Megan, aged 19
Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. To mark the occasion, we've asked university student Megan to write about her experience of sexism, and the challenges she and her friends face in navigating relationships and staying safe as young people. Here's what she had to say:
The belief that sexism and violence against women is not a prominent issue in society anymore, is in itself damaging. Despite now having basic human rights, such as the right to vote, we continue to live in fear that we could be harassed, raped, and potentially killed. It’s something girls have to be aware of from a very young age. We have to be scared - otherwise we become complacent and let our guard down. We become vulnerable to danger. This deep-rooted anxiety has become so normalised in a girl’s life the significance of the problem is minimised. Our society has made incredible progress in gender justice over the last century to the point we often forget misogyny remains in our culture. This has led young males to be uneducated and almost oblivious to the dangers that women encounter.
Violence against women is still widely regarded as a women’s problem. It becomes our responsibility to minimise the risk of encountering danger, rather than the perpetrators.
"[Violence against women] is something girls have to be aware of from a very young age. We have to be scared - otherwise we become complacent and let our guard down."
— Meg, first year university student —
When men stand by and do nothing
Identifying as a ‘feminist’ seems to be an insult or something to be embarrassed about. Let’s say a male describes themselves as a feminist, they still often enable harassment and objectification of women to take place. They don’t challenge their friends who make misogynistic jokes. If they decide to help women, it’s to ‘protect’ them rather than to address the real issue – that our society is built on sexism. During a party at uni, a boy who we didn’t know locked my friend in her room and grabbed her thighs. She knew she was not safe and managed to leave the room. It is frightening that something like this can happen in what is supposed to be a safe place. The most worrying thing about this incident is that our male friends continued to be friends with him and did not challenge his behaviour. This allowed the boy to believe his actions are justified and he will probably keep on harassing and assaulting women.
"The most worrying thing about this incident is that our male friends continued to be friends with him and did not challenge his behaviour. This allowed the boy to believe his actions are justified and he will probably keep on harassing and assaulting women. "
The role of social media
It is no surprise that young men and boys still treat women in a violent and sexist manner when social media allows access to extreme misogynistic views. Andrew Tate, a highly influential public figure, has an immense capability of radicalising impressionable men. He has publicly said rape victims ‘must bear responsibility’ and moved to Romania, where he suggests it would be easier to evade rape charges. Tik Tok’s algorithm facilitated his videos to be viewed 11.6 billion times. Many social media platforms finally banned him from their sites; however, this ban arrived too late. Millions of young men watched and absorbed his hateful description of women, potentially creating another generation of misogynistic men.
As a young woman, seeing pictures of him online and seeing his name trending triggered a deep anxiety which I often forget exists. It’s a horrible reminder that our fear is rightly justified and necessary. While it is generally agreed that Andrew Tate is delusional, I have witnessed my male friends carelessly make jokes about him and mention his name just to see how my female friends and I will react. Their intentions aren’t to degrade us, but the lack of awareness of how these comments affect us is disheartening.
My first job filled me with lots of anxiety, quite often due to sexual harassment from a male colleague. He harassed me over social media, made inappropriate sexual comments about me to other colleagues and grabbed my hand while I was working. I felt as though I couldn’t say anything to my managers because he had harassed other girls at work and management ignored the claims. I felt anxious every time I saw I was on shift with him and tried to avoid being alone with him as much as possible. Girls should not feel unsafe at work. Their ability to work and live their life should not be dictated by the actions of misogynistic men.
Domestic abuse in young people
One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Despite movements such as ‘me too’ and an increase in the discussion of gender justice, I have noticed that the majority of people my age (19) are unaware of the different forms of abuse.
I have seen young men display behaviours which easily develop into manipulation and control. Due to the lack of education on emotional abuse, girls often don’t see red flags in their partner until they are in a committed relationship, where it feels much harder to escape the abuse. Domestic abuse is something my friends and I have been recently battling. Someone who at first seemed compassionate and caring has displayed controlling and abusive behaviours towards my friend. Whilst continuing to present as kind to most people, in private he directed threats towards my friend, continuously emotionally attacking her any time they were alone. The isolation he tried to create led her to think that she was alone and had to put up with it. This targeted and intentional behaviour came as a shock to us and showed that more men are capable of abusive behaviour than we once thought.
"Despite movements such as ‘me too’ and an increase in the discussion of gender justice, I have noticed that the majority of people my age are unaware of the different forms of abuse. I have seen young men display behaviours which easily develop into manipulation and control."
It is becoming clear that domestic abuse begins at a much younger age than previously thought. A survey found that a quarter of girls aged 13-17 experienced some form of psychical violence from an intimate partner. This is just one aspect of domestic violence. The terrifying figures highlight the notion that abusive behaviours in males are formed at an early age. Catcalling is a common occurrence in the UK and I have been on the receiving end of it for years. The first time it happened I was 13, and my biological father laughed. It disturbed me that a man who was meant to protect me thought it was okay for a man to sexualise his child. It emphasises the desperate need to educate our children. To reverse the idea that misogyny is a woman’s issue, we have to hold boys accountable for their behaviour. The only way society can be safe for women and girls is if we address the real problem and stop displacing the blame onto victims.
Megan is a first year university student from the south of England.