Catcalling and other forms of harassment happen everyday. Many grown women know the feeling of walking down the street and being whistled or yelled at, or heard small inappropriate statements about their bodies. According to the article "One in Ten Girls is Catcalled Before Her 11th Birthday. Here Are 6 Things Parents Can Do About It", one in ten American girls had been catcalled before her 11th birthday. In 2017, a report showed that more than one in six girls in elementary and secondary school have dealt with gender-based harassment.
First of all, this type of harassment at such a young age can affect the way girls feel about themselves, leading them into a downhill spiral of being concerned about how they look and even judging other girls based on their looks. Other studies have proven that females who have been objectified by members of the opposite sex perform worse on math tests. Finally, the more women are talked about in appropriate ways, the blurrier the boundary line gets. Males tend to forget that their little comments can go a long way. Although it is not all boys and men who participate in catcalling and harassment, it is happening and could be happening to your daughter.
Here are six ways to help protect your daughter and fight back against this inappropriate behavior:
1. Point out pop-culture sexism
Since catcalling is everywhere, especially in pop-culture, an easy way to bring awareness to your daughter is to talk about it when it is brought up. Whether it is on the television, on the radio, or even in person, talk to your daughter about why it is inappropriate and how serious it can be. Ask her questions about how she would feel if those comments were directed toward her or if it has ever happened to her.
2. Get talking
Although this topic seems a little mature for elementary school, it is never too early to start talking about it. When young girls are harassed, only about 2 percent of them talk to their parents about it. Start around third or fourth grade to make your daughter comfortable and know she can talk to you if the situation occurs in the future.
3. Let her know, its never ever her fault
It is important to emphasize that it is never her fault. She didn't "ask for it" because of her outfit choice and she wasn't "doing anything to deserve it" by walking around with a group of friends. Girls and women deserve to feel as comfortable and free as boys and men do. This type of attention is often unwanted, so make sure she knows to not feel ashamed if it does happen and that she can talk to you or any adult about it.
4. Arm her with what to say or do
Reacting to a harasser can be confusing, especially when it seems they are "complimenting" you. Make it known that their behavior is the opposite of polite and it is not necessary to engage in conversation back to them. Sometimes it is better to ignore them and continue walking, while in other situations an assertive comment like "Please stop, that's not okay" may be appropriate. Remind her that if she feels uncomfortable in any situation, it is best to remove herself from the situation and talk to you or an adult she trusts. If this inappropriate behavior is coming from one of her classmates or other individuals she would feel comfortable talking to, encourage her to tell him he is acting inappropriately and he needs to stop.
5.Talk to boys and young men in your life
If you have a son or other young men in your life, speak to them as well. Making them aware of the inappropriate behaviors at a young age can help prevent it from ever happening. Use pop-culture to show them what is inappropriate and explain to them how it can make others feel. Ask them why they think other men do this and give them ways to help stop it, such as standing up for girls or refusing to laugh at inappropriate jokes. Be sure that they know the phrase, "boys will be boys," is not an excuse to be inappropriate.
6. Take action
There are more ways to get involved than just talking to your daughter or son. Reach out to your community and plan meetings or assemblies to spread the word about catcalling and gender-based harassment. The more knowledgable people are, the less likely it will happen.
Although catcalling and harassment won't end tomorrow, bringing awareness to the problem is a start. If you have questions about harassment and how it affects you or your child or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us. For more information on therapy, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.
~Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD
Reference: “One in Ten Girls Is Catcalled Before Her 11th Birthday. Here Are 6 Things Parents Can Do About It.” Girl Scouts of the USA, Girl Scouts of the USA, 2017.