Sexual Harassment on Campus: It’s a Guy Thing

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About Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his website


  1. Surprise, surprise, the AAUW again found that men are the root of all evil.
    Fortunately this problem is going away. Men now represent only 40% of college graduations, and the US Department of Education has made it an expellable offense for a man even to be accused of sexual harassment. With any luck, we will eradicate all men from student bodies in the near future.

    • Understand that they will not be content and will not rest until it’s tangentially 0%.

      As for this article’s purpose and actual message: boys and men are the devil incarnate. We get it.

      • superstarjackie says:

        I think the two of you are looking at this in a very child like manner,what is meant to get across is the need to change this bullying culture that needs to change,
        If the shoe was on the other foot women would be up in arms to make thing better for men .we just ask for the same.

        • Really? When have women been ‘up in arms’ to make things better for men? It’s certainly not a priority for feminism, so you must have some other example in mind.

        • superstarjackie, I am looking at the reality of the situation. Children don’t do that.

          As a father of two daughters and no sons, I am anti-sexual and all other forms of harrassment, and such should not be tolerated. However, the incessant male heterophobic attacks are no solution to bullying, harrassment, or any other problem.

          Furthermore, the reality of the education situation today as it relates to a gender imbalance should be considered a national problem. The AAUW’s evident objective to continue to drive the education ratio as close to 100/0 as possible is already harming sociey and it is worsening every year.

  2. What’s really interesting is the discussion of the exact figures that Hugo cites which he either “forgot” to mention or just didn’t feel was relevant. From Page 14 of the Report:

    “The majority of male harassers said that they had sexually
    harassed a male student; more than two-thirds (72
    percent) indicated that they sexually harassed a boy, and
    less than one-fifth (19 percent) said that they sexually
    harassed a girl.8 Among female harassers, the difference
    is closer. One-half of female harassers (50 percent) said
    that they sexually harassed a boy, and 41 percent said
    that they sexually harassed a girl. Because girls reported
    higher rates of sexual harassment than boys did, this
    finding raises questions. Why didn’t boys or girls admit
    to sexually harassing girls when more girls than boys said
    they had been sexually harassed? Why does it seem to be
    more acceptable to sexually harass boys?”

    So, off the bat, we know there’s a problem with the numbers: they aren’t adding up. But significantly, there’s also a problem of both genders acknowledging that it’s “okay” to sexually harass boys, while knowing on some level that it’s wrong to do the same thing to girls.

    But that finding doesn’t seem to match with Hugo’s bizarre pet theory about “Guy Culture” so he probably just skipped right over it.

    There are significant problems with the findings: no indepth statistical analysis is provided, just survey data, the questions asked are conspicuously absent, the definition of sexual harassment was extremely broad, in one instance a girl is quoted as saying that receiving an email with a link to a porn site means she was “harassed” so apparently spam = harassment, and there’s all kinds of selection bias because parents had to approve of the survey before their children could take it, and several responses (at least 6) were removed from the sample without explanation, not to mention the lack of peer-review.

    But hey, it’s clear that this is going to be used by people who were never really interested in the truth anyway, just looking for confirmation of their own prior beliefs.

    • Well, that’s not really true. If you thinking being a victim of harassment and being a perpetrator of harassment are randomly distributed, they would need to match up. But we know the latter isn’t, and the former probably isn’t either.

      It’s possible that most harassers harass boys, and yet most harassment victims are girls, if the people harassing girls are harassing more girls each than the people harassing boys. Which is certainly plausible. Of course, we also know that girls are more likely to identify and report harassment than are boys, and both genders are more likely to identify and report harassment from other gender harassers than same gender harassers.

      Reading the report, it’s harder to know. They conducted the survey via online questionnaires, which is good for not priming responses, but they don’t include the actual questions, so it’s hard to evaluate it. Obviously one could use stereotype threat to produce whatever results they want in a survey like this – if you remind boys that they’re boys are the start of the survey, they’re going to report less harassment than if you don’t, etc.

      But of course, interpretation is where you stick in your own bias. Is 2:1 basically entirely one sided, as Hugo posits, or fundamentally the same, with a small correction? In the former case, you’re likely to interpret as something about boys driving the problem. In the latter, you’re likely to recognise that isn’t what drives the problem, but something that provides a bit of exacerbation or mitigation on top of what’s happening. This is the real issue, I think. When boys and girls match in order of magnitude, you shouldn’t try to interpret the result as gendered – the gender is a perturbation, not a driving effect.

  3. Hold up. Maybe the study clears this up (I’m on a pretty slow net connection right now) but I’m suffering a bit of confusion here.

    The researchers found that boys remain the primary perpetrators of sexual harassment. This goes against the media depiction of “mean girls” as the agents of so much of suffering on high school campuses.

    Is this about harassment or sexual harassment? Difference being that all sexual harassment is harassment but not all harassment is sexual harassment. I’m asking because if this is a study on sexual harassment I’m not seeing how this exonerates “mean girls” as the agents of so much suffering on high school campuses

    A majority of harassed students (54 percent) identified one male student as their harasser, and 12 percent of harassed students said that they were harassed by a group of male students. In contrast, only 14 percent of students said the harasser was one female student, and 5 percent said that they were harassed by a group of female students. Not surprisingly, girls are much more likely to be the ones harassed: Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed, by a significant margin (56 percent versus 40 percent). Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed both in person (52 percent versus 35 percent) and via text, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means (36 percent versus 24 percent).

    Are we talking harassment in general or specifically sexual harassment?

    I understand wanting to get to the root of sexual harassment in order to stop it but I’m wondering if this is just a rush to say that masculinity (something that’s associated with boys/men) to be the root of all evil.

    • I don’t think that these numbers are contestable. We know that junior high was an alpha male hamburger grinder why should we pretend that Hazing, Bullying and Dominating other (mostly weaker) children is worthy of a defense? 

      • Budmin, I cannot speak to your experience in junior high.

        But I do contest what is being said here. I would argue that attempts to villify “guy culture” are not only baseless, but potentially destructive. The reality of growing up male in America is that you are taught certain values, the overwhelming majority of which are positive.

        The argument put forward here describes a culture that takes “thrills” in seeking power over the vulnerable, and injures 3rd parties in an attempt to seek approval. But these are gross mischaracterizations of the stoicism and self-reliance that actually makes up male culture in America.

        This is a purposeful mischaracterization by an author seeking to advance an agenda, not a reflection of the actual values taught to young men in America, and it needs to be called out for what it is.

        • “The argument put forward here describes a culture that takes “thrills” in seeking power over the vulnerable, and injures 3rd parties in an attempt to seek approval. But these are gross mischaracterizations of the stoicism and self-reliance that actually makes up male culture in America.’

          Well… imagine “Lord of the Flies” but add a ridiculous amount of drug money…My Junior High was so bad that when I graduated they changed their name… (Probably to avoid a law suit)

          Putting that aside, there is still the practiced belief that Social Darwinism is a duty. That the weak must be made to suffer for their transgression against all things manly & Girls are an entitlement to the most Alpha.

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        Budmin, I was in a mixed school too. Oh course men bully people and of course its indefensible. But ignoring the fact that women do too or implying that “Male culture” and “Machismo” is fundamentally corrupt and inferior to the supposedly peaceful and nurturing female culture is not only ignoring a huge problem, but is also a huge slap in the face to the victims of female bullies.

        I’m sorry to hear you were bullied by men, I was too, but that doesn’t mean that women are less culpable.

      • Who said anything about defending those behaviors? I’m not trying to contest the numbers I’m saying I don’t I think I understand what numbers are being talked about or perhaps I don’t understand how the numbers are being used. Harrassment and sexual harassment seem to be used interchagabley throughout this article when they are not all one and the same.

        From what I’m reading here it looks like Hugo is trying to file all harassment under the umbrella of sexual harassment, take a study that shows most sexual harassment is male against female, then conclude that school girls don’t really committ that much harassment compared to school boys.

