Filed under: depressing

// 29 May 2009

Although we know homophobic bullying and bullying centring on gender conformity in schools is common, this story about primary school girls is still pretty shocking*.

A study by researchers at Cardiff University at a girls school found many year five girls “feel they must act ‘girly’ in order to avoid being called lesbians by their peers”, reports Pink News:

Published in the latest edition of the Gender and Education journal, the study found that pupils were under pressure to ensure they appeared heterosexual.

Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement, Dr Allan said: “The girls in this school felt that many more comments were made about their sexuality because of their separation from boys. They felt that it was automatically assumed by their peers outside of school that they were lesbians.”

She cited one incident of a girl being teased by a boy from an outside school about being a lesbian which was still a topic of discussion among pupils.

Pupils were found to go to great lengths to appear “girly” and “ladylike” in order to avoid being thought of as lesbians, adopting “hetero hyper-feminine” behaviour.

*Note: edited – apparently I can’t read, it’s year five girls, not five year old girls. Oops!

Comments From You

Seamus // Posted 29 May 2009 at 6:07 pm

I recently read an article at Double X that came to the opposite conclusion.

It was an American study:

“At this April’s conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, researcher Barbara Risman reported on a recent study, with Elizabeth Seale, of middle school boys and girls. Although the girls were deeply preoccupied with their appearance, the kind of feminine mystique that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s was virtually dead.

Not a single girl who was interviewed thought she had to play dumb or act “feminine” around boys. Girls aspired to be strong and smart, and admired other girls who were. There was no sense that it would be inappropriate for a girl to do things that used to be called masculine.

On the other hand, Risman and Seale found that the masculine mystique was alive and well, and in some ways stronger than ever. If boys participated in activities or expressed feelings traditionally viewed as feminine, they were teased, bullied, or ostracized. Boys brutally policed each other to make sure that each lived up to the masculine mystique. And most girls agreed that while it was great for a girl to like “boy” things it was not okay for a boy to like “girl” things.”

Jennifer Drew // Posted 29 May 2009 at 6:30 pm

Not surprising really considering there is intensive pressure on girls and young women to conform to a narrow male-centered definition of ‘feminine behaviour.’ However, this case is shocking because it means popular culture is increasingly negatively influencing younger and younger girls. Not pupils by the way – girls because I doubt if primary school boys are going to great lengths to appear ‘girly’ and ‘ladylike’ in order not to be judged as ‘lesbian.’

Furthermore it is not ‘sexual bullying which is a gender neutral term but male sexual harassment which starts from the time a girl begins primary school. This is not a new issue but is one which has existed for decades. Note a primary school boy ‘teased’ a fellow primary school girl for supposedly being a ‘lesbian.’ Such ‘teasing’ whilst it is all too often dismissed as ‘boys being boys’ has far wider implications and is all about boys enacting their power and control over girls. If boys are not challenged at this age, then they will subsequently believe such misogynistic behaviour is normal male behaviour.

Francine Hoenderkamp // Posted 29 May 2009 at 7:06 pm

I dream of a day when we are allowed to just be human beings. No make-up, no grooming, no act. Like men. Just human. Just being.

Gauntlet // Posted 29 May 2009 at 7:23 pm

The story in Pink News says the girls are year 5, making them 9 years old – though this remains awful not matter how old they are.

Jess McCabe // Posted 29 May 2009 at 7:28 pm

@Gauntlet – oops! so much for my reading comprehension..

David Abstract // Posted 29 May 2009 at 7:55 pm

@Francine Hoenderkamp – please pay attention:

>On the other hand, Risman and Seale found that the masculine mystique was alive and well, and in some ways stronger than ever. If boys participated in activities or expressed feelings traditionally viewed as feminine, they were teased, bullied, or ostracized. Boys brutally policed each other to make sure that each lived up to the masculine mystique. And most girls agreed that while it was great for a girl to like “boy” things it was not okay for a boy to like “girl” things.”

Men are no more free to be just human and just be than women are – it’s just that the things we are supposed / not supposed to do are different to the things required of women.

This takes me back though… I remember at my school (state, mixed) it was in year 5 when the fuck-wits and bullies learnt to use the word gay as an all purpose insult; it was applied to me (and anyone else ever insulted or bullied there) with monotonous regularity…. I never heard the word lesbian used the same way though – another example of male pro-nouns being treated as universal perhaps?

