Advice needed: how should teenager deal with sexist teasing from boys at school?

// 16 July 2010

What advice would you give a teenage girl on dealing with sexist comments from male classmates? Sarah wrote in with this question:

I get teased in school – what’s the best way of shutting down boys who say girls can’t follow football? What can I say to those that seem to think that girls and sports don’t mix?

They also seem to forget that there’s a girl attached to my breasts sometimes too :(

Comments From You

Kate McCarthy // Posted 16 July 2010 at 3:02 pm

A friend of mine was much derided by her father and brother when she got a job in the press office for her local football club, asking how she was qualified to talk about football (despite a life-long interest). She took a part-time course in refereeing and came back to them with her certificate in reply to the question. You probably won’t persuade people to change their minds by arguing, but you can gain respect through your actions. Keep doing your own thing, find like-minded people in or out of school and believe in your own right to enjoy whatever you want.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 16 July 2010 at 3:13 pm

i think the best result would be if there are enough girls into sports to have your own team. it doesnt require you to talk back, just to enjoy it for yourself despite them. its easier to handle comments when your are confident in your own abilities.

young boys tend to have an answer for everything though so its not easy. in some schools i know girls would use their periods as a way to get to go to the bathroom during class, but in mine youd be horrified to mention it. from year 7 youd have a boy going round the girls one by one “have you started yet?” and theyd all say no. even when they had. saying something like “i dont see what that has to do with you” results in “obviously you have then”. same goes with things like bra sizes.

so long as you take what these people think to mean anything it will never be fair. i find that the people who avoided it were those that had their own close set of friends who knew who they were and werent trying to impress anyone. they might not have seemed cool in years 7 and 8 especially, but by the later years when most people werent interested in being like everybody else any more, and the “popular” people werent those who were excessively smoking drinking and having sex with older men during school hours, they were the most happy.

i know it sounds defeatist but id say the best bet is to find more similarly minded friends. yes maybe try to educate others when you have to read aloud something you wrote by all means (doesnt have to be preachy about why women can follow football, just something on womens football would show you follow it) but you wont change them from the inside unless they care about your feelings. find people you can trust, its the best i can suggest. and dont be scared to be rude to guys that are being overly invasive about your body. it might be harassment. you might not want to say “fuck off” in front of your teacher, but you have every right to offer a similar sentiment, or a face that says “WHAT?”

Kate // Posted 16 July 2010 at 3:14 pm

I’m inclined to say just get on with it. Do you need their permission or cooperation to participate in or talk about sport? No, so ignore them. They’ll soon learn that it is something you’re interested in.

Juliet // Posted 16 July 2010 at 3:30 pm

Agree with the previous comments. Ridicule, if you can be bothered to engage with idiots, is a good option. And even though women’s football was actually far more popular than men’s until the FA stopped women’s teams playing at big grounds in the 1920’s, I wouldn’t bother trying to educate them. Just as there’s a girl attached to the breasts, there’s always a fool attached to sexist remarks. I also think parents and schools have a big part to play in letting it be known that sexist behaviour, like racism, is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated.

I agree, it’s best to do your own thing. What they want is attention, so don’t give them any, except to be loud about telling them to back off if they get invasive.

Christine // Posted 16 July 2010 at 3:35 pm

To the brat who went around asking all the girls if they’d ‘started yet’, a good answer might have been, ”well, you’ve obviously started wanking!”

Lisa // Posted 16 July 2010 at 3:45 pm

Juliet is right, ridicule can be highly effective. If boys say girls and sport don’t mix, just laugh and say ‘did your Grandad tell you that?’ Or ”have you only done history as far as the Dark Ages?’ or something. Anything to make them look stupid/uncool will work every time.

Don’t get into arguments with them, that’s pointless. Just make them look stupid and then ignore them and carry on doing your own stuff.

Alex Catgirl // Posted 16 July 2010 at 7:09 pm

As many teenage feminist have said most teenage boys don’t have a clue about anything, it’s quite sad actually.

When it comes to sports, I agree with Laurel, girls playing sports makes a much stronger statement than words, and as we do not all play the same sport, we do not follow the same sports.

As for the boys not being able to see past our breasts, it’s not limited to teenagers, just ignore them…or seduce them if you are interested xD

Ruth // Posted 16 July 2010 at 8:03 pm

Well, yes, ridiculing them, starting a girl’s sports team, ignoring them, all that can help, but at the end of the day, if “teasing” turns to “bullying”, then it is a big problem and if you feel up to it, let the school – if you have a teacher that you trust that’s a usually good route – know. Or perhaps if you trust and get on with your parent/s or guardian/s, but don’t feel able to tell someone at the school, you could tell them and get them to speak to the school on your behalf.

Of course, if you don’t feel you’re in an environment where you’re able to speak up, that’s understandable too (been there, hate it when people say “it’s your responsibility and if you don’t you’re letting others down”). But if you do feel capable, and it is at that level of seriousness, it is probably a good idea to tell someone about it.

Rumbold // Posted 16 July 2010 at 9:42 pm

Ask them to explain the (current) offside rule. Then start laughing if they can’t answer seamlessly straight away. Then explain it to them. As someone else said, ridicule is always the best option.

