When I was in seventh grade, I spent my time thinking about school work, my friends, and my after-school activities. I did not give much consideration to my body and how it was developing. This all changed on the day that 40 of my female classmates and I will never forget.
Two boys (who were close friends with the group) thought it would be funny to make a list of all the girls and rate them based on various attributes. “The List,” as we referred to it, had categories such as chest, body type, personality, and the dreaded comments section. Some examples of their thought-provoking observations were “mosquito-bite chest” and “makes wide right turns.” The List was intended to be a joke and never to leave the boys’ homes, yet somehow it surfaced, and copies were distributed throughout my middle school.
As I reflect on this “typical” middle school situation (AAUW’s recent report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, says that 48 percent of the surveyed students experienced some form of sexual harassment in the last school year), a number of thoughts come to mind. First, this experience was mortifying for all of the girls who were targeted. For the first time, we were made aware of our physical characteristics, while they were displayed for everyone to read. Already vulnerable, we developed insecurities that stayed with all of us. I mentioned to my friend that I was writing about The List, and her response was “I am still haunted by the memory.” These boys’ words remain 15 years later.
Fortunately, there is legislation in Congress to help schools put an end to the bullying and harassment that still goes on. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (S. 506/H.R. 1648), a bipartisan bill, would ensure that states, districts, and schools have policies in place prohibiting bullying and harassment and that schools implement education programs designed to teach students about the issues around and consequences of bullying and harassment. The hope is to prevent situations like The List in the future. We have to teach students that their words are damaging, that victims have available resources in counselors and school authorities, and that schools must do what they can to prevent and respond to bullying and harassment. The Safe Schools Improvement Act is vital for students. Last week, through AAUW’s Action Network, more than 600 members sent a letter to Congress expressing their support.
Although both boys and girls experience sexual harassment, AAUW’s report found that it is much more common for girls. The AAUW Action Fund’s nonpartisan, nationwide My Vote campaign — a voter education and turnout effort — will certainly keep the pressure on candidates to stand up and prevent sexual harassment. You can learn more about the effort on AAUW’s blog and by visiting www.aauwaction.org.
This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Caroline Talev.
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