standard. They are happy to feed children the message that there is no significant difference between boys and girls, men and women.

Television shows and other media outlets have also been teaching children to be open and honest about their sexual orientation. They have no awareness that the decision to be "out" might have consequences that an adolescent is incapable of evaluating.

For those who believe that society will take a giant leap toward sexual liberation as soon as television dramas portray different sexual orientations positively, these shows are a godsend.

Of course, they are deeply puzzled by the fact that American high schools have not yet transformed themselves into the set of Glee.

Taken together, these policies aim at making sex something normal and healthy and wholesome, something that can and should be shown off in public, without fear or shame.

They assume, as a matter of ideological faith, that cultural forces have been repressing healthy, wholesome, normal sexuality, turning to from a force for happiness into something dirty and ugly, something that needs to be hidden from the public.

I will mention in passing that some serious thinkers have objected to this liberationist ideology on the grounds that sex is not fun unless it’s a bit dirty.

Funnily enough, in the name of freeing the world from sexual repression, this ideology has been repressing sexuality.

Surely, it wants to repress sexual differences. Actually, you are not even allowed to talk about sexual differences or sexual identity any more. You have to talk about gender. Sex, you see, is too divisive and too patriarchal.

Unfortunately, the sexual liberationist ideology is wrong about sex.

The sexual liberationists believe that all forms of sexual pleasure are created equal. They are not.

The sexual liberationists believe that the difference between the sexes is a social construct. It is not.

The sexual liberationists believe that sex should be discussed openly and honestly. It should not.

The sexual liberationists believe that sexual repression causes people to think that sex is dirty and deviant. It does not.

By disconnecting sex from reproduction, the sexual liberationists have tried to eradicate the difference between the sexes. They have forced it to assert itself even more loudly.

By militating against shame they have undermined modesty, especially for young girls.

By insisting that a free and open discussion of sexuality is a good thing, they have made it permissible for children to use sexual innuendo.

They have failed to understand that if sex is never exhibited openly in the public square, there is a reason.

First, human, that is, social beings are identified by their face not by the appearance of their external genitalia.

Second, sexual desire is enhanced by modesty. If you remove the mystery from sex, people become desensitized to sexual stimuli. Once that happens, they will naturally require more hard core stimuli.

Has this campaign for sexual liberation been a success? Considering the amount of sex-related bullying that American children suffer on a daily basis, you would have to conclude that it has failed, miserably.

Erin Gloria Ryan finds it difficult to understand: “In spite of efforts by big names like Lady Gaga and Dan Savage, teens continue to treat each other like shit.”

I would suggest that it is not despite, but because these big names are out in force trying to repress human sexuality that human sexuality has been revealing an uglier side.

Sex always has an ugly side. If it was as pretty as the liberationists think it is, the human species would have found a way to put it on public display.

Sexual liberationists have made a virtue of indiscretion and shamelessness. The results are visible in the amount of sexual abuse that far too many high school students have to endure.

Research has suggests that sex-related bullying targets girls by taunting them with the SLUT.

It makes sense. SlutWalkers and sex positive feminists have been trying to make the word less of a vulgar epithet. But if the word has supposedly lost its sting, why should a girl not use it all the time to diminish the girls she does not like?

After all, it isn’t such a bad word, is it?

What is going on here? What genie has just escaped from its magic lantern?

Researchers believe that these forms of abuse and harassment are part of the process of sexual identification. And not just any old free-form sexual identity. They show children defending  normal sex roles. After all, if no one else is doing it, the task falls to the children.

Erin Gloria Ryan reports that a girl can be bullied for being too much a girl—being a slut—or for being too little a girl—being a tomboy or a lesbian.

When children are beginning to assert their sexual identity, they often begin by employing what we can call a primitive way of thought. Let’s call it oppositional thinking. They do not know how to assert or to show that they are X so they do it by insisting that they are not Y.

Oppositional thinking is not the final stage of sexual identification. It seems merely to be an early stage, befitting adolescents.

Boys assert their sexual identity by distinguishing themselves from girls, often sharply. If they want to conform to the norms of sexual behavior they have one sure way of asserting that they are real boys: they slander other boys who are effeminate or gay.  

