Sexual harassment in schools. It starts younger than you think.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is said to be at “shocking” levels, with teenage girls being subjected to high levels of abuse. But this toxic behaviour from boys starts far earlier than their teens. 

The report, by the Women and Equalities Committee, has detailed the levels of sexual harassment in schools, which they say is not being tackled effectively in English schools.

The report found that:

  • almost a third (29%) of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school
  • nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year old boys and girls say they hear terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a regular basis
  • 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year

As the parent of a primary school age daughter, something that jumped out at me about these stats was the age range, which begins at 13. Because sexual harassment of girls at school begins far earlier than that.

When I collect my 4-year-old daughter from school, she tells me three things about her day. It’s a tradition which began at nursery, as it was the only way I could get her to tell me anything about her day.

It’s almost always positive, so I’ll often ask if anything she didn’t like happened. Generally, nothing does – but not this time.

4yo: “I didn’t like it when 2 boys tried to pull down my skirt and knickers.”

I tried to react in a calm, measured, and constructive manner. But didn’t entirely succeed. First I asked her to expand on what actually happened in more detail, such as who the boys were. I then asked what she said to the boys in response (“I said ‘Hey!'”), how they reacted (They carried on), whether she then went to the teacher (she didn’t).

I explained what she could have said to the boys (“Don’t do that. I don’t like it.”), and that she MUST tell the teacher.

But I realised I was being too critical about her reaction, and that was overshadowing the fact that she was unhappy and she was not the one who had done anything wrong. I was in essence – despite being a proudly feminist father – victim blaming her.

As soon as I realised, I stopped this approach. Instead comforted her and reassured her that what the boys did was wrong, and would it be ok if I talked to her teacher about it (it was). I felt she needed to be assured that her teachers agree this kind of behaviour was wrong. Telling them would be much like older girls and women reporting sexual assault to the authorities, so this was an important precedent to set.

Her teacher seemed to take my concerns seriously. They were going to talk to the class about bullying in general. But there was one thing I wanted to happen I was unsure was going to, and I didn’t follow it up: Were the boys in question going to be spoken to directly about their behaviour, and why it was wrong.

The Women and Equalities Committee report summary says “…if the Government is to tackle ‘lad culture’ successfully at university, its work should start much earlier, in schools.” I would add, that it needs to start in schools at the earliest opportunity.

The full report does clearly state:

By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age-appropriate way starting in primary school.

Absolutely. The kind of behaviour my daughter experienced at primary school needs to be addressed as soon as it occurs.  I bear no grudge against the two boys. They’re very young and were testing boundaries. But they need to know that they crossed a line here.

Left unchecked, a boy in reception who thinks that it’s ok to pull down a girl’s knickers may grow into a young man thinking he’s entitled to escalate this type of behaviour to women,


(Photo courtesy of Nick Page via Flickr)


The bravery of being a stay-at-home dad

I’ve regularly been called brave for being home with our child while my wife works. But is it really any braver for a father to be at home with his kids than it is for a mother?


It started early, before I even became a dad.

Saying my goodbyes at our final antenatal group session, the woman heading it up told me:

“What you’re going to be doing is so important. SO important.”

What? Becoming a father? Being a more attentive husband? Nope. Becoming a stay-at-home dad. SO important.

For various logistical and financial reasons, the plan was I’d likely be home for first couple of months, and then full time when my wife returned to work after 6 months.

I knew being a stay-at-home dad was far from the norm, but it didn’t seem that weird. So weird that people would say stuff like that. I grew up watching Mr. Mom, but that was over 30 years ago. It can’t so odd now, right?

Friends seemed to think it was cool. Turned out some of them had even done the same thing. I hadn’t paid attention, because, y’know, I didn’t think it was weird.

My parents seemed ok with it, but to be honest I didn’t see much of them at the time (we were living in New Zealand, they were not).

My MIL seemed ok too, but did relay to me that she had friends who didn’t understand why I (a man) was doing it (looking after his kid). But they were old, so I ignored them as young(er) people tend to do.

My aforementioned antenatal group was interesting. Before we became parents, my desire to be a stay-at-home dad was quite a point of difference with the Kiwi dads – many of them defined their impending fatherhood by how much time they were going to spend at work.

But afterwards? Barely mentioned. Some even told me privately how jealous they were. The mothers weren’t bothered either. I’d go to our regular weekly meet ups – usually the only dad in the room – and they’d happily chat cracked nipples and postpartum vaginas while breastfeeding their babies in front of me. I’d even be part of the conversation – well, as much as I could.

