Personally for me, the spring brings many challenges as a high school counselor. There is often a rise in suicidal threats, an increase in student pregnancies, an escalation of fights, and warm weather entices students to skip class for some additional socialization. However, this spring there was an additional concern that emerged from our student body: National Feel a Boob Day. Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate on the real meaning of this day and how it was celebrated at my school.
National Feel a Boob Day is a national awareness program that encourages women to perform self evaluations for lumps in their breast. In addition to each woman checking her own breast, her partner is persuaded to perform breast evaluations on her as well. This day originated as part of a movement to promote self breast examinations among women and their significant others; however, its meaning was lost in the hallways of my school.
So, I guess you are wondering how National Feel a Boob Day played out at my school?
See the reason for National Feel a Boob Day Below…
Honestly before last week, I did not even know that this awareness campaign existed. That is until one of my frequent flyers came into our counseling suite with another girl looking very annoyed. I asked the girls why they were in the office during their lunch and they began to describe their difficult day. Both girls explained they had been fondled and groped all morning by acquaintances and decided to hide out in our office so they could catch a break. Of course, I was not happy about the idea of two girls being touched inappropriately and I asked them if they would be willing to write down the names of these guys so that I could report this to the administration. One of the girls said it was no use because we would have an office full of people. She then went on to inform me that it was National Feel a Boob Day. Okay, I thought, this has got to be a joke! However, later that afternoon, one of our assistant principals walked by my office and shared another similar story with me. This time, a female student got into trouble for fondling another girl’s breast in front of the whole class. The assistant principal asked her why she did it and she informed him that it was not a big deal because it was a holiday, National Feed a Boob Day. In both incidents, the students were very matter of fact about all the inappropriate touching and explained that this behavior had been going on all day without much concern by the faculty or students. Really?
The Normalization of Sexual Harassment
Why I am so surprised this is not a big deal? Wake up girl…just look at the messages from Hollywood. From our media and pop culture, students are trained at an early age to ignore harassment and then engage in this sexual behavior. With songs like “My Humps”, “Milkshake”, and even the oldie but goodie, “Brick House”, students are inundated with sexual messages. Even at this year’s Oscar, Seth MacFarland earned many laughs for his song, “I saw your boobs.” The song was about the exposition of actresses’ breast in popular films like The Accused, Monster, and Monster’s Ball (many from violent rape scenes). There was some backlash from Hollywood feminists, like Jane Fonda, regarding MacFarland’s song; however, many of the younger actresses, like Jennifer Lawrence, found it enjoyable.
Celebration of Rape
As school counselors, we have an enormous task when it comes to educating students about sexual harassment and an even bigger obstacle on how to prevent it from occurring in schools. In fact, our schools often contribute to the perpetuation of harassment by failing:
· to provide clear expectations of behavior
· to teach interpersonal and social skills
· to effectively correct rule violations
· to supervise and monitor student behavior
The School Counselor as Educator
As a school counselor, it is important to educate yourself so you can aid others. From 2003-06, I was very involved in the group, American Association of University Women.
This organization is very committed in educating women and promoting gender equity. From the American Association of University Women site, school counselors can download free resources to help educate their students, particularly young women about harassment. One great resource to download is the 2001 study called, Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing, and Sexual Harassment in School. The study identified two types of harassment in schools:
Quid Quo Pro Harassment -includes when school employees explicitly or implicitly entice students to participate in voluntary or non-voluntary sexual acts.
Hostile Environment Harassment-includes sexual harassment between students.
In addition to defining harassment, the study gives examples of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as the unwanted or unwelcomed sexual behaviors that interfere with life at school.