With girls things change slightly. Girls often assert their sexual identity by bullying other girls who do not conform to the norm for girlish behavior.

But when they take out after girls they consider sluts, they are also asserting their own moral value. They are asserting the value of their own sexuality and announcing that they will not give it away for free. Part of being a girl or a woman involves placing a very high value on one's intimacy.

As most people know, promiscuity undermines a girl’s self-respect. It does not undermine a boy's confidence. This does not mean that a boy’s promiscuous behavior makes him a man. It doesn’t. It makes him a stud.

Strangely enough, while a girl who hooks up might be labeled a slut, it is very rare that a stud is slandered by being called a gigolo.


n.n said...

I agree. They are creating the problems to which they then offer solutions, and receive compensation through both voluntary (e.g. advocacy, therapy) and involuntary exploitation (i.e. redistributive and retributive change).

There are at least two orders which underlie our world and guide people's behavior: natural and enlightened. The first is base and yet productive, and the latter is the recognition and respect of individual dignity. The people (i.e. secular cult) who are directing human development, both in the private and public sectors, follow an order which is progressively incompatible with both.

They have denigrated individual dignity, devalued human life, and normalized behaviors which are deviant. Some behaviors are productive and should be normalized; while others can be tolerated, but there is no legitimate reason to normalize them; and the remainder should neither be normalized nor tolerated.

It's ironic that the same people who claim a faith in evolutionary principles are capable of pursuing measures which are highly antithetical to human evolutionary success. Well, success, of course, depends on their definition of a fitness function.

Whether it is dreams of physical, material, or ego gratification through involuntary exploitation, or the same dreams through fraudulent exploitation, the result is a progressive corruption of individuals and society.

As we pursue "progress", we are are moving from one extreme -- perceived and real -- to another. The latter arguably represents a worse outcome evidenced by a higher and pervasive form of corruption.

You are also right in that we need to distinguish between cause and effect. In this day where objective thinking is purportedly heralded as the epitome of human progress, there is an inordinate tendency to ignore cause and treat symptoms. This is presumably motivated by dreams of physical, material, and ego instant gratification, as well as a desire to consolidate wealth and power. This, incidentally, is the same underlying problem with authoritarian ideologies, including: communism, socialism, fascism, etc.

What a nonsensical mess people have created as they indulge their primitive urges. We live in a selective reality.

Anonymous said...

Even the 7-year-olds:

When will it end?

sexual harassment attorney said...

It's a role-playing. If you don't want to be a victim, then be the harasser.

Anonymous said...

As a father of two girls, 10 and 7 years old, how do we deal with this? Can anybody point out any books or articles good ideas or tips for parents on how to prepare our daughters for these situtations? Thank you in advance-Bob

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, n.n. for a great analysis. I think it's important to emphasize, as you do, that the experts on these matters are in the business of dealing with the problems. Thus, they are, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, complicit in creating them.

Bob asks an important question... it's a bit too important for some remarks in the comments section, so I will gather my thoughts and write a longer post about it.

n.n said...

Am I being too cynical?

The proximity, in time and space, of current events establishes a barrier to trust personal observations. The only reason I do not dismiss my perceptions and interpretations outright is because I know this has happened before, and it continues to happen in places where I am not immediately influenced, and am capable of more impartial observation.

I know that history is not nearly as linear as has been taught. That what is visible and obvious may be obfuscating an underlying reality. And yet, there appear to be clear causal relationships.

Frankly, if there weren't so many other people who have interpreted the situation as I have, then it would be an even greater challenge to believe that history was repeating itself, and basically with the same causality.

It probably doesn't help that I have been sequestered in SLC, Utah for the greater portion of my life.

Its interesting to consider that my semi-idyllic perception of reality did not end until fairly recently. When I walked with a female representative (from out of state) of a construction company to her car; carrying her gear and helping her stow it. She thanked me with an expression of surprise on her face and in her voice. I responded that it was simply a gesture of common courtesy. She said that I would be surprised at how uncommon it really is.

Oh, and as you respond to Bob, I would appreciate any insights you may offer on how boys are affected in this environment. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and my perception is that it has negative repercussions on individuals who are recklessly included in a classification with negative implications. My response, or maybe it is my nature, was to idealize girls and women.