  4. I worked in schools for 25 years. I hope that gives me some credibility. Boys sexually harass girls WAY more than the other way around, and that continues into adulthood. I am not saying it is never girls sexually harassing boys, or women sexually harassing men. Those things happen. But MUCH less often. I read on this site so many times that these simply are not the facts…that men and boys do not sexually aggress against females in greater numbers. Reading that is like reading impassioned diatribes that the earth is really flat. I just don’t get the irrationality. And talking about sexual harassment is not saying all men are bad or the root of all evil!!! That leap is always taken. Let’s just stick to the specific facts. So for me, a woman, to tell you that I was the head of a school and had to personally deal with all sexual harassment incidents and that boys do it WAY more than girls…are there commenters here who have also worked in schools for 25 years who want to claim this is not the case? Because if you do not work in schools, and have not experienced what this report is saying in your own lives directly, then please do not start your feminist bashing. Hugo does not need me to defend him, so I won’t, but I will say that there are a lot of people who bash every single thing he writes within nanoseconds of publication in knee-jerk fashion, and this is simply anti-intellectual. And so very tiresome. The sexual harassment of–and violence towards–women is a problem around the globe. It is perfectly well documented. We should not be surprised at this study. My daughter was sexually harassed in 7th grade and I’ll leave out those details, but I’ve experienced this as a parent as well as a school administrator (and personally in middle school as well). Folks, the Earth is round. And the fact that the Earth is round does not mean that those who thought it flat are “the root of all evil” or any other hyperbolic overreaction. The sooner we can accept the facts that are there, proven, and in front of our faces, the sooner we can help kids–all kids–girls AND boys. And we must. We really must.

    • Lori,

      I was sexually harrased by a single girl for months when I was in 10th grade. I never reported it to anyone because I did not feel that it was a significant impact on my life. Was it annoying? Sure. Would I have preferred it to stop? Definitely. Did it make me start cutting/starving myself/taking drugs? Definitely not. And for clarity’s sake, it was intense, there was groping involved, and it was someone I had to see every single day (we took the same bus). Furthermore, because the girl involved was attractive, I was told that I was “lucky.”

      As a result it makes it difficult for me to believe that there are real problems caused by sexual harrassment.

      What I find easy to believe, however, is that people who are told that they are victims begin to feel victimized. I also believe in the old saying that “when your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails.”

      We are told that women are victims and that men are predators. We are told that men attack and women get attacked. Men who get attacked are told they are not victims. Women who would otherwise be well adjusted are told that they should not be because they are victims. Teachers and administrators see young men everywhere as aggressors because they are told to specifically look out for aggressive young males.

      When you can show me statistics from a society where young women are depicted as attackers as often as young men, a society where young men are never told that harassment is “okay” if a girl does it, and a society where young women are not instructed in how to trade and deal in the status of “victimhood,” then I will accept your argument about “the earth being flat.”

      Until then, maybe you could at least acknowledge your own biases.

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        Mike, as much that I agree that male sexual harassment is usually dicounted or unreported and that the culture of victimisation has an enormously negative impact on men and women of all ages, isn’t it a little arrogant to assume that your experience of sexual harassment applies to all victims?

        To Lori: I think you pointed out the problem yourself when you said “So for me, a woman, to tell you that I was the head of a school and had to personally deal with all sexual harassment incidents and that boys do it WAY more than girls” Firstly, speaking “as a woman” implies that you’re taking sides from the beginning. Secondly, you only had access to reported harassment. Despite your close involvement with the issue you’re not a perfect observer.

        • Peter, I think it’s far more arrogant when I’m told by others what the impact of sexual harassment “should be” despite my first hand experience.

          When a study defines sexual harassment so broadly that 56% of women have supposedly been harassed (pg 10), and then later claims that sexual harassment is a problem because it prevents children from being well-adjusted, then there is a fundmental problem with the survey. When 56% of a population has experienced something that affects “adjustment” then you either need to change your definition of “adjustment” or acknowledge that you cast the net much too wide when trying to determine what was harassment in the first place.

          Personally, I’m betting the latter.

    • “Let’s just stick to the specific facts.”
      “Boys sexually harass girls WAY more than the other way around”
      “…women sexually harassing men. Those things happen. But MUCH less often.”

      Lori, those are not facts. Those are your personal opinions based on passive observations. You are offering nothing to support your claims other than working in schools for 25 years. How many incidents of sexual harassment were reported at your school? How many by girls and how many by boys? Those answers would be FACTS. Someone working in education should know the difference!

      “Hugo does not need me to defend him, so I won’t, but I will say that there are a lot of people who bash every single thing he writes within nanoseconds of publication in knee-jerk fashion, and this is simply anti-intellectual.”

      Hugo submitted multiple articles that make claims without any factual basis and based solely on his opinion, such as the Cougar vs. Silver Fox, or he cherry picks facts from prior research that support his own preconceived viewpoint, as in this article which a commenter above has already pointed out. Now, I don’t disagree with EVERYTHING he writes, but the common thread through most of his writing on GMP is that men are the cause/blame for the ills of women and society at large, and that will obviously garner a negative response from many readers on an allegedly pro-male website.

