Macho culture is driving boys to bully and harass, writes Hugo Schwyzer.
The American Association of University Women today released the first major study of sexual harassment in schools in over a decade. This is the first such research to be done since the advent of of the social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr) that is so much a part of teens’ lives. The study (available in its entirety here in PDF format) paints a sobering picture of what junior high and high school students endure today.
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. Boys were much more likely to harass:
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).
As dramatic as these statistics are, they don’t mean that every boy harasses, or that boys are never harassed by girls. 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.
What drives sexual harassment isn’t testosterone. Boys are not born to harass. What enables and encourages so many of them to harass girls and other boys are the “rules of manhood” that prize cruelty, swagger, and aggression. Boys who are shamed out of crying and who are shamed out of forming close friendships with girls are “set up” to become bullies and harassers. They use words (and worse) to enforce a strict Guy Code among other boys. (The study found, not surprisingly, that male-on-male harassment tends to employ homophobic language.) And they harass girls to win attention and praise from other boys—and to feel the thrill of power over vulnerable young women.
The AAUW report is a dramatic reminder that the problems of bullying and harassment are heavily gendered: most of the time, it’s about what boys do to girls and to each other.This doesn’t mean, of course, that boys are inherently bad. But the aspects of “guy culture” that encourage and enable harassment—including the “boys will be boys” attitude that’s prevalent among far too many parents and educators—need to be confronted.