I had to rattle this off quickly as a counter-point to the media frenzy today about this report. Apologies for typos – there will be many!
Toxic masculinity or female intrasexual competition?
“MPs seek better plan to fight school sexual harassment
Sexual harassment and abuse of girls are too often accepted as part of daily life, according to a Commons Women and Equalities Committee report.”
Key findings are:
The committee chair, Conservative MP Maria Miller, is popping up on my radio every hour on the news bulletins and is explicitly pointing the blame at boys and pornography. She repeats the most shocking and salacious findings as if they were the most prominent findings in the report.
The report had already piqued my interest so I have been looking at it today. Here are some pertinent points from the list of conclusions and recommendations from the report itself
“1.Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a significant issue which affects a large number of children and young people, particularly girls, across the country. Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls. However it is essential that the negative impact on both boys and girls is recognised and addressed.”
“2.There is insufficient data to conclusively demonstrate that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a growing problem. It is true that such behaviour has occurred in schools for many years, as in wider society. However, significant qualitative evidence suggests that increasing access to pornography and technological advances, including online platforms, can facilitate harassment and violence and thus exacerbate the problem.”
(Yet somehow, in light of this lack of evidence, the government should non-the-less…)
“15…create a statutory obligation in the forthcoming Education Bill for all schools, primary and secondary, to develop a whole school approach to preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence. We also recommend that the Department for Education remind all school Governors of their legal obligations to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in school. Guidance and support on how to achieve this most effectively should be provided to Governing Bodies.”
(Echos of Title IX, anyone?)
“24.By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age appropriate way starting in primary school.”
(In other words, an entrenched political and ideological organisation wants government funding to go into schools to teach young and impressionable boys and girls how to interact)
“30.Too often, SRE ignores the position of boys and young men. It must be broadened to challenge harmful notions of masculinity and reflect boys’ experiences. It should also support boys to challenge and reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence.”
“31.We welcome the Government’s interest in supporting boys and young men to be part of the solution to the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We recommend that the Government fund research to establish the most effective ways to achieve this.”
You get the implicit picture; girls are victims, boys perpetrators of sexual harassment. In case this wasn’t clear enough, they included a visual signpost.
Girl, interrupted by sexism
Of course the feminist Twittersphere is going nuts. If there was a flag representing “the patriarchy”, they’d be in the streets gleefully burning it.
So lets review: the report itself states there is no evidence to support the problem is a growing problem, yet the rhetoric I’m hearing on the radio makes it appear out of control and endemic. Which is nothing new:
And indeed further down the page we find this statement:
I’ll come back to this later.
Firstly, I was particularly interested in the following claim, number 1 on their page of findings and recommendations:
Further down this page it states:
Note the reference. I followed it. It took me here:
Lets just be clear. The cited reference is to support the claim that “Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls.”
It took me a while to find a break down of the sex of the harassers – in all graphs they are referred to in sex and gender neutral terms – but when I did, it revealed something very interesting:
The findings here clearly state that even if girls are more harassed in total, they are not more harassed by boys, they are harassed by other girls.
Spending more money on teaching kids about consent, as is in the recommendations, will not help victims. Demonising boys, toxic masculinity or “laddism” – all deemed problematic in the report – will not help anyone. The claim they want to help boys is hollow. The claim they want to help girls even more so. Who commissioned this report? How much were they paid and was it from the public purse?
Note above boys appear to “harass” other boys more than girls. This is a finding because in their definition of sexual harassment they include name calling and banter as harassment. “Calling someone “gay” or “lesbian”…was the most frequently mentioned type of sexual harassment”
The numbers on female abusers here appear to be in line with the findings of a 2014 Demos report on internet misogyny which found that 50% of online abuse came from females.
Lets revisit this comment in Crossing the Line…
“Because girls reported higher rates of sexual harassment than boys did, this finding raises questions. Why didn’t boys or girls admit to sexually harassing girls when more girls than boys said they had been sexually harassed? Why does it seem to be more acceptable to sexually harass boys? These questions are critical to developing new strategies”
Now read this again in light of this new information:
I research female intrasexual competition, something I frequently call the pink elephant in the feminist room. Female competition and rivalry exists but takes a very different form from male competition, which is more open. What these reports are uncovering is not the tip of the iceberg of endemic male chauvinism but of endemic female passive aggressive bullying of their female rivals.
The main strategies of female competition are well documented; targets are socially ostracized, she is the subject of pernicious gossip, her character attacked, her sexual history discussed, her reputation ruined and crucially, boys are recruited by the female bullies to join in the attack. This is the well documented anatomy of how females compete – by stealth. The effects on the target are utterly devastating. It is this phenomena that feminists should be looking into if they genuinely wish to help young girls thrive at school. It is this research that needs more government funding not feminist sex education.
Logic dictates that if there actually is such a thing as toxic masculinity, there must also be a female analogue. And there is. There is also evidence that it is feminists, not “the patriarchy”, who seek to suppress and control female sexuality, especially in the West. (See Baumeister & Twenge, 2002).
The recommendations in this report do NOT support the papers findings. Feminists want access to young women in schools, to police their sexuality via fear – when the main negative effect on their self esteem is their female peers. These are all questions I am working on as a researcher, but many people have come before me. Female intrasexual competition is not new. It’s just taboo.
In spite of the feminist insistence that toxic masculinity is the problem, as a society, we need to widen the debate to include discussion about toxic femininity. If you want to see everyday evidence of female enmity in action, just look online at the bitter rivalries between feminist sects.
How can a movement with so little insight into itself or female competition be of any help to us?
If feminism is a humanitarian movement before a political one, it will face up to its own shortcomings.
The question needs to be asked: does feminism exist to help women and girls, or do women and girls now exist to help feminism?
Shoddy reports like this make me suspect the latter.
I am an egalitarian because I believe in the equality of the sexes. I am not a feminist because I do not support feminisms central aim which is to dismantle a fictional Western patriarchy, not, as many people believe, to promote sexual equality. For more in depth analysis on this issue see When is a Feminist Not a Feminist?
More reading on female intrasexual competition:
The development of human female competition: allies and adversaries
Joyce F. Benenson
Female competition and aggression: interdisciplinary perspectives
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Dec 5; 368(1631): 20130073.
Paula Stockley1 and Anne Campbell2
A Mind Of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women
Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes
Joyce F Benenson