A bad hair day should not end like this.
I am raging. If the 14 year old boy who insulted my 14 year old girl in school yesterday happened to wander across my path right now, I would scream and shout. But of course, my rage would be out of proportion to the actual incident. But sadly, not out of proportion to the long history of abuse women have had to put up with from men whose sexist attitudes make them think that women’s main role in life is to please their eye.
Yesterday the boy in question (let’s call him Dick) took exception to my daughter’s hair. It was wet, and her DNA dictates that when it rains her hair goes frizzy. Sorry Dick. Or rather, get over it Dick. It’s what happens. If you don’t like frizzy hair, then tough. Stay in when it rains and look at air-brushed representations of your ideal woman, instead of looking at the real women around you. It is you with the problem, not her.
But sadly, 24 hours on, the insult lingers with the child. As it would do with most 14 year old girls, or with most women of any age. Dick probably has no idea what his insult has done to her, nor of the ricochets it has sent into my world.
When I was in my twenties, I was in a pub in Holland with my boyfriend. We were minding our own business, quietly drinking in a corner. When he disappeared to the gents, two Dutch men came over to me, and told me in perfect English, “You should lose the glasses and get your hair cut.” They delivered their verdict and walked off.
I was in bits for a long time afterwards. It was the unprovoked nature of the verbal attack which was so shocking. It left me wondering if I was so revolting that something just needed to be said?
Comments like that which take seconds to deliver live with women for a very long time, and sometimes forever. It’s 25 years since the Dutch men delivered their verdict.
The question is, what to do in the wake of this latest insult? The poor child does not want me to name and shame the boy at school, as this will only draw further unwelcome attention to her. But really this is what is needed. Every incident like this should be taken seriously by schools, so that every child throwing out abuse fuelled by sexist attitudes is dealt with, until the tide turns and insults like this become a source of shame to the males delivering them rather than the females receiving them. This is what is needed.
But it is not possible for individual children to tackle the abuse until the climate in schools is such that girls know that senior management understand and are eager to help stamp out the attitudes which promote this behaviour.
If the abuse was racist, the incident would be taken seriously. Everyone in schools knows that racism is serious. It is not the same with abuse fuelled by deeply ingrained sexist attitudes. Women are still laughed at for minding such abuse.
We need a campaign against sexism in every school, so that it is easy to call out sexism whenever and wherever it happens and so that the next generation of men and women know how to treat each other decently.