So far, so normal. But then it did get a bit weird.

The brave stay-at-home dad

Like our antenatal leader, people outside our immediate parenting bubble kept congratulating me. Praising me. Calling me brave.

And when I say people, I just mean random people when I was out & about the baby. Eg. one time in a bank, a female teller started gushing over us (after we moved on from her “Mums day off is it?” question), because I was home with the baby.

Similar story at a pedestrian crossing of all places, when a woman opened a conversation with another variation of the dad & baby assumption  (“Babysitting today?), and after I corrected her she was also full of praise – and awe – of my stay-at-home dadness.

But it wasn’t only about being home. Just being an engaged father was enough. One time in a supermarket, I made up a bottle of formula for my daughter and fed her, like you do when babies are due a feed. A passerby (also a woman) saw this and felt compelled to tell me “What a great dad you are!”

All this positive female attention was nice. But, c’mon. How crazy is it that I – a dad – am congratulated for feeding my daughter a bottle of formula? When have you ever heard of a mother being publicly praised for being such a great mum – for feeding their bay a bottle of formula?

Lol, right?

The brave parent (unless you’re a mother)

At-home mothers are not praised or congratulated for what they do. It’s expected, even derided. But when a man engages in it – wow, what a man to face all the challenges that parenting brings.

It seems parenting has a lowly status when undertaken by women.

It’s true that dads are still vastly outnumbered in weekday parenting scenarios, and sometimes treated with suspicion and isolation. So do people simply think men are brave for entering this female dominated environment of toddler groups, playgrounds, and coffee groups?

Or, is it considered ‘brave’ for a man to sacrifice his career for the sake of his wife and child. Again – have you ever heard of a mother being celebrated for staying home to be with their children? Doubtful. A man? I’m certain.

Or are expectations so low for dads, that simply showing up makes us good parents; being engaged makes great parents; and giving up work & dealing with all those women makes us brave parents?

If you want to call men who stay home with the kids brave, I can’t stop you. Or telling them how great it is what they’re doing. But you know what? We’re no more heroic than mothers in the same position.

If you feel stay-at-home dads are brave and heroic, and want to praise them for it – then I suggest you also find a mother to say that too as well. Because they deserve your praise just as much as dads, for exactly the same reasons.

Stay-at-home dads aren’t heroes – we’re just parents struggling to raise our kids the same as everyone else.


Is Black Widow’s Hairstyle Sexist?

Captain America: Civil War features the first appearance of a much-anticipated icon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). No not Black Panther, but Black Widow’s new hairstyle.

Black Widow made her first MCU appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010), and that was followed by The Avengers (2012), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and now the Captain America: Civil War (2016). She has sported a different hairstyle in each movie.

Black Widow's hairstyle, black widow hairstyle, scarlett johansson black widow hairstyle, scarlett johansson black widow haircut, black widow avengers short hair, scarlett johansson avengers haircut, scarlett johansson avengers short hair, black widow hair winter soldier,
From L to R: Black Widow’s hairstyles in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War. All images © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I don’t recall any such attention to detail being paid to the locks of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, or even Thor.

This scenario of constantly updating the hairstyle of Scarlett Johansson’s female hero, reminds me of Star Trek: Voyager. The show aired between 1995-2001, and starred Kate Mulgrew (now more famed  for playing Red in Orange is the New Black) as Katherine Janeway – the first ever female captain lead in a Star Trek show.

Kate has frequently lamented that ‘the suits’ spent more time worrying about her hair than they did about her character development. She grew increasingly frustrated at the constant messing with it. For those not familiar with the show, this video sums up pretty well how it was.

Is messing with Black Widow’s hairstyle sexist?

Kate Mulgrew reflects that this is a scenario that a male actor is unlikely to face, but female actors constantly do – especially in films and tv shows that have a large male fanbase.

The tinkering of Black Widow’s hairstyle – compared with her fellow Avengers – appears to be further evidence of this. It implies that – as far as the creatives and ‘suits’ are concerned – appearance is more important factor for a female character than a male one. And by extension, a female actor has to be more concerned about her appearance than a male one does.

I also wonder, like Captain Janeway before her, if Marvel Studio execs spend as much time talking about Natasha’s character development as they do about her hair?

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “Action is character.” Perhaps, for female characters, we need to amend that to “Hair is character.”

What do you think Black Widow’s changing hairstyles tell us about her?