Some examples of harassment include:
· Sexual comments/jokes
· Sexual rumors
· Touching or grabbing another in a sexual way
· Brushing against another person in a sexual way
See the chart below from AAUW
When addressing the issue of sexual harassment in schools, Julie Smolinski stated in an AAUW post that harassment is hard to recognize when it is normalized. Smolinski believes educators, like counselors, can help protect students from sexual harassment by talking to them about establishing healthy boundaries and refusing to give their consent to sexual behaviors. In addition, it is important for school counselors to know which groups are more susceptible to accepting sexual harassment as normalized behavior. In her research, Holly Kearl found that female perceptions about harassment were based on factors like race, age, and socioeconomic status. Girls are twice as likely to experience harassment as boys and African Americans are more likely to be touched or grabbed than Hispanics or Whites. AAUW found that 8 out of 10 students experienced sexual harassment in schools and 35% of that harassment was performed by an acquaintance. In addition, 62% of girls said they would be upset if they were grabbed by another person and 47% of students felt upset directly after an incident of harassment. In the same study by AAUW, students were asked why they chose to harass other students.
Some of the reasons for the harassment by students included:
· it is part of the school culture
· they thought the other person would like it
· they wanted to date that person
· their friends encouraged them
See chart from AAUW
As a school counselor, it is important to be prepared for major events that can impact the school and cause potential problems. In fact, AAUW found that harassed students are likely to avoid the person or persons who are responsible for the harassment, begin to talk less in class, start to miss school, and find it hard to study.
See chart from AAUW
When addressing sexual harassment, it is important to start educating students early. According to Professor Nan Stein of Wellesley College, Title IX mandates schools and their employees to notify students about sexual harassment procedures in the language appropriate to the age of the students. Not only are schools responsible for notifying students of the harassment procedures, but they are responsible for educating students about sexual harassment.
One way to educate students early is to collaborate with other middle and elementary counselors and choose a common curriculum. One such free curriculum is from the Pennsylvania Coalition against Rape (2009). This manual is equipped with lesson plans and worksheets for students in grades 1-12.
Tips for Preventing Sexual Harassment
AAUW has given guidance to schools and counselors for preventing sexual harassment. Some of these recommended school wide prevention programs include addressing the peer culture and creating a positive, inclusive school culture. In order to address the peer culture, school counselors can help incorporate a bullying awareness program; teach conflict resolution skills; refer troubled, antisocial, or depressed youth to mental health services; and ask students to sign a pledge against bullying and harassment. To create a positive, inclusive school culture, counselors can teach civil behaviors, help students separate from media images of disrespect, and promote the establishment of school wide rules of behavior, like Positive Behavior Support. In their document “Harassment Free Hallways: How to Stop Sexual Harassment in School”, school employees are provided with strategies to help students prevent sexual harassment.
Some of these strategies include:
1. Tell the person directly to stop;
2. Tell an adult you trust who can handle issues of sexual harassment. Be persistent until you are taken seriously;
3. Remind yourself that sexual harassment is wrong, illegal, and should stop;
4. Keep a journal of your experiences;
5. Interrupt any harassment you observe and tell an adult;
6. Meet or get involved in a leadership or student group that is willing to address sexual harassment.
Tips for Counselors
In addition to schools, AAUW has given counselors some strategies to use with students to combat harassment:
1. Educate students regarding the school’s sexual harassment policies;
2. Use case studies to educate students about sexual harassment;
3. Show videos about sexual harassment and follow up with a discussion (i.e. Flirting or Hurting);
4. Compile a list of resources for students/parents (include articles, websites, and help lines);
5. Encourage students to join or create organizations that address sexual harassment
6. Make yourself approachable and validate students’ feelings about their sexuality;
7. Assure students of confidentiality;
8. Discuss sexual harassment in the workplace and its consequences. Stress that sexual harassment is not acceptable in the workplace or in school;
9. Model appropriate behavior by avoiding sexual jokes, innuendos, or references;
10. Report any instances of sexual harassment that you witness—don’t be a bystander;
11. Help students create a safety plan when they experience sexual harassment (pg. 149 of the curriculum- Sexual Harassment: Prevention in the Schools, A Facilitator’s Manual and Curriculum for Grades 1-12, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, 2009).
There are many resources that counselors can use to help students when they face harassment; however, it is important that counselors are well informed and educated!