Friday, 15 January 2016

The 'Boys Will Be Boys' Bullshit

I’m stepping away from books today to talk about something a little more personal, and something that I believe very strongly. 

I saw a quote the other day that got me thinking: ‘be who you needed when you were younger’, and looking back at my school days there are lots of things I wish I’d had the confidence to protest against. I wish someone had been there to tell me that my feelings that something was wrong were valid.

I used to think feminism was a dirty word. I used to think if I didn’t wear makeup I was somehow ‘better’ than the girls that did. As someone white and privileged who grew up in a small, mostly white country town I was very ignorant and I had a lot of internalised misogyny, but there were a lot of things I also fought against vehemently (and thankfully, I've learned a lot since then). Firstly, I hated the idea that because I was a girl I had to set an example in which it was kind to ‘let the boys win’. I wasn’t interested in that. I was a bright child - I knew I was a bright child - so when boys in school tried to tell me their way of incorrectly spelling something was right I wouldn’t back down. I’d even be that annoying child that went to the teacher for confirmation just to prove my point.

I’m still a stickler for spelling now.

I also refused to let boys at my school get away with making fun of the girls as we went through puberty. I developed early; at twelve years old I’d already started my period and begun to develop breasts, while many girls around me remained very slim. I envied their breastless chests. I couldn’t run without someone, sometimes several years my senior, making some sort of comment about my body and I didn’t know how to respond. I was twelve.

Us girls couldn’t win. My classmates who had yet to develop were teased for being ‘flat-chested’, and when I told the boys to sod off I was teased for having breasts. It’s no exaggeration: teenage girls can’t win.

What sticks in my mind most about these boys, however, is how they thought they had the right to touch me without my permission. When I turned fourteen it didn’t stop at teasing or inappropriate comments; I can vividly remember boys in my classes - particularly in classes such as Art and Design & Technology in which we weren’t sitting at desks where our teachers could see us - grabbing my breasts and then running off, giggling all the while. Boys would stroke my legs or pinch my bum, but for the most part it was my chest that fascinated them. I could almost pity them, in hindsight.

Telling them to leave me alone did nothing. If anything they seemed to take more enjoyment in touching me when they knew I didn’t like to be touched. The worst thing is most of these boys have probably grown into young men who either don’t remember touching girls without their permission, or feel no remorse about it if they do. I look back at that time and I wish I could go back and tell my teachers or even my parents. I don’t know what my teachers would have done - it’s no secret that young girls are encouraged not to wear short skirts or shorts for fear of 'distracting the boys', when in reality it’s the boys, and even the grown men, who should learn to stop sexualising girls’ thighs. The sad thing is that mentality doesn’t go away as we get older; the international SlutWalk was bred from a police officer’s statement that if young women don't want to be raped they shouldn't dress 'like sluts'.

In any case they didn’t have that pathetic excuse with me. Like many of my friends I wore trousers to school and I liked to wear shapeless sweaters; the fact that I had breasts made me uncomfortable because they were so often stared at. Basically, our clothes have nothing to do with it.

This idea that it’s our fault is poisonous. I didn’t tell any teachers or my parents about what boys at school did to me because it was happening to everyone; as girls we’re raised to expect this kind of behaviour, and to rise above it by ignoring it. And remember: never encourage it! I never saw any boy punished at school for his behaviour towards any of the girls, so it never occurred to me that he could be punished for it and, hopefully, learn from it.

I wish someone back then had told me that my feelings mattered. That I wasn’t a prude because I didn’t like it, but that my feeling that there had been an injustice - that someone had touched me without my permission and gotten away with it - wasn’t melodramatic or silly. I wish someone had told me my feelings were justified.

Worse things have happened, and are happening, to women all around the world. In the grand scheme of things I’ve been fairly lucky. I wish I could say these instances  didn’t affect me in the slightest, but I’m done with being the bigger person and staying quiet. What they did, whether they meant it maliciously or not, was not okay. It wasn’t okay when it happened to me, and it wasn’t okay when it happened to any of the other girls in my school. It’s not okay when it happens to any girl in any school.