    • Lori, believe me I share you concern about harassment, and sexual harassment of anybody by anybody. Actually concern is a overly mild word. It pisses me off.

      But the reality is that AAUW has an agenda, which is to look for academic, career and economic advantages for girls and women whenever and wherever possible, and if that requires shoddy methodology and statistically suspect reports, or if it requires backing USED Guidance or an amendment to VAWA to make it possible to expel boys and men from school for commenting about a girl, well, you can’t make an omelette with breaking eggs.

      And the reality is that the author of this piece has an agenda as well.

      But beyond that, as a man who was a boy once, and who was educated in a system run by women when I was small and powerless, I can tell you that no one gave a shit when a girl decided to punch my lights out the first day of first grade, and no one gave a shit when the girls when out of their way to qusetion my sexuality, and I quickly learned that for a boy or a man to complain about what a girl or a woman does to him is just not acceptable on this society. Boys and men are taught, carefully, carefully taught, by women and girls as much as, if not more than, by other boys and men (which is the great flaw and fallacy in the thinking of the author of this article), to stuff their feelings, to act strong and tough when you just feel like dying inside, to laugh and roll with the punches when a girl or a woman hits you. Girls and women, by contrast are carefully, carefully taught to say they “feel unsafe” at the drop of “look” by somebody else, to be sensitive and give vent to their sensitivity.

      Bottom line, of course you had way more sexual harassment complaints by girls than boys. I don’t doubt it. But I will also bet that given your subjective experience as a woman (and I don’t fault you for that, the way women tend to believe that men don’t or shouldn’t have subjective experiences themselves), you rarely thought to look behind the bravado and the peacocking to see the pain.

      Anyway, this section of TGMP is supposed to be about Education and Boys. Yet, to my knowledge, TGMP has yet to address the horrific literacy disparity that has developed against boys in our elementary and secondary schools, and the disproportionate impact of that on male education attainment (steadily dropping) and ultimately on male equality with women.

      Shame on TGMP and shame on the author of this article.

    • I think Masculinity should be a curriculum.

  5. What I see trending in the news are cases of aggression in general. I see gay kids reporting more bullying, parents pushing back, schools implementing anti bullying programs.

    Is there an increase in aggression in schools? If so, why? Could it have anything to do with the last 8 years of war and pro war stances our country has been in? Could it have to do with a general level of economic and cultural anxiety about the role of America and it’s involvement in the world?

    As for the sexual part, yeah, I’d tend to believe that sexual harassment is alive and well, and likely it runs male to female, but also male to male, or female to female and yes, even female to male.
    I’d suspect a dominant trend of male to female, but that’s based on anecdotal observations.

    So why does that happen? Hormones? Cultural influences like “dudebro culture?” Family of Origin issues where rough treatment of women or subordinates is acceptable? “I got bullied, so you’ll get bullied.”

    If so, why don’t I see certain subsets of boys NOT harassing? They are swimming in the same water as the harassers…..what makes them different? Cause they are more geeky? More curious about emotional connections? Less “dudebro.” possibly, but they are male and masculine. Less interested in issue of power, perhaps.

    This is a tangled and complex issue, and I can’t see that it’s ever one thing that can be pointed at as to why some humans are drawn to physical or sexual dominance over others for the pleasure of the power that gives them, versus other humans that don’t.

    • Is there an increase in aggression in schools?

      It seems exceedingly unlikely. Crimes of all types have been going down since the 1970s at least.

      It’s probably mostly two things: our tolerance for bullying is dropping faster than the rates of bullying, and we tend to remember the past as being better than it was.

  6. In other news, Michigan has just passed an anti-bullying law for schools, with ONE important exemption: bullying is just fine if it’s done for “religious or moral reasons.”

    Therefore, following Schwyzer’s model, I would be fully justified in titling a column “Sexual Harassment on Campus: It’s a Christian Thing.”

    • Why not say it is a “jewish thing”? or a “muslim thing”? Oh right, because only anti-christian bigotry is tolerated in PC circles.

  7. what about same sex schools? any data on them?

