During the last 8-week tour across 5 states before the break, more girls told me that they were subjected to boys barking at them.
There are differing interpretations of this (anti) social behaviour – boys may be conveying they think the girl is hot by acting like an animal or the opposite - they are intimating she is ugly – a dog. Alternatively, the boys think it’s just a funny thing to do with their mates – “just a joke”.
Regardless of a range of renderings, the reality is the girls hate it. They experience the behaviour as intimidatory, harassing, an unwanted intrusion they are forced to navigate most days.
Barking is included in what constitutes “catcalling” - making whistling, barking, and/or kissing noises at someone in public. So, girls are right to feel they are being subjected to ‘street’ harassment. In this case the ‘street’ is the grounds or classroom of the school they are attending to try to gain an education and socialise with their friends.
“I hate being barked at”, a Yr 8 girl in a public Victorian high school said. “It’s disgusting. I just want to come to school to learn and hang out with my friends.”
The barking phenomenon has been added to a growing roll-call of other demeaning, routine, sexually harassing behaviours such as sexual groaning and moaning I’ve documented elsewhere (see my Eureka essay on the MTR website), name-calling and body ranking - which all seem to be normal in almost every school I visit.
Another intimidating practice younger girls (Yr 6-7) reported this last trip were boys gathering in front of girls lockers and blocking access. When asked by the girl could you please move, they were told “no”.
These intrusive, intimidatory behaviours make girls feel scared. “I feel unwelcome at my school”, a Yr 6 student said.
Many girls are afraid to complain, fearing reprisals. “Girls see it, but they are afraid to report – what if it gets worse?”, one student said. Or if they do speak up, they are told to ignore it, or that “boys will be boys”. “It’s seen as just one of their antics”, one female student told me. “Teachers ignore you”. “Boys say you’re just being over-dramatic, or you must be on your period.”
When these behaviours go unaddressed, girls lose confidence. They shrink back into themselves. Try to make themselves small. So as not to attract attention. So as not to be barked at.
Is this what we want in our schools? Is this what we think acceptable in the forming of young people?
Do your adolescents tell you of these things? Could this be one of the reasons for a rise in school refusal?
Teachers – does your school have policies to deal with these behaviours? A culture in which it is safe to disclose? Clear reporting pathways? Consequences for unacceptable behaviour?
I’d be interested to hear.