Kate McCarthy // Posted 16 July 2010 at 10:59 pm

Just to add to what I said above, try not to tarnish all boys with the same brush (in the same way we don’t want them to generalise about us) – there is a lot of pressure on teenage boys to show this kind of bravado, which is a pretty sad situation for them. I agree with Ruth that if it is crossing a line (especially physically) then please do take it up with a teacher, however maybe they can learn a lot from your measured response – not least that there are more positive ways to get a girl’s attention.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 17 July 2010 at 1:37 am

if theyre being physical or over the line maybe you could find other girls who also feel its inappropriate. if a lot of girls knew they would have support from at least some of their peers the boys might find that a lot of girls are reacting to them, and the teachers might find that if enough girls complain rather than the odd one or two that its something that needs addressing that isnt just one person being “oversensitive” but something that is upsetting a lot of people. and if theres a lot of you, a parents complaint (if possible) from every one who gets it really would have to make them think.

Nathaniel tan // Posted 17 July 2010 at 10:56 am

Your right guys can be clueless but not all are. I know I’m a guy but I feel like I should defend the gentle out there in the world if there are any left and I won’t let chivalry die no matter how hard it gets. Guys do make sexIst I will help you shut them down. Guys can get competitive and so can u girls. Prove put our money where our mouth is. That will shut most guys up. Well most guys in the US. I don’t know much bout those english gents of yours. Well that’s all I have to say except that I’m jealous u have a blog.

Jessica Burton // Posted 17 July 2010 at 8:30 pm

In so many situations I find this useful:

If they are asking a question (often the case):

Just ask it back.

I do this at work when people say ridiculous things and I do this to street harrassers that are trying to get information. Could work with teasing school boys also.

Anna // Posted 18 July 2010 at 11:42 am

Chivalry is as sexist as the concept that women can’t grasp the offside rule.

Shea // Posted 18 July 2010 at 9:31 pm

How about “why don’t you come and join me in the 21st century?”

or say casually – “Isn’t it sad that boys/men have to insult a girl/woman they like because there is no way she would notice them otherwise?”


(The above is actually true btw. I am tall and I used to get alot of hassle from boys about my height, I challenged the most pathetic and relentless of the bunch, and it ended up with him trying to ask me out. So just remember the motive behind their teasing and use the put-downs to good effect!)

tomhulley // Posted 19 July 2010 at 9:26 am

It would be good to find teachers willing to help boys deal with their tendency to make sexist remarks that impair their integrity as humans.

Rather than the girl being the person with the problem, it is the perpetrators that have a problem.

Boys -how to you deal with sexist remarks? Stop making them!

FeminaErecta // Posted 19 July 2010 at 10:45 am

If someone is sexually harrassing you in school, then they are committing a crime, sod ridicule, get them in front of a judge!

Laurel Dearing // Posted 19 July 2010 at 11:22 am

@Shea, theyd just say “dont flatter yourself” and tease you for liking them instead =/

Jennifer Drew // Posted 19 July 2010 at 1:10 pm

I strongly recommend making enquiries with other girls. Ask if they are routinely subjected to male ridicule and if so, suggest you all form a group and then seek out the perpetrators and tell them ‘women and girls do not like/enjoy being subjected to sexual/physical/verbal harassment.’

Stop harassing girls. Just say that – no excuses just tell them to stop harassing girls. If this has no effect, then the girls as a group must seek out a teacher and demand these boys be held accountable.

Group action is always far more effective than individual action – particularly so when it concerns challenging pseudo male entitlement and pseudo male domination over women and girls.

Jane // Posted 19 July 2010 at 3:29 pm

You could try:

‘The next time someone offers you a penny for your thoughts – take it.’

Jayne // Posted 20 July 2010 at 8:47 pm

Tell them you don’t understand them as you don’t, in fact, speak foolish.

StopSexistRemarks // Posted 21 July 2010 at 3:42 pm

Schools also bear some responsibility for providing a “sexist remark” free culture. Visit our blog to read more about working with schools to stop sexist comments. Take Action!

annifrangipani // Posted 23 July 2010 at 4:45 pm

I hope I am allowed to post this link. I’ve come across Fair Game magazine in my professional work and it looks great. It looks like they have an online forum on their website too so that could be a good place to talk to other like-minded women and find out more about the women’s side of the sport:

I know it’s hard when you want to prove your point and feel that you’re standing your ground, but sometimes, it’s just not worth it. As long as you know what you enjoy and are confident in that, don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Just ignore them and they’ll soon go away. It’s frustrating, but you keep the upper hand!

Best of luck

Lola // Posted 29 July 2010 at 1:45 pm

I always found that the satisfaction is in proving someone wrong rather than arguing.

I was always the quiet, ‘weird’ one at school. The one that didn’t act like a stereotypical girl. I wore the trousers, not the uniform skirt and had quite short blue hair. People always expected me to be a lesbian, not intelligent or good at anything, so I done my thing and proved them all wrong. I showed everyone I was actually good at basketball and at tennis, I was actually the best at history and english, and I wasn’t in fact a lesbian, though sometimes I wished I was, as it was always the boys who made stupid remarks.

I even put a teacher in his place during a class quiz when he was making up questions aimed at the boys (we had been split into the boy team and the girl team), on subjects that girls surely wouldn’t know about, such as sports and rock music, and me and my female class mates answered a good number correctly.

Rise above it and prove them wrong without acknowledging their prescence. I always find it’s the best way.

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