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Objectification: How the School System Tells Us It’s Okay

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Objectification: How the School System Tells Us It’s Okay

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I was 14 years old. My two best friends and I were walking across the street in a tiny beach town one Saturday afternoon in August. We were laughing, enjoying our time together, and forgetting that we had to go to school on Monday morning. It had been a good day, swimming in the ocean and having picnics in the sand. My hair was curly from the salty waves (that’s my favorite way to look) and there was still sand in my sneakers because I didn’t think to pack sandals. It seemed unbelievable that we had already started high school, when it felt like yesterday we were in seventh grade.

All of a sudden, our exchanging of inside jokes was interrupted by sounds from the pickup truck stopped at the red light next to us. They honked their horn, rolled down their windows, and whistled at us, continuing to shout obscene things that I didn’t understand the meaning of until a few years later.

My friends and I were silent. Our minds hadn’t registered what had happened, but we knew that we were afraid. Our hearts were pounding, synchronized, and our faces were frozen in panicked expressions. I felt like I was in danger, and I had never truly felt that before. So we ran inside the small antique shop at the corner of the street and hid amongst the vintage furniture and porcelain dolls for around an hour. Even then, we were still terrified to go outside.

I have been catcalled multiple times since that day, not to mention the dozens of comments I receive on a daily basis. I have been told “You would be prettier if your boobs were bigger,” “Boys like girls who wear more makeup,” and even “You should become a prostitute when you’re older.” Every time I have moved on from one of these disgusting instances, another occurs to throw me back into this state of mind where I believe the things they say.

A girl that I spoke to about this (who prefers to remain anonymous) told me that she has received hundreds of these comments and has dealt with a number of boys who refuse to take “no,” for an answer.

She explained, “I asked him to stop and he wouldn’t. It was annoying and disgusting, and all I wanted to do was avoid him.” She told me that at first, these comments and experiences hurt. However, over time, she became almost numb. In her words, “I just got used to it. It happened so much that I didn’t feel anything anymore.”

How is it fair that 15-year-old girls have dealt with so much harrassment throughout their lives that it has become a part of their daily routine?

It is hard enough to have these hurtful words thrown at you each and every day, but what is even more difficult to handle is the fact that I have grown up believing that these things are natural; and a lot of other girls have, too.

 

Elementary School

In elementary school, any time a boy would push a girl on the playground or make fun of her in any way, it would be swept under the rug. The teachers would pick the girl up off of the ground, dry her tears, and tell her, “He is only being mean to you because he likes you.”

This saying is wrong in a number of ways. Allowing a young girl to believe that physically and mentally abusive behaviors are the same as love can lead to adult women being trapped in relationships with abusive partners, but because they have been taught that hatefulness only means they care, they have no desire to leave the relationship.

Saying this can also create a rather terrifying idea in the minds of men: “If I am mean to someone, it will be taken as love.” This can lead to men becoming abusive partners, but not understanding that what they are doing is, in fact, abusive. If they have been told their entire lives that being horribly malicious towards somebody equals loving and caring for that person, then they will not be able to grasp that what they are doing is not an aspect of love. This creates a toxic relationship with seemingly no way out.

 

Middle School

I learned what objectification was at a rather young age. In middle school, we were told that we must cover our shoulders and hide our bra straps because it might distract the boys. It didn’t matter if we missed class when we had to change our all-too-revealing tops, because at least the boys in our class could learn in peace.

In an interview with Alana Pelaez, she explained to me that she once had to miss half of her Algebra class to change her shirt after being dress coded for showing her bra strap. She went on to say, “When I put on the dress code shirt, it was a little small on me, and one of the AP’s told me I was showing too much skin again. So, I had to change a second time. They had me change in a storage closet instead of a bathroom.”

Is a bra strap really more important than the education of a 13 year old girl? Being dress coded like this tells girls that they must behave a certain way in order to create a better environment for boys. It tells girls that their education is less important when compared to that of boys. It tells girls that they must be afraid of dressing how they want to, because what if a boy finds it distracting? We should not need to worry about how someone feels when they see a simple bra strap, and we should definitely not be punished and forced to change just because a boy can’t control himself.

