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Going To A Same-Sex School Doesn't Protect You From Sexual Harassment

How many stories do you hear from women who were cat-called in school uniform?

21/11/2017 16:55 GMT | Updated 21/11/2017 17:03 GMT
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Today, Charlotte Avery, a headmistress of an all girls’ school, suggested that girls who attend same-sex schools are better equipped to deal with sexual harassment.

As someone who went to a girls’ school for the majority of their education, I just can’t see where she’s coming from.

Saying, “I think that there isn’t any sense of it being normalised, because they don’t see it, because it is simply not there” just makes no sense, whatsoever.

Yes, within the confines of her school walls, these girls probably do not encounter sexual harassment, but they do not live in a bubble. Once outside, there is no doubt that these young women will come face-to-face with sexual harassment.

There are two occasions that are burned in my mind - being backed into a corner on a bus by a man on my way to school, frozen from fear, not understanding why he didn’t stop talking to me when I told him I was 14, and waiting at a bus stop on my way home from school a year later and a man masturbating while staring at me. Neither of these experiences were easier to deal with because it wasn’t a “normalised” behaviour at my school.

How many stories do you hear from grown up women about the time they were cat-called in school uniform, that they were followed home by someone after school, that they were told to “give us a smile”? These experiences don’t only happen to students at mixed schools and these grown up women still often find themselves struggling to come to terms with it. I bet if you asked the ones who do raise their voices or contact someone for help, they wouldn’t put it down to their time at a same-sex school.

Young women may also face sexual harassment outside of school from their peer group - I remember being at parties and boys commenting on girls’ bodies to their faces, trying to touch their breasts and telling girls to “get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich”.

It does not matter what age you are, or what type of school you go to, women and girls have always (and probably will for a very long time) faced sexual harassment.

But it’s not only that. Avery’s comments seemed to be based on the recent YouGov poll that one in three 16-18 year olds have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. While this is undoubtedly a problem, the research does not specify that this was completely perpetrated by male students, or happened solely in mixed schools. We cannot assume that sexual harassment does not happen at single sex schools. To think so is naive. The research also examined verbal sexual harassment. 71% of people had heard girls called names and branded “sluts” at school. This is still sexual harassment and is endemic in girls’ schools.

Finally, it seems that Avery is suggesting same-sex schools are a viable solution to sexual harassment, and this, I think, is the most damaging part of it all. Sexual harassment does not only originate from men towards women, so on a literal level, this ‘solution’ would not work. The idea that a same-sex school is a “privileged space” where sexual harassment does not happen is wrong and does so much to undermine the experiencing that many girls around the country are currently experiencing.

Avery says she thinks girls are “surprised” when they hear about sexual harassment, but I think she ignores the reality that girls and women all over the world face. Sadly, no woman will ever be surprised or see harassment as an anomaly.

I can’t remember the first time I experienced sexual harassment but it was definitely while I was at an all girls’ school - and I most certainly was not equipped for it.