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Hey Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets

School is not just a place to gain knowledge but also a place where students can easily be affected by sexual harassment. What a disgrace. How can we progress in our schoolwork if we are impacted and distracted by sexual harassment? -Cindy, Youth Organizer (page 38)

Can we answer that question? Can we provide Cindy with an answer? Can we, as a society, say that we have the tools and strategies to answer this question? Girls for Gender Equality, a grass roots organization based in New York aims to do exactly that. And they wrote a book to tell us how.

Hey Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets not only deals with strategies but also points to some painful realities: how a deeply rooted culture of victim blaming and rape apologia hinders the progress of youth; how unsafe environments foster inequality and shatter dreams; how sexual harassment is not only about sex or harassment, but about crushing young people into further oppression. Girls for Gender Equality (GGE) provides programs that develop strengths, skills, and self-sufficiency in girls and women and help them make meaningful choices in their lives with minimum opposition and maximum community support. Hey Shorty! documents, and in that sense, it becomes an extremely important guide in grass roots organizing and activism, the process of creating the programs necessary to fulfill the vision of GGE.

The authors, Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven and Meghan Huppuch, provide a first hand account of community organizing, outreach and actions that center the needs of school girls, mostly of non-White backgrounds in their strategies.

It is hard to envision a school without sexual harassment. However, if one existed, I imagine it would be a place where kids can excel as students instead of having to worry about what is going to be said or done to them the next time they go in the hallway. -Kai, youth organizer (Page 103)

It is hard to envision such school, indeed:

Out of the students surveyed, 71 percent reported hearing sexual teasing, jokes, or remarks at their schools. Touching, pinching, or brushing against someone sexually and on purpose was reported by 63 percent of students and 60 percent had seen sexually suggestive looks, gestures, or body language. This is followed by whistles, calls, hoots, or yells of a sexual nature (46 percent); leaning over or cornering a person (39 percent); letters, phone calls, or Internet communication (34 percent); pressure for sex or sexual activity (31 percent); sexually explicit pictures or music on an electronic device (23 percent); pressure for dates (18 percent); and forced sexual activity (10 percent). Further analysis by gender showed that girls were slightly more likely than boys to report that “sexual teasing, jokes, or remarks” and “sexually suggestive looks, gestures, or body language” occurred in their schools. (Page 121)

When asked about who these young people believed to be the targets of sexual harassment, the responses showed that it happened to students regardless of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. As youth organizer Nefertiti explains:

I can barely breathe. I stop to catch my breath. Just take a pause, a beat, a rest. I cannot believe I am going through it because of a word I heard. As I walk through the halls, someone calls me by “name.” Someone calls me by my shame. Curls their mouth to call me out. Twists up their lips in a distinct and distant shout of the word (I can barely say the word) “FAGGOT!” Before I even knew what gay was, somebody managed to find something to say about my limp wrists and effeminate lisp. So long as I am in this skin and my feelings toward men are still a sin, they will forever have it in for me as long as that word still exists to oppress me at my best and suppress my self-expression. Denied the support of teachers and faculty who tell me, sell me, some lines about how sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. Words have always hurt me. (Page 122)

At times, the book reads like a painful journey into the reality of street and school sexual harassment (and how these organizers actually work to remedy the situation). However, as difficult as it can be to read stats, first hand accounts and experiences, the book is focused on sharing solutions. From a “Sexual Harassment Quiz”, designed to help identify the problem, to the step by step account of the organization of workshops and curricula, the book becomes more than an example of a specific city or group and is a useful tool for parents, teachers and community leaders who wish to address the problem and work towards implementing solutions.

Tiger Beatdown is part of Hey Shorty! the “Virtual Book Tour”. On May 17th we will be hosting an interview with the authors who will share their experiences working with youth and bringing the book together. Check the link to see other Tour stops and spaces that are supporting this project.


  1. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    re: “71 percent reported hearing sexual teasing, jokes, or remarks at their schools.”

    That must be for grammar school? For high school, I suspect it’s more like 95%.

    Given all these issues, and related but more subtle ones, where the parent(s) are capable of placing their kids (especially but not exclusively girls) in single-sex schools, what does the GGE think about that? Is that admitting defeat, or facing reality and doing what’s best for one’s own kid(s)? To what extent does it help? Or is it an option for so few that it doesn’t get much consideration?

    Friday, May 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Thanks for you comment, N’awlins! The young women’s research includes 1,189 middle and high school students throughout NYC. 63% were female-identified and 37% were male-identified. One of the main findings was that sexual harassment is so normalized that it is rendered invisible to many. I think this percentage, taken in the context of the rest of the research, speaks to that issue.

