Review - A moment to make a feminist jump

9th January 2009 at 00:00

Every so often, there are moments that make feminists want to jump up and yell: "You see? This is why what we say is so important!"

This week's edition of Panorama, "Kids Behaving Badly", was one of those moments.

The BBC documentary looked at the issue of sexual bullying, which covers everything from sexualised graffiti to rape.

The problem, it reported, is widespread in British schools: a survey of 273 pupils found 1 in 10 had been coerced into a sexual act. "We ignore it at our peril," the voiceover said portentously.

This is a serious issue, and one that bears lengthy investigation. What we got was a half-hour sweep of the main points.

Within the superficiality, however, one story stood out. An extraordinarily brave 13-year-old girl talked about her experiences of sexual bullying. It began with name-calling, then "they put their hands on my leg during assembly". Eventually, the bullies began touching her breasts before, finally, one boy put two fingers between her legs.

This is when my inner feminist began jumping. How did it ever get that far?

There is still a pervasive assumption that women exist for the sexual pleasure of men. It's everywhere: in the pages of tabloid newspapers, on Celebrity Big Brother. So it was surely only a matter of time before schoolboys picked up on it, too.

But, more scarily is that girls have also internalised it.

The first time a boy put his hand on the 13-year-old girl's leg, she should have yelled "Get your hand off me, pervert!" in the middle of assembly. But she did not, because girls buy into their own subjugation. It is only when an attack becomes overt harassment that they feel entitled to say anything.

The programme missed this point entirely.

Instead, it showed a group of pupils debating whether insults such as "gay" or "bitch" were always, sometimes or never acceptable.

What is needed is not a series of well-meaning exercises, but a fundamental change in school culture. It should be repeated early and often - from primary school - that girls are more than the sum of their sexual parts.

Anyone who does not respect this deserves to be humiliated, publicly. Pinpoint them in front of the entire school. Post their photographs on the internet.

It is hard to look big and clever when everyone is laughing at you.

But this is unlikely to happen until schools accept feminism as an integral part of education.

Meanwhile, all we are left with is a big, hollow "I told you so."

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