LonerGrrrl // Posted 29 May 2009 at 10:46 pm

I can understand this. At this age, I felt pressure to fit a feminine mould I was not comfortable adopting which fostered my outsider status. I don’t recall any overt homophobia attached to not being ‘girly’ enough, but it was def. more acceptable to be feminine & interested in stereotypically feminine things. I feel it must be worse these days what with the rise in sexual commodification, some of which is targeted at young girls.

Selidor // Posted 29 May 2009 at 11:29 pm

I don’t really find it surprising, especially for girls in year five. I attended a girls’ high school, and people at my previous school definitely perpetuated the belief that it was a school for lesbians, which left many of the girls whose parents had decided to send them there insecure. Wearing the uniform on the way back from school, I can remember a pair of boys who were about eleven or twelve at most yelling ‘dyke’ across the road.

By the time everybody got to the second year of high school this had mostly subsided, though, since most of the boys from other schools were too busy trying to socialise with the girls to bother seriously teasing them over sexuality. However, I did find that within the school, the other girls were quick to pick out those who were, or were considered to be lesbians and many would tend to avoid their social groups. It was definitely the girls who were not stereotypically ‘girly’ who tended to be labelled this way by their peers.

Jess McCabe // Posted 30 May 2009 at 12:12 am

@David Abstract – You’ve made some good points, but “please pay attention” is rude..!

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 30 May 2009 at 5:59 am

Oh Lord…

Theodora Tyler, where are you now? We need your example so badly.

Karen // Posted 30 May 2009 at 9:14 am

This is why I still beleive in school uniform. As a skint, “scruffy” kid, I hated the mufti days (yes, my parents couldnt afford 50p!) where the girls that went in trousers were acceptable only as long as they “balanced” this out with low cut tops, make up etc. The other girls were able to do their over-fem bit, I was still in school uniform which straight away had me labelled as the class pauper but at least I didnt have to wear some of the bright pink or lets-reveal-everything outfits being worn. Kids can be incredibly cruel to each other when they don’t know any better. Keep uniform with a trouser option and rigorously enforce the ban on make-up etc (or don’t they do this now, I haven’t been in the schooling system for about 15yrs now :) )

viv // Posted 30 May 2009 at 9:55 am

sorry, seamus, no offense – but as an american female i call bulls**t on that “american” study. there are A LOT of people, mostly men but some rightwing women, here in the states freaking out about the gender roles finally shifting and giving breathing room to us all to be our selves. so i would take ANY study by ANYONE here in the states on gender with a big ol’ grain of salt. ‘cos men, especially white men, under attack and as the minority – well, that’s the new black in the u.s.a.

Aimee // Posted 30 May 2009 at 11:26 am

I also went to an all girl’s school, and were similarly labelled lesbiens by other schools, but we tended to band toghether and say ‘so what? What’s wrong with that?’. WE had a couple of girls who were lesbians in my school, and they were always supported and never made to feel dirty or horrible. I think girl’s schools are good for that kind of thing. I think they encourage girls to stick together and defend eachother, wheras in mixed schools, I think there’s a lot of vying for male attention.

Jessie // Posted 30 May 2009 at 8:02 pm

As someone who’s just left school, I have to say that actually I don’t think this is the big problem regarding homophobic bullying. Yes, occasionally, ‘lesbian’ is used as an offensive term but in comparison to the word ‘gay’ being banded about as almost as every other word it is no where near in the same league.

The word gay is not just used to be offensive to individuals but also to describe ‘rubbish’ things and as a general derogatory term, I think that this probably has a much much bigger effect on homophobia in Britian than the minority of single sex school girls being called lesbian (although of course I agree that it’s unacceptable).

Also @ Karen, whilst the actual scholl uniform in many schools is fairly strict, enforcement on things like, make-up and high-heeled shoes is ridiculous. It is the norm for girls from year 7 to wear make-up and high-heeled shoes are often seens as the preference to black trainers.

Karen // Posted 31 May 2009 at 10:00 pm

Hi Jessie, no offence meant, I mean in uniform time to enforce the rules, not Mufti, which as you say is ok for anything to go, thats the girls right to choose. I just think that the right to choose what to wear should be less pressurised by peers. I’m 29 now and even today I got sniggers from a couple of the local teenage girls and catty comments just cos my longish black skirt wasnt trendy enough for them. Yes they are entitled to wear what they want, of course they are, but so am I and I’m sick of the stick I get from people (mostly teenagers) because I refuse to wear designer shite thats been knocked up an exploited family somewhere out east. I suffer clinical depression, have done since age 13 so it’s really nice that people still won’t leave me alone…

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