In a perfect world, catcalling and other forms of harassment simply wouldn’t exist. But the truth is, our world is far from perfect. Not only do fully-grown women face creepy comments and unwanted attention on a regular basis, but young girls—like your daughter—do, too.
Two years ago, a study showed that one in ten American girls had been catcalled before her 11th birthday. That’s right, we’re talking about fourth graders getting wolf-whistled and potentially worse. And now, a 2017 report shows more than one in six girls in elementary and secondary school have dealt with gender-based harassment.
Why is this such a big deal? Let us count the ways. First of all, according to Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “catcalling and other objectifying behaviors can make girls feel their value lies solely in how they look as opposed to what they think or the things they can accomplish. That kicks off a domino effect of girls engaging in self-objectifying—feeling overly concerned about how they look, comparing their bodies to those of other girls and women, and even judging other girls based on their looks.” Catcalling can also make girls feel ashamed of their bodies or threatened like they have to be extra cautious when out in public. None of these are things that anyone should have to spend time and energy thinking about—let alone an 11-year-old girl.
Further, studies have shown that young women perform significantly worse at math after being objectified by a member of the opposite sex. That is, in a controlled study, when females were leered at by a male actor posing as a peer and then took a math test, they got far fewer answers correct compared to women who had not first experienced the objectifying, sexualized stare. Perhaps we should add that to the reason why girls and women are still in the minority in so many STEM fields?
Finally, all these “little” comments about girls’ and women’s bodies contribute to a culture in which the female body is seen as up for grabs—both literally and figuratively. When fast and loose “locker room talk” about girl’s bodies is deemed acceptable or at least harmless, boundaries start to blur farther, putting girls at risk of dealing with aggressive physical behaviors in addition to the verbal taunts. Case in point? A recent study showed that more than one in five girls aged 14-18 have been kissed or touched without their consent.
“Beyond setting the damaging standard that girls and women are worth little more than the physical bodies they have to offer, when we simply dismiss catcalling as “boys being boys” or “men being men,” it actually confuses boys—making them think masculinity and aggression go hand-in-hand—and gives a bad name to all men, many of whom both admire and respect women," says Dr. Bastiani Archibald.
Essentially, catcalling is harmful, scary, and it could be happening to your daughter—or at least one of her friends. That said, the last thing you as a parent should do when it comes to all of this is to pretend it’s not happening. Yes, these may not be the most comfortable topics to think about or discuss, but “sheltering” your girl from these real truths can actually put her at even more risk. So here are 6 things you can (and really should) do to help protect your daughter and fight back against these sexist behaviors:
While we can’t flip a switch and create a harassment-free world for our girls, we do know that ignoring catcalling or laughing it off contributes to a culture where such behavior is seen as normal and even acceptable. Your daughter—and all of us—deserve better than that.