Sex pest boys are not only targeting girls, but teachers too

27th March 2009 at 00:00
Harassment and name-calling are not restricted to fellow pupils in schools where culture allows sexual intimidation to flourish. Adi Bloom reports

Sexual bullying in schools is not limited to pupils: female teachers are also victims of constant harassment by male pupils. And male teachers trivialise such behaviour, suggesting that the girls and women are merely "drama queens", an academic claims.

Amanda Keddie, of Roehampton University, has spent 10 years tracking four boys through school. She has also conducted extensive interviews with their peers and teachers.

Her research, published in last month's Sex Education journal, reveals that the boys, now aged 14 and 15, repeatedly harass female classmates, calling them sexual names ("five-cent slut" or "horny red-head"), touch their breasts and pull their skirts up over their heads.

One of the girls, Sally, said: "All the guys go straight to Jane, because she's got big boobs and nice body and everything ... They're like, 'Oh, hi Jane', and then like, 'Oh, sorry, my hand slipped', and you're like, 'As if it did'."

But the boys' behaviour goes further: they also use their physical size to overpower and intimidate female staff. They pushed one teacher out of the way at the end of a lesson to leave the room quickly.

And Miss H, a teacher, described how they spent one lesson singing "Do your ears hang low?", replacing the word "ears" with "boobs".

Dr Keddie points out that such interruptions are common during female teachers' lessons. In fact, the girls claim that boys would deliberately "make Miss H's life hell".

"These boys did not respond well to - and had a lack of respect for - female authority," Dr Keddie said.

Justin, one of the ringleaders, "agreed" that he had a problem with many of the female teachers - that they couldn't control him. He explained that this was because they could not take his jokes and comebacks ... "They were over-sensitive and overreacted".

Justin said a male teacher would not have taken the song seriously, and would have "had a laugh".

The school hierarchy meant that discipline issues were invariably resolved by a male teacher, reinforcing the message that real power in the school rests with men and boys.

This became particularly clear when Mr F was called on to deal with sexual bullying. He merely reinforced the boys' view of it. The girls "were just overreacting to the boys", he said. "Some of those girls can be real drama queens."

But both male and female staff blamed the girls for playing victim. "They (the boys) kept pushing, grabbing me by the arm and hugging me," said Marie. "And Miss H said to me, 'I'm not having you in my class. You're a distraction. Get out'."

Dr Keddie concludes that the school culture actually encourages boys to assume a sense of superiority and entitlement over female classmates and teachers. Heads and teachers, therefore, need to identify and tackle the harmful versions of masculinity that are allowed to flourish in school corridors and classrooms.

This, she said, "will be imperative in disrupting and transforming the anti-feminist and boy-friendly discourses that trivialise issues of sexual harassment, and continue to subsume the voices of girls".

- 'Some of those girls can be real drama queens', by Amanda Keddie, appeared in the February 2009 issue of 'Sex Education' journal.

"I'll f***ing give it to you, Miss"

I taught at a boys' grammar school for over five years, starting aged 22.

Generally, pupils were respectful and I enjoyed my time there. Nevertheless, as a young, female teacher, there were some occasions when I felt vulnerable.

During a curriculum development week, I took a sex education workshop with 15-year-olds. Their reactions to some of the issues, such as homosexuality, made me feel disappointed and uncomfortable.

This was exacerbated when I confiscated a pupil's iPod, saying: "Give it to me". He handed it over and, as I turned my back, I heard him mutter, "I'll f***ing give it to you, Miss."

Unsure of what to do, I pretended I had not heard and, after the session, went to see the head of year; she went and spoke to him. He apologised and was mortified that I had heard his comment; he was genuinely upset that I had felt threatened.

About a year ago, a friend alerted me to a Facebook group the pupils had created about me. It was not particularly offensive and could be described as flattering, albeit in a convoluted way. But one comment made by a former sixth-former stung. He recalled the lesson in which I introduced the theme of sexual jealousy in Othello and said he believed "I knew what I was doing".

Ironically, I was so naive that I had no idea how to use my own sexuality. If I had, perhaps I could have used it more to my advantage! Again, as soon as the head became aware of the group, he had it closed down.

I know I would have been far more badly affected by these incidents if the school had not been so supportive.

Elizabeth McMahon.

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