    Speaking only on my own behalf, and *not* for GGE, I definitely see the benefits of having single-sex schools, and so long as care is taken to ensure parity, I wouldn’t oppose them. Having lived in Kolkata for two years, and experiencing the luxury of women-only spaces on public transportation, I think single-sex environments can be useful as a harm reduction strategy in tandem with other efforts. (Sidenote: the girls in the Sisters in Strength program who attended schools with a primarily female population had VERY different ideas about whether sexual harassment in school was a problem because it was much less frequent and the forms it took didn’t tend to represent a rape culture where women and girls are so vulnerable). Of course, single-sex schools do play into a gender binary that I’m not comfortable with, so trans inclusion would need to be a priority.

    Friday, May 13, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  3. Jordan Rastrick wrote:

    Do you think single sex schools help the relevant problems, or simply defer them?

    I went to a single-sex male school. Not being around girls my own age that much definitely helped shape pre-conceptions in my own teenage mind; implicit misogynistic attitudes about the superior intellects (say) of men were able to gain a lot of currency, in the stark absence of any girls to challenge them.

    Conversely is it wise having girls grow up in a space artificially free from patriarchal influences? Sexism will still exist in the wider world and will need to be confronted the moment they graduate.

    I’m not saying this to dismiss the idea outright, only to raise what I think are important questions. I mean schools used to be far more heavily segregated by gender, and its not clear if that had much value in advancing feminist ideals. If its got merits when combined with other measures, I think its critical to clearly establish what those merits are.

    Friday, May 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink
  4. Yes, I think homogenous spaces for marginalized groups (e.g., women, transpeople, LGBTQ folks, POC, etc) provide a sense of comfort and security that is lacking and allow for more authenticity without fear. Conversely, I think homogenous spaces for people with privilege have the unfortunate effect that you’re describing of reifying one’s right to domination, so I would not draw a parallel b/t single-sex spaces in the way you are drawing it because there are different power dynamics at play in each.

    Single-sex spaces are a temporary reprieve from some aspects of gender oppression, but certainly not devoid of patriarchal influences; the simple fact that they exist indicates a system of oppression exists and always reminds of that. Also, once girls/women leave that single-sex space, they are exposed to the (dis)pleasures of gender oppression just like any other: street harassment, job discrimination, date rape, etc. Single-sex spaces aren’t able to be *that* insular.

    It’s a false analogy to say that present day sex segregation would necessarily have the same effects as past sex segregation. For one, we have an analysis of the ways segregation is detrimental in a social context where certain groups are given more than others — and so that analysis can be utilized to ensure that is not the case. Also, there is an underlying assumption that co-ed spaces are necessarily better than single-sex spaces, and I’m not sure that’s the case either — assuming socio-cultural, political, and economic parity. There’s also an assumption that sex segregation doesn’t already exist, but it does in a lot of ways: just walk through an elementary and middle school and look at the way girls and boys separate themselves along sex lines.

    I appreciate this conversation, and I’m certainly not married to my opinions here. So, I hope others join the discussion.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink
  5. samanthab wrote:

    Well, I wonder to what extent sexual segregation reinforces the idea that boys will be boys, and that there’s nothing to be done about it. I tend to think that it would be much more helpful for boys to be taught that this is unacceptable behavior before they become men. There needs to be accountability for this sort of behavior, and I think that sex segregation is somewhat of a cop out to that end.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  6. k not k wrote:

    I’m not sure if I agree that single-sex spaces are the answer here. But I am really interested to see the interview with the authors!

    As a side note, a “virtual book tour” is such a good idea. AND The Beatdown has been kicking some serious new-guest-author butt lately, ilu Flavia and s.e.!

    Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink
  7. Kiri wrote:

    Yeah, my first thought when single-sex spaces were mentioned was, “So how do trans kids fit into this?”

    (I concur with the guest author butt kickery, btw.)

    Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  8. Kiri wrote:

    (Though Flavia is a regular here, so, whoops, sorry. Didn’t mean to erase/misrepresent! Still, s.e. does kick butt, so I stand by that.)

    Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  9. Kiri wrote:

    (AND SO IS s.e. Crap. Sorry.)

    Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  10. Hayley B wrote:

    i want to give that book as a gift to every principal and every teacher at every school in the country (world, while we’re dreaming). this seems so important. this seems like it needs to get into school administrator hands.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink