While sexism and sexual harassment is experienced by teenage girls of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds till date, how they perceive it depends on their culture, says a new study.
The research conducted by Christia Brown, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, and Campbell Leaper, professor, Department of Psychology, University of California Santa Cruz, indicated that cultural factors might control whether teenage girls perceive sexism as an environmental problem or as evidence of their own shortcomings.
The study was conducted on 600 girls belonging to different ethnic populations from California and Georgia and who were aged between 12 to 18 years. All these girls were asked about experiences with sexual harassment and any discouraging comments they received in traditionally male-dominated areas such as math, science, computers and sports.
It was discovered that 90 percent of girls reported experiencing sexual harassment at least once. Specifically, 67 percent of girls reported receiving unwanted romantic attention, 62 percent were exposed to demeaning gender-related comments, 58 percent were teased because of their appearance, 52 percent received unwanted physical contact and 25 percent were bullied or threatened with harm by a male.
In addition, 52 percent of girls also reported receiving discouraging gender-based comments on the math, science and computer abilities, usually from male peers, and 76 percent of girls reported sexist comments on their athletic abilities, also predominantly from male peers.
These results led the researchers to believe that girls have different levels of understanding of sexism and sexual harassment, which may influence them to report data.
They saw that older girls and those from a lower socioeconomic background reported more sexism than did their peers. Latin and Asian American girls reported less sexual harassment than did girls of other ethnic groups.
Girls who had been exposed to feminist ideas, either through the media or an adult such as a mother or teacher, were more likely to identify and report sexist behaviour than were girls who had no information about feminism.
In addition, Girls who reported feeling pressure from their parents to conform to gender stereotypes were also more likely to perceive sexism. And those who felt atypical for their gender and/or were unhappy with stereotypical gender roles were most likely to report sexism and harassment.
The researchers suggested that it is important for girls to be able to identify sexism and sexual harassment as environmental factors, or else they attribute negative experiences to their own faults and suffer erosion of self-esteem. Also frequent sexual harassment may lead girls to expect and accept demeaning behaviours in heterosexual romantic relationships, and sexist remarks.