Whether it be #metoo, #97percent, or even Sexual Assault Awareness Month, discussions about the female experience with assault and harassment have never been free from the demeaning scrutiny so forcefully placed on us by our male counterparts.
As an active feminist, I find myself liberated when initiating discussions about women’s rights, internalised misogyny, sexual assault, and much more. Having these discussions is never the issue. What is an increasing concern is how this is received by a lot of boys and men. Time and time again, we see them immediately become defensive, adamantly insisting that these issues have nothing to do with them, and often witnessing them taking away from our experience by imposing stories of their own – arguably very different – struggles.
In response to a recent surge in sexual assault awareness following Sarah Everard’s murder, the #notallmen campaign was started. Even though there are masses of credible statistics to be cited, including the recent United Nations publication which indicated that 97% of women in the UK, aged 18-24 have experienced some sort of sexual assault, men insist that it has nothing to do with them.
Sure, not all men, but enough men, and nearly all women.
Unfortunately, the education system is not innocent. It still has a lot to answer for regarding the often toxic environment that is created in schools, resulting in young girls who are indoctrinated with ideas of repression. Now, that may sound extremely dystopian, but it’s the reality for school girls all over the world including myself. As a 17-year-old, close to finishing my schooling career, I have often found myself in situations where I invalidated my own feelings in order to appeal to the male authority figure. It begins with snide comments from male classmates, escalates to abuse of power from male staff members in order to impose their threatening views, and yet, it only ever seems to be addressed in a manner that results in eventual suppression of the female voice. In turn of progressive discussions being encouraged, we are told not to talk about such “subjective matters”. Instead of our experiences with harassment being listened to, we are silenced and told to “park it and move on” and “move on”. When all we really want is to be acknowledged and approached on how men can do their part to make the world more comfortable for us, we are argued with and told to prove that there truly is a systemic bias against us.
Schools are intended to be a nurturing environment in which students leave with formulated opinions, often influenced by the system. Thus, a considered approach needs to be implemented when addressing the reality of being a woman, and it starts with young female voices at the frontline. Girls need to be encouraged to speak up, supported by an environment that makes them feel safe to do so. Boys need to be taught how to approach such situations; with consideration, validation and knowledge. And the adults in positions of responsibility must mediate with comprehension and consideration; allowing personal viewpoints to be safely shared with the sole intent of educating.
I have grown up in a world that has engineered a system teaching girls from a young age that their voice doesn’t matter. Having had an interest in leadership roles ever since I was young, I have not been free from the titles of ‘bossy’ or ‘too big for your boots’, reinforcing this idea that, as a girl, I couldn’t take on high-power roles without their being a negative connotation to it. Yet my male classmates could pursue any role they saw fit without so much as a second glance from those around.
The patriarchal lens in which the world views women put us under so much more scrutiny than our male counterparts. Unfortunately, this has created a toxic amount of competition which has turned women against each other. Having your gender be an identifying factor that frequently puts you at risk will never be the struggle of men. It’s time that we take the immensely progressive attitudes of the 21st century and use the surplus of information in the most productive way possible. Social media may be one of our greatest allies, providing a platform for avid discussion and spreading awareness. There is often a misconception that this abundance of information equates immediately to progress. While this isn’t the case, we are still at an advantageous point of being able to use our shared experiences for change. And I believe that is exactly what we need to do.
Guest blog by Charlotte Rodney, a 17 year old student who attends an international school in the Middle East.