May 15, 2008 -- Despite strides in gender equality most teenage girls
continue to experience sexual harassment at home, school, and on the playing
A new study shows that 90% of girls report experiencing sexual harassment at
least once and more than half have experienced academic sexism regarding their
ability in male-dominated fields such as science and math.
Researchers say sexual harassment may take the form of unwanted sexual
behavior and sexist comments, and repeated sexual harassment can negatively
affect girls' self-esteem, body image, achievement, and
beliefs about others.
"This study documents the continued pervasiveness of sexism in the lives
of adolescent girls," researcher Campbell Leaper, professor of psychology
at the University of California Santa Cruz, says in a news release. "When
sexual harassment frequently occurs, girls may come to expect demeaning
behaviors as normal in heterosexual relationships. And when girls'
achievement is discouraged in traditionally male-dominated fields, their
potential is limited and society loses potentially talented individuals in
important fields such as science and technology."
Sexual Harassment Starts Early
In the study, researchers surveyed 600 girls between the ages of 12 and 18
from California and Georgia. The girls were asked about their views on gender
roles and sexism, as well as their personal experiences with sexual harassment.
They were also asked about discouraging comments they'd received about their
abilities in science, math, computers, and sports.
The results, published in Child Development, showed the vast majority
(90%) had experienced sexual harassment at least once. The most commonly
reported examples were:
Receiving unwanted romantic attention from a male (67%)
Hearing demeaning gender-related comments (62%)
Being teased about their appearance (58%)
Receiving unwanted physical contact (51%)
Being teased, bullied, or threatened with harm by a male (28%)
At least 52% of the girls also said they had heard at least one discouraging
comment about their math, science, and computer abilities related to their
In addition, more than three-fourths of girls (76%) said they had also heard
such discouraging comments about their athletic ability.
The source of sexual harassment and sexist comments was most often close
male friends and brothers (25%) and other boys (32%), followed by teachers or
coaches (23%) and close female friends or sisters (18%) and other girls
Parents were not as common a source (fathers 15%; mothers 12%).
The survey also showed that girls who were of lower socioeconomic status
reported higher rates of sexual harassment than girls with higher socioeconomic
status. Older girls were more likely to report sexual harassment and sexism
than younger girls.
Researchers say awareness of gender issues also played a role in how the
girls perceived sexual harassment and sexism. Girls who had learned about
feminism from the media or people they knew, such as their mothers or teachers,
were more likely to recognize sexual harassment and sexism.
Researchers say recognizing when sexism occurs is a crucial first step
toward overcoming discrimination. "Otherwise, it is more likely that
individuals attribute failure to their lack of ability rather than to the
obstacles in their environment," says Leaper.