O ne evening, when I was 11 years old, my mother sat down awkwardly on the side of my bed and picked up the small, green pillow I had slept with since I was a toddler. The pillow, which I had inexplicably named Lauren, had hens and baby chicks embroidered on it, as well as one manly looking rooster. My mother placed Lauren carefully in her lap, looked up, and asked me: "Emily, are you sexually active? I didn't answer her right away. I was considering the lesson we'd completed that week in English class on active vs passive voice in writing. Active voice means the subject of the sentence is doing something. For example: "My boyfriend put his hand down my pants, told all his friends I was a slut , and convinced everyone to hate me. I looked at my mother, who had begun twisting Lauren the pillow into a tight, painful-looking coil.
It was a way for the community to shame her for her adultery. Slut-shaming is a form of cyberbullying where girls are targeted on social media and bullied through degradation or humiliation for their sexuality. What this means is that girls are often ridiculed for the way they look, the way they dress and their presumed level of sexual activity. One-third of all middle and high school students experienced having someone make unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures about them. While the methods vary, bullies often use social media sites to share explicit photos and videos.
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Sexual harassment and abuse is an abuse of power.
In my junior year of high school I wore leggings to my AP Latin class. Leggings were against dress code at my school, as were sweatpants and skirts that were shorter than the ends of your fingertips. My female teacher admonished me in front of the class before sending me home to change. I ran home crying and changed into jeans. When I returned, one of the older boys in my class made a rude comment as I sunk into my seat. I broke school rules—as just about every other teenage girl in high school did when they got dressed in the morning—and probably deserved to be punished. But this time, my teacher, tired of reprimanding girls for dress code violations every day, had decided to make an example of me in front of the class. The result? I missed important test prep for my upcoming AP exam, and she gave some immature boys an excuse to make sexual remarks in a classroom setting.
Lyn Mikel Brown on what adults — parents, educators — can do to lead girls to a more accurate idea of power and activism. They are seizing opportunities closed to previous generations — in science, sports, and leadership. The piece came on the heels of a slew of recent research that showed a rise in depression and anxiety and a dip in confidence for girls, especially as they enter middle school. Friends were telling me stories about their struggling daughters, particularly around social media and feeling left out.