  8. Hugo there is a reason why crying in males is shamed. Males in the tribe needed to act crying is inaction. Crying has no good place when action is called for afterward then and only then is it useful.
    The true studies are different in that male on male is far more prevalent depending on the definition of sexual harassment.

  9. Lori,

    There are two issues with the study that I can see. One, it does not take into account social factors that may affect if students report harassment. As Mike noted above, the students admitted to harassing more boys than girls, and that does mean the numbers do not match up. It is akin to most violent people admitting they target males, but having more female victims come forward. Does that mean that people are less willing to admit hurting females or does it mean that male victims are less willing to report their abuse?

    Two, much of what counts as sexual harassment is something we teach boys to accept if it comes from girls. If a girl touches a boy, he is supposed to like it, and complaining about it may lead to homophobic accusations. The same goes for a boy rejecting an explicit text, email, comment or gesture. More so, most people write off bad female behavior or do not acknowledge it as such.

    It is very easy to say something never really happens when you are not looking for it, do not recognize or count it when you do see it and when the victims are told they should like it. That does not mean that it is not possible for girls to face more sexual harassment, only that our metric for determining this is severely skewed by our expectations.

    May I ask you a question? How often did boys come to you or your office when they had a problem? Were they less likely to report harassment or abuse than girls? When someone else witnesses or reported the act, were boys still less likely to admit what happened? I have not worked in schools for 25 years, but I was a boy for 18 years and I have been male for 28 years. My experience suggests that boys would rarely tell anyone if they were harassed, especially if it was sexual and done by a girl.

    • Great comment, and good questions but don’t hold your breathe for an answer. That would be counter to the “men and boys are the devil” campaign that this article is a part of.

  10. superstarjackie says:

    This problem is serious enough without men finding a loop hole out of blame.

  11. Anonymous Male says:

    Did I read this right?
    “Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed, by a significant margin (56 percent versus 40 percent). Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed both in person (52 percent versus 35 percent) and via text, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means (36 percent versus 24 percent).”

    I read that as saying that 40 percent of boys have been sexually harassed in general, and 35 percent have been sexually harassed in person. That’s a staggering number of boys. Yes, I know that Hugo’s point is that girls face this harassment at higher rates, but the rates are much closer than I would have imagined. 56 percent versus 40 percent is not exactly a yawning gender gap.

    Maybe there are multiple bullying problems here – boys may be the main perpetrators, but shouldn’t we also care about the fact that boys are so frequently victims?

    • I’m sure the definition of ‘harassment’ in this study is ridiculously broad. I’m sure the vast majority of the people who this study claims are being harassed would not characterize it this way. For example I bet any boy who reports that another boy called him a “fa g” even once was “harassed”

  12. Hey, I don’t go to co-ed schools. I want to study with women and girls, I want to focus on my education.
    If guys can’t change their “culture” of harassment, and I don’t think they ever will, then I’ve got better things to do with my time.

  13. People seem to only what to talk about the “guy culture” when it negatively impacts woman.

    Boys rarely speak about the problems they’re having, if they do they’re considered a snitch or punk.
    Sould i tell my young nephew that since boy and girls aren’t bullying or harassing each oher equally that his problems aren’t that bad.

  14. Like domestic violence, sexual harassment of boys by girls is defined away. Men and boys get the message early that your problems are not problems, that no one will believe you or take you seriously, and more importantly if any action is taken it will be taken against the male. So we learn to be quiet.

    The goal of “sexual harassment” programs is to control men and boys.

    I’m not surprised that this study’s numbers don’t add up – because the the writers of the report are biased feminist activists. Grievance groups like them will always come to the same self serving conclusion: their pet problem is always worse no matter what draconian measures are used to address their perceived grievance.

  15. “But this brand-new study is a reminder that anti-bullying programs that don’t address adolescent masculine culture as the primary culprit are missing the mark.”

    I’m sorry, but Hugo, you are missing the mark by a bit. “Adolescent masculine culture” is supplied by the greater culture. Mothers, fathers, teen girls and teen boys love to portray boys as “natural bullies,” natural scoundrels. Snips, snails, puppydogs’ tails. I’m still working out my personal anger at my parents’ dismissal of my adolescent issues as “just a boy thing.”


  1. [...] Sexual Harassment on Campus: It’s a Guy Thing looks at the powerful new AAUW report on sexualized harassment in schools (co-authored by my friend Holy Kearl.) Excerpt: [...]

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