Boys get away with sexual assault constantly, and a lot of the time, girls are blamed for the actions of boys, especially at school.

In the same interview, Alana Pelaez shared this story with me; “I was sexually harassed all throughout middle school and I finally gained the courage to tell my 8th grade counselor. I walked in and through tears told the story of what happened. She said to me, ‘Well were you wearing a low-cut top?’ Those words play through my head every time I wear anything slightly revealing. Because my counselor said that to me and assigned the blame to me, that boy who harassed me and ruined my life never got in trouble.”

Boys need to face consequences for their actions, especially if sexual harassment occurs at school. How is it fair that a school official blamed Alana rather than blaming the perpetrator? How is it fair that boys get to walk away unharmed, while girls receive ridicule and blame? This is only teaching young girls that they mean nothing compared to men; they are simply objects that men can use whenever they please. This is also teaching boys that nothing is their fault and that they can get away with anything. Schools should be teaching boys that their actions have consequences; not teaching girls that they need to change in order to feel safe.

 

High School

We are supposed to be preparing for the “real world,” while we are in high school, or at least that’s what all of my teachers say. The things I learn each and every day are supposed to help me decide how I want to live beyond these classroom walls. However, the things I learn outside of the classroom matter, too, and most of what I have learned is that I am afraid of growing up. I am afraid to leave school and I am afraid to be an adult because I haven’t yet learned how to deal with situations involving objectification.

I have had boys call me a “whore,” a “slut,” and I have been ridiculed for saying “no.” “I thought you were easy,” they say with disgust. Each and every time I ask an adult for help, I receive the same answer: “Boys will be boys. Get over it. Will it matter in five years?” Yes, it will matter then and it does matter now. If “boys will be boys,” is an excuse for their behavior, then they can get away with absolutely everything.

I spoke to a girl named Bella Spizzirri, who shared that she deals with boys catcalling and harassing her constantly; and some of these experiences have occurred on school grounds. “I felt very violated, disgusted, and angry. Some policies at school definitely make it easier for boys to get away with harassment. There should be more rules put in place to prevent sexual assault.”

When harassed on school property, it is extremely difficult to ask for help. Girls are worried that school officials will do nothing but repeat, “Boys will be boys,” over and over until we begin to believe that it is a valid excuse. This not only creates an environment in which girls feel unsafe, but it leads to boys believing that they can get away with sexual assault and harassment. How is it in any way fair that boys will simply receive a warning, and will continue to harass other girls, but those who have been assaulted have to live with that experience forever? We must look back and remember that day as time goes on. We must feel uncomfortable in our own skin each and every moment afterwards, because there is no way to forget how we felt in that moment. We tell ourselves to be strong, but it is so hard when we continuously must be reminded of how we were treated, while the boys who harrassed us live on, forgetting that they even did anything wrong. We must teach the perpetrator at a young age that their actions have serious consequences in order to prevent these instances from occurring in the future.

If I grow up believing that boys can do anything they want without facing any punishment, then when I become an adult, I will be unable to defend myself if I were to face harassment in the world after high school.

I never want to be afraid of wearing the things that I want because people will tell me “You were asking for it” if I am assaulted. I never want to be afraid of walking to my car at night without a weapon because you never know who could be lurking in the shadows, waiting to prey on the next woman who walks by. I never want to be ashamed of being myself because people will tell me that “No boy will like you if you act like that.”

I am a person; not a belonging. I want to be treated like a human being, living and breathing on this planet, creating new things and changing the world. I am not simply an object for boys to use until they grow bored with me. No girl is simply a “thing.” We are people, with ideas in our heads and love in our hearts, and it is time we start fighting against harassment and sexual assault. It is time for schools to start helping us in that fight. It is time to end objectification, once and for all.

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Objectification: How the School System Tells Us It’s Okay