This week we have a letter from a Wakefield parent describing a disturbing event in which a group of older elementary school boys intimidate and harass a handful of younger girls with degrading sexist language. (See our Letters page.)
Some readers will decide to take it with a grain of salt, saying it’s ‘just words’ or it’s ‘just kids’ or maybe even ‘boys will be boys.’ They shouldn’t.
Words have power, and their toxicity should not be underestimated. In the adult world, we have collectively decided that sexist hate speech is no longer tolerated. If this incident had happened to a group of women, the offending men could be charged with sexual harassment. Time is up for this kind of talk. It’s not OK for anyone to intimidate and denigrate someone based on their gender – and that message needs to start early with our kids.
The incident has sparked some soul-searching for the involved families, and the author of the letter has let us know that they have received three out of four requested apologies, which is good news. Though an awful incident, there can be a real positive take-away for other parents: they can and should use the letter as a springboard to talk about the impacts of gender-based toxic talk with their children. It’s hard to navigate, but worth the effort if we want the sexist discourse to stop.
A big question that arises from this incident: Where do they learn this stuff from?
Unfortunately, in myriad places, it's prevalent: Netflix movies, songs, even the soon-to-be-former leader of the free world brags that it’s OK to “grab ‘em by the pussy.” It’s not — which is obvious to most of us, but confusing to children, and all the more reason to put time in with your kids to give context and meaning to what they hear.
But even very tuned-in parents have the odds stacked against them in the Internet age. Kids who own devices have unfettered and unsupervised access to rated-R and XXX content, unless their parents are diligent about blocking access to it. Snapchat, Instagram, Pornhub and all those places we are too old to know about — it’s all at their fingertips.
Are kids as young as elementary age watching porn? Yes, they are. Research shows that Canadian boys see porn as early as 10 years old. In a U.S. study, 70 per cent of 15- to 17-year-old boys said they had watched porn. According to Google Analytics, pornography searches increase by 4,700 per cent when kids are using the Internet in the hours after school ends. And it’s not always your basic anatomy portraits of old-school Playboy — much involves grossly denigrating women physically and verbally.
Talking to anyone about the complicated nuances of sex, sexism and harassment is difficult for most adults, so yes, it’s hard to talk about it with our kids, but we have to if we want things to change. We applaud the letter-writing parents for planning a workshop on the topic. Meanwhile helpful articles can be found at the Girl Guides site https://rb.gy/b0xdu3 and also commonsensemedia.org.