So this is my letter to any young girls out there, whether someone’s touched you without your permission for the first time or the hundredth time: It’s not okay, and your feelings that it’s not okay are valid. Please tell your teacher, talk to your parents or your siblings or anyone you trust. Talk to your friends. Talk to your male friends who might not even realise there’s anything wrong. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and others. Your body is yours, and you are the only person who gets to dictate who touches it.


  1. Thanks so much for writing this post. I think is so important for us to shout this things. We have the right to dress and behave as we please without having our integrity violated. When I was a teenager I was also 'advised' not to wear a dress too short or a neckline 'too wide'. But saying this is treating the boys as creatures that cannot control themselves, which is wrong, because what made us humans – apparently – is our ability to choose. So let's choose and demand being treated as individuals!

    1. Thank you! I agree - men should be just as offended as us about this way of teaching young women to cover up because it implies that a man's natural state is 'rapist'. It's infuriating.

  2. Wow, Jess, this is so amazing. I read it last week, and have seriously been trying to come up with words since then (in fact, your blog design changed when I refreshed the page- that is how long this has been open on my laptop hah- P.S.- I LOVE it!)

    You are so, so spot on when you said that girls cannot win. I was camp flat chest (actually, come to think of it, still am) and I wasn't teased about that as much as teased about my entire existence. Like, everything about me was "wrong" to the boys- hair, clothes, weight (even though, looking back, I was NOT overweight, they called me "fat" all the time, and since my father has hounded me about weight since I was able to recall, I of course believed them), you name it. I had a friend in your situation, who developed very early. She was so, so self-conscious. She was an athletic girl, and so, so good at ignoring the nonsense, which is why I think she escaped the brunt of the teasing. But I would always notice that when we were standing, and not hidden by anything, her hands always covered her chest.

    I am also incredibly sorry that this happened to you. But I am also so proud that you wrote this. Girls NEED this. Because when you said the stuff about telling girls to wear conservative clothes so boys aren't "distracted", it made my blood boil. This makes me irate. One of the arguments for public school uniforms was that exact phrase, and it makes me sad to think that this is somehow acceptable in 2016. Since when are boys and men some kind of wild animals who are unable to control themselves and where they put their hands (or anything else)? Last I checked, men weren't rabidly running around the street groping everyone who wore a pair of shorts or something. SO why make it seem like it is not their fault if they do!? And at the same time, basically using the old double standard of it being fine for men to have sexual feelings, but totally ignoring women in the equation- as though we're merely bodies for their distraction? Nope.

    Have you read any of Louise O'Neill's books? She has two, Only Ever Yours and Asking For It. Both deal with so many of these issues, but Asking For It is basically completely about these topics. It will make you SO mad, but it is a book that cannot be missed.

    Thank you again for this fabulous post. I know it will be a help to a young girl out there who is dealing with the same things you did. ♥

    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment, Shannon. :) I'm sorry you've been teased so horribly - I look back at photos of myself when I was younger and I'm amazed by how lovely I actually looked, I just didn't see it at the time because I thought I was hideous. Darn self-esteem issues. They're hard to tackle, and I think once we have them they never really go away.

      I haven't read Louise O'Neill yet, but I have both of her novels on my kindle! :) I'm really excited to read them, I'm just trying to prepare myself because I know they're going to infuriate me.

      I agree with you completely, there does seem to be this thought in society that men are the only people who experience sexual desire and arousal and women are just there to be used to satisfy it.

      Thank you again for your comment, it means a lot. ^_^

  3. When I was younger, people would make fun of my chest because I didn't know anything about bras and often had the wrong type. I remember a day where my favorite shirt was ruined for me when someone looked directly at me and said "Nice boobs" sarcastically. I didn't really grow up popular at all, so I never had anyone trying to touch me, and when I first read this I was repulsed that someone would think it's ok to do that. Then it occurred to me that it could have very likely happened while I was growing up, to girls in my school in my class, and no one knows because no one says anything. I think this is a good thing for any young girl to see- they need to know it's not ok to have their bodies touched without their permission.