Feminism | Posted by Zoe Y on 05/10/2010

Why Was I The One Who Was Ashamed?

sexual harassment: NOT okay

sexual harassment: NOT okay

The other day, I was home from college and sitting at the back table with my mother where we were talking about the state of the world. I had brought up an article sitting before me in The Week about another girl who had been bullied to the point of her suicide. I felt that this was becoming a common theme in the news and it worried me. Why was it that kids were so cruel to each other and why wasn’t anyone stopping this?

That’s when my mother asked me if I remembered “that Beck boy” who sexually harassed me in middle school. I was stunned. I’d forgotten completely about this incident until that moment. Both of us had difficulty remembering the details of what had happened. We both could remember that he had said something disgusting to me and that it had hung over my head until I came home crying from school. My mother had managed to draw it out of me then and told me to go to the school and tell the Principal. She gave me a day to do it. When I didn’t do it, she went herself and got the boy suspended.

From my perspective years later with my new feminist lens, it seems like a success story. Most individuals who harass don’t see any consequences. But as I tried to remember the details of what he had said to me, all I could remember were the feelings of shame at my mother actually getting him suspended.

Sure, this boy had said something nasty to me. Sure, I had gone home in a slow depressed daze and cried in front of my mother. But he was just being a boy, he was just joking. I was ashamed to get this boy in trouble, to do anything about what seemed like such a small incident. When he was suspended, I knew he resented me for it. I knew he didn’t think he did anything wrong and the sad thing was that I sort of agreed with him.

Remembering this incident reminded me of why it’s so difficult for people who are being bullied or sexually harassed to stand up for themselves. There’s this sense that sexual harassment is “ok,” that it is part of life and we girls should just buck up and get used to it. The idea of reporting these people is shameful because we feel that we are making such a big deal out of nothing. Even worse, we are afraid of offending these people.

Suddenly, everything I have read about how women are made to feel like they are unimportant and are not meant to upset others, all of this that I’ve read before and couldn’t relate to, I now understand.

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  • A.Y. Siu @ at 12:27 pm, May 10th, 2010

    I think the shame comes from two places that are related.

    1. There is prevalent in society what Hugo Schwyzer calls “the myth of male weakness,” which is basically the idea that men cannot control themselves sexually and that it up to women to police men, so if something does occur, it is ultimately women’s fault, since men are too weak to police themselves.

    2. When harassment goes public, it is the job of the public to shame the harasser. If no one shames the harasser, the message is basically that it’s okay, which makes the whistle-blower feel like “Hey, I just kicked up this fuss for nothing? Oops. I guess no one cares.”

    Neither 1 nor 2 should be acceptable. Glad your middle school harasser got to face at least some consequences.

  • Scared @ at 7:19 pm, May 10th, 2010

    I was very severely sexually harassed by a guy who I thought to be my friend. This went on for months before he got bored or whatever and decided to leave me alone. Even now, three months after it ended, I haven’t told anyone. I am afraid, ashamed, and I still feel as if it was my fault. And I am an out-and-proud feminist (and homosexual, but that’s beside the point). I sincerely doubt that this will ever change….society leads girls and women to believe that men and boys cannot help being the way they are. This is one of the biggest lies I’ve ever been told.

  • Melody @ at 7:57 pm, May 10th, 2010

    This is the first time I’ve been to this blog and this is the very first article I’ve read here and I have to say first – kudos to you for realizing that that wasn’t your fault and for having the ovaries to write about it.

    Second, your mom sounds pretty awesome. Actually, that school sounds pretty awesome too. I was sexually harassed in middle school and was mortified by it. Telling someone was the last thing on my mind. I’ve harbored most of it all my life. Whether or not I’m conditioned to it now when it happens, is another story for another day. But in a cheesy kinda way, your piece was meaningful to me.

    Props to you and this blog. I’m adding this to my favorites right now.

  • Erin @ at 9:08 pm, May 10th, 2010

    Thank you for posting this. I had a similar experience in middle school where a boy would purposely walk close to me and push me around and say crude things to me. Though I never went to the principal I did tell a trusted adult and the boy was suspended. I always felt ashamed for telling a teacher and getting the boy into trouble when he was joking around. Thanks for letting me know it was okay.

  • allie @ at 9:33 pm, May 10th, 2010

    wow, you guys had a better outcome than me. a guy grabbed down my shirt and the back of my pants, both were two different incidents, and all he got was a statement from me to stay away from me. he didnt get suspended or anything. in fact i got chewed out by the schools office because he was a “good kid” who never had done anything like this before, which wasnt true, he had done it to my friends but they were to scared and chicken to stick up for themselves or me. so i got the heat. the only one who sort of sympathized with me was my male vice principal who told me if anybody, him or some other, did this again to hit him where it hurts.

  • Chris @ at 11:48 pm, May 10th, 2010

    I agree, it is important to ask why you felt so bad about taking positive action in a negative situation. I also agree with many of the comments though, there is a societal norm of guilting girls for any sexual advance on a man’s part – and clearly it starts younger than we have previously realized.

    I’m sorry this happened to you, but I’m more sorry you felt guilty for appropriate action being taken.

  • Zoe Y. @ at 11:09 am, May 11th, 2010

    Thank you all for replying to my post. I’m a little taken aback that so many others have experienced sexual harassment, but then again, we’ve all been through middle and high school.

    There needs to be a redefinition of what is and what is not acceptable to say for adolescent boys. So many that I’ve known just don’t see the problem with telling a female classmate to go *fill in the blank with something crude*. This is wrong and it needs to change.

  • Anne Marie @ at 6:41 am, May 12th, 2010

    My friends and I were sexually harassed in third grade by this one boy. I didn’t tell adults about it, because all the boys thought it was funny and I figured my friends and I were just too sensitive–obviously missing the joke. But I eventually got so upset about it that I starting crying at home and my mom was able to get the story out of me. She took me to the principal’s office with her to report it, and all I remember was being so ashamed about it and embarassed that my mom was making such a big deal out of what was just a stupid boy’s joke.
    The boy didn’t get suspended, but he did get a warning that if his inappropriate behavior continued there would be consequences. Luckily it ended there, but I can’t help but wonder how many other girls go through similar experiences. And not just in middle school. This started in grade school.

  • PatriarchySlayer @ at 10:53 pm, May 17th, 2010

    I remember when I was in 6th or 7th grade, the boys started to get obsessed with our bras. They started snapping them, and in some cases trying to remove them entirely.

    My mother always told me that boys have no right to touch my body without my express permission, especially my chest. So when the boys started snapping my bra, I got pissed. I yelled at my friends and told them to stop. This made them even worse. Even the girls thought it was funny.

    It made me really uncomfortable. I never told the teacher, but all the boys eventually realized how inappropriate it was and came to me later and apologized. I never had a problem with them after that.

  • Link Lust: Faves from 5/16-5/23 | ericaleexo.com @ at 6:22 pm, May 23rd, 2010

    [...] from A to Zen. ♥ via Sarah Wilson: ♥ How to Video Blog, from Style Sample. ♥ Why do women feel ashamed after being victims of sexual abuse? @ fbomb. ♥ MY NEW FAVORITE WEBSITE, HANDS DOWN: LivingIntroverted.com (!!) is a wonderful [...]

  • Danielle @ at 2:33 am, June 30th, 2010

    I completely understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes I care too much about what other people think of me (I know, I know), but it’s only because I always try SO hard to be conscious of other peoples’ feelings. So if I let someone down or upset them in some way, some little malfunction in my brain says “oh, how could you?!”

    But I think in a situation like that it was good for that boy to get his just desserts. Maybe it made him think twice about making offensive and otherwise rude remarks from then on… or maybe it didn’t. And maybe he resented you for a day or two (a week at most!) but I’m sure he didn’t hold a long-time grudge.

    My philosophy? If something isn’t going to matter in your life five years from now, don’t worry about it.

  • blakerivers @ at 5:51 pm, September 8th, 2010

    To some degree, children of both genders are going to do some things that are stupid and inappropriate simply because they are children and don’t know what they’re doing. It is important to correct the misbehavior and teach the child why their actions were inappropriate. Boys don’t “want” to make girls feel like crap, they’re just ignorant and misguided. But how can boys be shown the light if no one reports them?

  • A @ at 11:20 pm, September 15th, 2010

    @ allie: your male vice principal sounds pretty cool. I had some great middle school teachers like that.
    I wasn’t sexually harrassed in middle school, but many of my peers and friends were. As a bit of an outsider, I hated watching it go on, especially with people I didn’t know very well (so, at the time, I didn’t feel comfortable talking with them.) it’s just awful.

  • Diana @ at 5:21 pm, May 3rd, 2011

    It was sort of the opposite with me. I was sexually harassed in junior high, and, angry and disgusted, I went to the teachers, and later, the principal. And what punishment did these boys face? None. Because I was bullied in a non-sexual manner on a regular basis (which on several occasions got ME into trouble, but hardly ever those who bullied me) and because these boys had reputations for being disruptive and “funny,” these incidents were a joke, normal, something I should just get over. I didn’t want to talk to my parents about it, because, in a display of early-teenage stupidity, I was convinced that they wouldn’t care either. So I lived with it. And got into trouble at school whenever I lashed out.
    Unfortunately, even when a victim of harassment isn’t afraid to stand up for her- (or him-) self, those in power won’t always listen. It’s sick.

  • Hope @ at 12:45 pm, July 13th, 2011

    Kudos to your mom! :) And you for writing this article.
    Speaking of women’s harassment being considered somewhat social norm…I read in a study of Psychology Today that women have a stronger tolerance to harassment. In the study, men and women had their brains monitored while they went through different situations of harassment; some sexual. Basically, the result was the guy’s brain lit up “danger, danger!” at most of the harassment situations while the girls’ brains only went “danger, danger!” during the legitimate “i might get raped and/or killed” situations. The scientists attribute that not to a genetic thing, but due to tolerance. Supposedly, girls are so used to harassment that they downplay the less dangerous situations while guys freak out because for the most part; they don’t get that kind of degrading harassment a lot of girls get. I’m not sure how accurate that study was, but I think it does have some merit.

    I’d just like to say that I think it’d be rude to walk up to a man, stare at his dick, and say I wanna tap that; ergo it would not be okay for him to stare at my tits and say the same thing.

    The whole stigma “women should police men sexually” is definitely a relevant issue. It runs far back—”cover your ankles!” “cover your hair!” “stop being a tease!” B.S.! Men aren’t wild beasts that don’t know when it’s inappropriate to get fresh with women–give them some credit; I assure you they’re gifted with self- control just like girls. It’s just easier to blame girls and was totally a good excuse for guys to enjoy several partners while women were shamed to no end should they have attempted the same thing.

  • Ariel @ at 10:36 pm, November 7th, 2011

    @Annie Marie
    You can count me as one of those that it started in grade school for.
    I got bullied in 4th grade a lot.
    A kid on the bus would hit me in the head until I ducked down and then would literally steal my homework. When I reported that kid. I got moved to a seat with another kid who was in maybe the 2nd grade who would stick his hands down my pants and grab my crotch and then say something crude.
    Seriously what the hell kind of homes are these kind of kids growing up in that makes them think that such behavior is okay?!

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