It is back-to-school time and many parents and educators are doing everything they can to ensure that their children and students have a safe, welcoming, and stimulating school environment to return to when classes begin. Many teachers and principals are already in full-time in-service meetings and workshops addressing issues related to gender and learning, bullying and school safety, as well as developing the curriculum for the first month of school. Unfortunately, most of these schools will fail in their efforts to reduce bullying because anti-bullying programs are overly generic and vague and do not directly address some of the most prevalent harmful and most ignored behaviors in schools: gendered harassment. Anti-bullying programs do not specifically talk about: sexual harassment, homophobic harassment, and harassment for gender non-conformity. So what can concerned parents and teachers do?
How is gendered harassment different from bullying?
The first step is to understand the differences in these behaviors and why schools tend to ignore them.
Gendered harassment is a term used to describe any unwanted behavior that acts to assert and police the boundaries of traditional gender norms: heterosexual masculinity and femininity. It is related to, but different from bullying. (Meyer, 2006)
Bullying is any behavior that repeatedly and over time intentionally inflicts injury on another individual (Olweus, 1993)
Harassment is any biased behavior that has a negative impact on the target or the environment and can include negative religious, racial, sexual, and homophobic behaviors (Land, 2003).
Elizabeth J. Meyer, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She is the author of Gender, Bullying, and Harassment: Strategies to End Sexism and Homophobia in Schools. She also writes for the Freire Project for Critical Pedagogy. A former high school teacher and coach, she has published articles in: Gender and Education, McGill Journal of Education, The Journal of LGBT Youth, and the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology.