Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sexual and gender harassment still prevalent part of teen girls’ lives

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but 90 percent of teen girls experience sexual harassment and sexism a new study reported earlier this week.

The
study that will appear in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development surveyed 600 California and Georgia girls between the ages of 12 and 18 from various socioeconomic backgrounds found when girls were asked about sexual harassment that included receiving inappropriate and unwanted romantic attention, hearing demeaning gender-related comments, being teased about their appearance, receiving unwanted physical contact, and being teased, bullied, or threatened with harm by a male that sexism and sexual and gender harassment are still alive and well.

"Sexism remains pervasive in the lives of adolescent girls," said Campbell Leaper, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-author of the report in a
May 15 news release. "Most girls have experienced all three types of sexism--sexual harassment, sexist comments about their academic abilities, and sexist comments about their athletic abilities."

Leaper conducted the study with Christia Spears Brown, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky.

In spite of the advancements girls have made since Title IX passed 35 years ago, girls continue to report common discouragement about their abilities due to their gender, particularly in traditional subjects such as athletics, math, science, and technology. Seventy-six percent of the girls said they received discouraging comments about their abilities in sports, and 52 percent said they received discouraging comments related to their academic abilities in science, math, or computers. In most cases the sources of the negative comments were from male peers, which Leaper said, “is both understandable and sad. Parents, teachers, and coaches weren’t perfect with their lack of encouraging remarks either, according to the release.

Leaper focused on these areas because traditionally there has been a persistent gender gap, according to the release.

"Our findings on sexual harassment are, sadly, consistent with previous research," said Leaper. "But on the other hand, most girls said they experienced sexual harassment at least once, as opposed to several times."

The fact that girls are experiencing less sexism and harassment and hearing fewer discouraging remarks based on their gender is encouraging, but as other studies have revealed sexism and sexual and gender harassment often go unreported. Age, race, lower socioeconomic backgrounds and exposure to feminism also made a difference in how many girls reported sexism and sexual harassment, according to the release. Feminism, the report found, aided the girls in being able to recognize sexism and sexual and gender harassment.

But being aware of sexism doesn't predispose girls to overreport it, noted Leaper.

"We know from previous studies that people tend to underreport discrimination," said Leaper. "After Anita Hill, reports of sexual harassment increased dramatically in the United States, because it gave people a label for their experience. So, if anything, sexism is probably occurring more than the girls in this study are saying it is. Our research suggests that parents, teachers, and the media can help girls to learn about discrimination and recognize when it occurs."

To learn where girls can get tools to fight sexism and sexual harassment, visit the Third Wave Foundation, a volunteer young feminist organization for girls between the ages 15-35.

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