Adult women fail to uplift young women

Graphic by Ella Pearlman-Chang

Virginia Suardi

As women, it is easy to blame men as the perpetrators of sexism. This is natural, as it’s easier to find everyday examples of men being misogynistic than women, and patriarchal society is the main cause for widespread institutionalized sexism. What is harder for many women to address is the misogyny that women have absorbed and therefore perpetuate, more specifically adult women to their younger counterparts.

It’s hard to imagine a day in my life where I don’t experience routine harassment from men, including instances when I have been followed by an older man for multiple blocks without anyone stopping to help. But what leaves me much more puzzled is when girls have to deal with disrespectful comments from the adult women in our lives. These include female security officers blocking a Wilson student from entering the building for 45 minutes because her shirt exposed some of her back, telling her that she was wearing that top “so guys will like you,” or female teachers at Wilson calling students “hooker-ific,” and telling them “if you’re not selling, take the sign down.” It is baffling to me how these women could use such derogatory language towards young girls, when they themselves must have grown up enduring unwelcome advances from men. Why would they then grow up to be complacent in watching young women face harassment and continue a dialogue that degrades and belittles girls?

Most of us have heard empowering stories of women that help each other in dangerous situations, like women teaming up to fend off a creepy pursuer. These stories are great to hear, but in my experience, I have never been defended by an adult woman when I am being harassed in their plain sight. In the streets and halls, women watch expressionless, passing by silently. How is this acceptable?

Maybe they didn’t notice. But what I feel is more likely is that either they felt scared or powerless to stop it or that they, for some cruel trick of society, did not feel it was worth their time or energy to intervene.

It is sad that many of us have internalized sexist views of our fellow women. Why some of us would use the same insulting behavior that men use to hurt us is beyond me. It could be resentment that their crop-top-rocking days are over. It could be genuine fear for the girl’s safety, or a side effect of bad memories resurfacing. Whatever the reason, I am sick of it. I am sick of being harassed and humiliated, especially in school, where I should feel the most safe and supported, and especially by female staff. I am sick of being belittled and insulted by adult women that I should look up to and be inspired by.

Making a snarky remark about a girl’s clothing or how you think she’s “doing it for attention” and needs to “cover up” is never appropriate.

These comments, though they may seem trivial, chip away at our self-esteem, self-respect, and comfort in our own skin. They are a form of victim-blaming, body-shaming, and slut-shaming. It inappropriately sexualizes girls from a young age, forcing harmful stereotypes and preventing us from choosing how we’ll express our sexuality when we’re ready.

If you are genuinely afraid for a girl’s safety, the most helpful thing to do is to demonstrate and teach self-respect. When you see sexual harassment, (this doesn’t just apply to women) as a person with power (an adult) it is your responsibility to stop it. Lastly, never blame it on anything besides the perpetrator.

I understand that womanhood is a complicated and fraught subject and that it can be difficult, even scary, to defend young women from harassment. I also understand that it is challenging for anyone to change their ways, especially for those who grew up enduring the same obnoxious comments. Instead of taking out our misplaced nastiness on young girls, I wish that we women could cope with our emotions and painful memories separately, then use our learned wisdom in a healthier manner to support our daughters, students and young women around us.

Ultimately, if we want future generations to be stronger and happier, adult women must have respect for young women. •