Once girls go through puberty and look like women, the boys at their schools sexually harass them.
In survey after survey, overwhelming majorities of American high school girls report putting up with lewd comments, boys brushing against them in a sexual way, bra-snapping, unwanted kissing and fondling, and sexually explicit comments publicly posted on the Internet and in high school corridors and bathrooms. Seventeen Magazine received over 2000 responses to its survey about sexual harassment, with 89% of respondents saying that they had been victims of unwanted touching and remarks at school.
A big 1993 study by the American Association of University Women in conjunction with Louis Harris Polls revealed that one high school girl in four experiences forced kissing. Another 15% had their clothes pulled off. Two-thirds of the girls answered that sexual harassment happened “often,” with 18% reported that some of it was done by adult males at their schools. Even in as enlightened an environment as a Stanford University coed dorm, boys “rated” girls on the basis of their attractiveness and posted the ratings on a public board.
Trudy Hammer, in her book The Gender Gap in Schools, says that the environment girls face is much more sexualized today than it was in their parents’ day. She reports that there are 27 sex scenes per hour every day on television. These shows depict sex between people who don’t know each other very well and who proceed without any discussion of AIDS, herpes, or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Mary Pipher in her classic best-seller, Reviving Orphelia, writes that other generations of parents could use the environment and cultural values to help them raise their daughters. Today’s parents impart values only by working against the overly sexualized and materialistic environment that surrounds their children.
Girls are under enormous peer pressure to be pretty and dress like the sexy images of females they see on television and magazines. They are terrified of being fat. Eleven percent would abort a child if it had a tendency for obesity. By age nine, half the girls are on diets and by high school, many are on starvation diets. Pipher cites evidence that these diets take away from girls’ ability to concentrate and perform in school.
Girls are becoming more sexually active and having more partners at earlier ages, even as the teen pregnancy rate is declining. While boys feel pressure to lose their virginity, girls feel pressured to keep it and usually regret having intercourse. They are afraid of getting pregnant and earning bad reputations but agree to sex in order to please their boyfriends. According to a study reported by Gayle Kimball, 62% of the girls who had sex wished they had not, and 59% said they don’t enjoy sex (compared to 81% of the boys).
In our country, 35% of teen girls become pregnant at least once before turning 20, and 78% of teenage pregnancies are unintended, according to a 2004 report from the U.S. Congress Pro-Choice Caucus. The birth rate among American teenagers is the highest in the developed world. It is twice as high as England’s, three times as high as Australia’s, four times as high as Germany’s, six times as high as France’s, eight times as high as the Netherlands’, and 15 times as high as Japan’s. Although the birthrate among American teenagers has been declining since the mid-1990s, about 900,000 girls still get pregnant every year in this country with about half of those pregnancies ending in abortion.
Adolescent girls who become pregnant are more likely to believe in sexual stereotypes of the ways girls and boys behave. They usually have low self-esteem and are not academic achievers.