Theater of Cruelty

"No girls at school here are whores"

Sexual harassment is a major problem in Norwegian schools, but politicians seem paralyzed. They have gotten lost in the bully and boy fog.


[harassment] The rule "No girls at school here are whores" was adopted by the tithing grades at a youth school in Eastern Norway after the "set boundaries" campaign had visited the school. A girl had been photographed in the shower with a mobile camera and the picture had been posted online. We were there to do firefighting work, and the students agreed that the teachers were not doing enough. «! Set boundaries» has been one of the few measures against sexual harassment in Norway, but has at the time of writing been closed due to lack of resources. The extent of sexual harassment is alarmingly large. Swedish surveys show that half of the girls at the secondary school have been stung without wanting to. Half of all Swedish 17-year-olds believe that sexual harassment is a major problem at their school. "Whore" and "gay" are the most common scandals among youth and the most hurtful scandals. These figures are not new to Karita Bekkemelem Orheim or Øystein Djupedal, but the willingness to act in relation to this seems vanishingly small. How can sexual harassment be such a big problem in the world's most equal countries? Why don't politicians act? My thesis is that the work against sexual harassment disappears in the bully and boy's nonsense.

Bullying. Bullying has a high status in Norway. The then Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik used his New Year's speech in 2002 to talk about the fight against bullying. There are two official anti-bullying campaigns: Dan Olweus' program which today takes place in 435 primary schools, and Erling Roland's Zero program. None of the programs mention sexual harassment, neither in the information material nor in the teaching material. Sexual harassment is not mentioned in the information booklet from the Directorate of Education about the new Education Act against bullying, but politicians argue that the work against sexual harassment is included in the bullying campaigns. Can gender-neutral campaigns help with gender-specific issues? In "Manifesto against bullying" bullying is defined as deliberate actions over time performed by a group against a person. There must be an unequal balance of power between bullies and the bullied. Where this balance of power derives its nourishment is not said. In the Norwegian bullying discourse, a sharp distinction is made between bullying and other types of abusive behavior. Bullying is defined as the most serious abuse a child can be subjected to. Unlike in Norway, there is talk in Sweden about gender bullying. The Swedish Equality Ombudsman (JämO) defines sexual harassment as gender bullying. In Sweden, several government campaigns against sexual harassment have been launched, and knowledge about the power relationship between boys and girls has been institutionalized.

Thus, there are major differences in the work being done in Norway and Sweden. The Swedish authorities address gender-specific problems such as sexual harassment with gender-specific measures. The Norwegian authorities are laying down a general and gender-neutral definition of "abusive acts" which they believe will prevent sexual harassment.

Sexual bullying. Several studies on negatively charged language use among adolescents show that the scandals are gender-specific. The worst thing a boy can be called is "gay" and the worst word for a girl is "whore". Being called gay is both an expression of the lack of masculine demands and of homophobia among young boys. Being called whore is about breaking with an expected feminine sexuality. The English scientist Neil Duncan has conducted a comprehensive study in secondary schools. His conclusion was that much of what is called "regular bullying" often turns out to be sexual bullying. Duncan's findings and experiences from Sweden suggest that the relationship between gender and power should be thematized more in Norwegian bullying. The contradiction goes between a "gender-neutral" protection against abusive acts, and a more gender-specific definition of bullying. In a gender-neutral work against bullying, the power relations between boys and girls are not thematized. What consequences will this have? As a result, knowledge about sexual harassment, how it works and what can be done to prevent it is low among teachers, and measures fail. Rectors propose a ban on the use of the word "whore," but the problem is that some believe they have the right to label girls as "whores." In other words, an attitude work is needed and not a ban. The headmaster at Marienlyst school in Oslo proposed a ban on the girls' "only lean", as if it was the cause of sexual harassment. Instead of discussing what to do with the boys who complain, the principal blames the girls. In other words, teachers and principals do not know how to deal with sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment has a different effect on girls and boys, because girls 'and boys' sexual gender roles are different. While sexual honor is important for girls, boys need to make sure they are masculine enough. If in the work against "abusive acts" and bullying one does not relate to the sexualized language and to where the hurtful power of the words comes from, the work will fail. In other words, humanism is not enough – a feminist perspective on bullying is needed. The fog of bullying allows politicians to say that they are acting, but in reality little is being done to prevent sexual harassment among young people.

