A Little Boy Called Me Sexy Today

I guess I’m used to the clicks, whistles, stares, comments and beeps on my way home from work across a busy part of town. I have different responses for different things and they’ve almost become a part of my daily routine. I’m not OK with it, but I don’t think about it as much anymore.

Today, though, was different. As I walked past 4 boys on a street where other children were playing, the tallest one said “hey, sexy” and whistled. A few seconds later, one of the younger boys echoed his words and whistled as well. I was taken aback and was tempted to process what had happened as I continued to walk, but stopped and simply said “you don’t talk to girls like that” in a stern tone whilst maintaining eye-contact with the boys.

They looked to be between the ages of 10 and 14.

The behaviour modelled by the older boy was almost instantly replicated by one of the younger boys. This was, inside of our little situation, a representation of something bigger that had happened in the boys’ lives: this behaviour has been modelled to them and they have adopted it. I don’t believe a 10 year old boy would instinctively greet a woman on her way home from work with “hey, sexy”.

(As a side-note: the 10 year olds I taught a couple of years ago would never have said “hey, sexy” as I came into the classroom. What is it about context that casualises things that at times seem unacceptable/unusual/crazy?)

Just as I was a victim of objectification and degradation, the boys are victims of a failed culture frame in which they have been taught that they are primarily sexual and not worthy of meaningful interaction: they have been devalued, too.

The boys had been taught to believe things about women and about how they should behave. Perhaps it’s fathers who treat women like sex objects or less than what they are in other ways, perhaps it’s how men treat women in music videos the boys watch, perhaps it’s seeing women portrayed as sex objects in lads’ mags (these ingredients of our culture are important when thinking about the beliefs that lead to that behaviour.)

How do we stop/change this?

I’d love to hear what you think. Why did the boys act as they did? How/where did they learn that behaviour? How can we re-educate?

You already know what I think about the role of the media in encouraging harmful beliefs about ourselves and others but as I carried on home, my thoughts centred around a couple of other solutions today.

Male Role Modelling

Men have such a significant role to play in combatting sexism/devaluing. I believe that this takes 3 things: men respecting themselves enough to not consume trashy material or play into the stereotypes on offer, rather to excel and develop and be challenged; men respecting each other enough to create a holistic, stimulating, respectful culture (I’m not sure that had the boys been on their own, they would have acted in the same way: there is power in numbers and in the group mentality); and men respecting women enough to not stare at them like they are pieces of meat or talk to them in a way that robs them of some part of their humanity – both in one-off encounters and relationships.

Female Role Modelling

I don’t think there is ever reason to place the blame for this behaviour on us, but there are things we can do to help stop it. For a tiny moment this afternoon before I spoke out, I froze. I’m well-versed in sexism and objectification and education in relation to those things, but I froze – I felt like I had been reduced to something to be looked at and had no power. But we do have power. 2 things: speaking out and objecting to being reduced – both during incidents and in general on whatever platforms we have; and occupying space without reducing ourselves. I might one day have sons the age of the boys I encountered this afternoon: they will know their mother to be much more than her appearance. The boys and men I know now need to know this, too: I am physical, I am sexual, but I am intellectual, professional, spiritual, creative, and a whole lot of other things. I will fill the space I have with all I am and can be.

Right: over to you! How do we stop boys from thinking of and treating girls/women as sexual objects?

PS: 2 minutes before this happened, I heard that Tesco had decided to age-restrict lads’ mags sales to over 18s as a response to the Lose the Lads Mags campaign. Not enough, but a step in the right direction that, teamed with this week’s news from the Co-op, heartens me and makes me think we are moving towards a culture that doesn’t generate the kinds of beliefs from which this behaviour can spring.

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8 responses to “A Little Boy Called Me Sexy Today

  1. Loved this post, good on your for standing up for yourself!! It’s especially sad to hear that kids have this attitude in the midst of the Caroline Criado-Perez case. I think the education system needs to play a part in changing the ways boys view girls (and vice versa in some cases, of course) as school is where most British kids will spend most of their time every day.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about male and female role modelling, but is it also possible that the oldest one was entering puberty and dripping with hormones? Which, of course, makes role modelling all the more vital.

  3. the only point where I would have a question mark is in the ‘female role modelling’ paragraph – “I don’t think there is ever a reason to place the blame for this behaviour on us”…….I know what you’re saying and I ‘almost’ agree, but I do believe that it’s an issue that works both ways. Part of the solution has to come from a greater understanding of how the way we dress effects guys (looking at this in today’s context but seeking to combine looking good with what it means to be modest )…..thanks for this Gemma.

    • Hi Alison, thanks for commenting! I agree that we need to be aware of how everyone is impacted by these societal currents and personal interactions. However, it is ultimately up to the person who acts to act the way they did. If someone deeply angers me, it is up to decide how to respond. Or if a house is open, I can decide whether or not to go in and steal something.

      • Agreed. You can’t blame the person who is attacked for the action of the attacker. A lot of people have said that women who are raped were raped because of how they were dressed… doesn’t make sense, does it?

  4. I would agree that the person who acts is responsible for their behaviour but also that we as women are responsible to try and understand the effects that certain ways of dressing may have on guys…..

  5. Alison, I’m interested in how you find this living in France – I write from a mixed perspective but my thinking is probably now more influenced by UK culture – do you think women are more/less aware, or is there more/less of a need to be aware, in different cultures?

  6. Gemma, really like this and how you responded to the young boys. I think another thing to highlight would be how our culture needs to stop referring to men as animals…it’s a reinforcement, which of course is negative. It’s the same as when parents constantly call their children bad, the child becomes what they expect. Also more than that, for the good wholesome men out there it makes them feel degraded and there since of worth is lessened (I can imagine but being a women I cannot completely understand). I also of course strongly agree that the viewing of women as meat needs to stop… as well as popular music realising songs with lines like “i know you want it” which in my eyes is supporting rape and the “meat” calling. Ultimately of course men and women are in control of their actions but I believe a culture that would focus on the greatness and potential of all people as well as the encouragement from our education system and support systems around to respect people, would reduce sexism massively.

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