A Swedish teacher has put it this way: "What does it help to teach students math, if they shout 'whore' to each other at a time?" And a equally relevant question is how much math students get into a work environment permeated by sexual harassment .

Hannah Helseth


Boy fog. The second fog is about the clumsy eagerness to include boys in all equality work. This is not in itself a bad intention, but when the problematization of power relations between the sexes disappears, it has dramatic consequences. The Gender Equality Center published a handbook in the work on gender equality in the school. The handbook's stated goal was to get boys concerned about gender equality. The main thesis is that the absence of gender equality affects boys and girls differently, but that both lose. Everything in the booklet is not bad, but it does have some serious insights, especially in the chapters that deal with sexual abuse. In the exercise section, there is a group assignment that can serve as an example.

The task begins with a story taken from a crisis telephone for youth. It's about a girl who talks about a rape. She has joined a boy she likes in cinema. He invites her home. At home, he says they "just want to cuddle", but he ends up holding her to the bed as she tries to push him away. The story ends with: “I asked him to stop, but he would not listen. He continued… »Below are the following questions for discussion in class:

'1. How can a person who is in such a situation, and who feels it wrong or hurt, tell about it? Give examples of how the girl or boy should or should not behave in order for the other to understand what she or he is feeling and thinking.

2. What can the boy in the story do differently to make sure the girl is interested in the same thing as him?

3. Are there any reasons why "just cuddling" can develop into something that is nasty to one and nice to another? How can one know that the other understands what one is experiencing in the situation? How can one make the other understand one's self? ”

Abuses. The story in the manual is not used to discuss why someone wants sexual relations with the absence of reciprocity, but rather how she could say more clearly. The questions tend to be the responsibility of the victim. There are notions in our culture that it is the woman's responsibility if she is subjected to sexual violence, as the Marienlyst rector's ban on bare stomachs shows. Those attitudes are not challenged. This is particularly evident in question two. The question is that the girl's rejection by pushing him away is not enough. Instead of focusing on the abuser's abuse of power, the situation is interpreted to be about bad communication. The point of departure for the question is that girls and boys have equal opportunities in the sexual field. The position of girls and boys to speak from, be heard and their empowerment in the other's situation is understood as equal.

In question three, it is assumed that what may be disgusting for one may be good for another. This is a moral attitude that is difficult to defend. Shouldn't the premise be that unilateral forced sexual relationships are an evil in themselves and for both parties involved? The boy's role in the story as very ongoing and very empathetic in the sexual relationship is bypassed in silence. This can lead to legitimate sexual relationships. The group questions focus on communication, rather than questioning why the boy doesn't care about the girl's rejection. The purpose of the group questions is, of course, not to confirm stereotypical gender roles, but an example of what can happen to preventive work that does not problematise the gender relationship as a power relationship. In addition, the exercise is estimated to take 15 minutes in the classroom through oral discussion in groups. It is far too short to touch or change attitudes about sexual abuse or harassment.

Fog. Surveys have shown that 31 percent of girls in Oslo between the ages of 16-23 have been subjected to sexual abuse, which means that in most school classes in this country there are one or more girls who have experienced an abuse. The boys' fog creates a reluctance to talk about boys' power in the sexual field and girls' powerlessness in relation to sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The example shows that knowledge about preventive work against sexual harassment is not a matter of course, even in publications from the Gender Equality Center.

I would recommend Norwegian politicians, prime ministers and bully experts to get out of the bully and boyhood nonsense if they want to prevent sexual harassment. The first step may be to go on a study trip to Sweden. Then start an investigation into the extent of sexual harassment at school, and finally, they can donate money to a new handbook in the work on gender bullying in school. So maybe more high school students can agree that "no girls at school here are whores". n

Hannah Helseth has written a master's thesis in sociology on preventive work against sexual harassment among young people.

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