Darling Captain Awkward,
I’m really sorry you have to deal with this bullshit and I’m really sorry the adults around you aren’t taking it seriously. I wish I had more to offer you than a “It Gets Better” story, about how I used to sit between two assholes (identical twins, to make it even more surreal and horrible) in bio class whose combined odor of Drakkar Noir and Brut (couldn’t they at least wear the same horrible cologne?) made me gag and who sat there whispering comments about my breasts and moving closer and closer to me throughout the class until they were both pressed up against my sides while I tried to stare directly ahead and take notes and completely ignore them…
It did get better.
Because I graduated and never saw them again.
And it got different. Because I got better at dealing with bullies.
But it didn’t get better at the time, because I had no idea what to do about it. They weren’t honor students – quite the opposite – so I had the opposite problem that they were in trouble so much that they didn’t give a shit if they got in trouble, since “in trouble” was their baseline. So I just took it.
I think I can give you a better strategy for dealing with these guys than I had in high school.
First: High school will end. Stay focused on that, please. You will graduate and everyone will go away. This too shall pass. Sometimes you will need to repeat that under your breath, like when you’re running laps in gym class.
Second: Ask your parents to sign you up for a self-defense class. Use whatever excuse you have to (It will look good on my college applications! I want to develop some upper-arm strength!) Begin a Rocky-like training montage, so that the next time a gross teenage-boy hand snakes out for you, you can grab it and twist and say (as one commenter helpfully scripted) “Whoa, you weren’t going to touch me, were you? I don’t like that.” But mostly because it will help you feel better about being assertive.
Third: Can you find an ally inside the Wall of Dude? One guy who is actually nice? Can you get him to see you as a person and explain to him how the behavior makes you feel and ask him to help you get the others to back off? That might make you feel less alone and establish diplomatic relations with the enemy camp.
Fourth: Document what’s happening. There is some helpful stuff about that here and here – it’s targeted toward adults in the workplace, but actually, the more you use the language of adults in the workplace in talking to your teachers and school administrators, the less they will be able to ignore you.
Let’s just say, it’s not that I have great faith in high school administrators to put a stop to this, but I can help you develop a way of talking about this problem that makes it harder for them to brush it off as “boys will be boys” because you’re using language like “safe learning environment” and documenting that you’ve tried standing up for yourself.
Here’s a little exercise. For a week or two, write down every inappropriate thing they say to you or about you in your hearing and especially any time they touch you. Write down the date, the time, the class you were in, who the person was, and who else was there. You can respond to these incidents, too. I suggest making eye contact and saying “Please don’t touch me” or “Please don’t make sexual comments about me.” I’m sure that the commenters will swarm in and say “Kick them in the balls!” and “Tell them to fuck off!” but right now this isn’t about retribution, it’s about building a case that you have asked them directly to stop the behavior. Save the smackdowns for later.
When you’ve completed the list, I want you to find some way to designate the behaviors:
- EXTREMELY NOT OKAY (touching you, threatening you, sexual comment that are about things they’d like to do to you)
- NOT OKAY (sexual comments that are inappropriate but not directly about things they want to do to you)
- EH, ANNOYING (teenage boy bad humor – you could put up with it if you had to)
Oh, this is important:
If they notice you writing stuff down and ask you about it, depending on how comfortable you feel, you may say “Every time you make a gross comment or touch me against my will, I’m documenting it, because this has gone on long enough.” That might be enough to make them cool it, but it might not – you might want to keep that one close to the vest.
So take your list, and get rid of the “Eh, annoying” category of things (This is called choosing your battles) and type up a copy and save it.
Now, this is where I ask you what kind of relationship you have with your parents and your teachers. Are your parents telling you that you’re making too big a deal of things, or are they unaware of the situation completely? Are you teachers the ones writing it off? What that relationship is like dictates who you talk to next. If you think your teacher will listen to you if you present written documentation, here’s a script:
“I know you’re aware with my past problems with ___, ____ and _____. Here is a list of things they’ve said and done to me from just the past week. I know they are good students, and I am not trying to get anyone in trouble, but I really need their constant sexual comments to stop, and I need them to not touch me, ever. Every time they did something on this list, I asked them directly to please stop touching me and please stop making sexual comments at me, but they did not listen to me. I want to make sure you’re aware of this situation and I need you to help me have a safe learning environment.”
Definitely document the date you gave this info to your teacher. Now, with your teacher, you wait (and continue documenting any incidents that happen the way you did before). You have to give your teacher a little bit of time to make the situation better. I’d give it about 2 weeks.
For your parents:
“I know you’re aware of some of the problems I’ve been having in class. I’m really trying to take your advice and not make such a big deal out of it, but here is a list of times these boys have touched me or made sexual comments about me or to me in just the past week. I’ve asked them directly to stop doing it, but they don’t hear me. It’s really scaring me and making it hard for me to concentrate in class, and I need you to back me up in getting the school to get these guys off my back.”
If you talk to your teacher first, and then your parents, you might also say something like this: “I gave this list to my teacher two weeks ago and asked for help, but they are still going strong – here’s a list of what they’ve done since then.”
Now I’m hoping your parents will back you up because I want the universe to be good and fair. If I had presented information like that to my mother, she would have lit the school on fire with her eyes and roamed through the flames, Godzilla-style, picking off survivors. So hopefully your teachers will regulate, and hopefully your parents will call the school, and there will be some kind of awkward meeting with the boys and their parents.
I want to prepare you for that eventual awkward meeting:
1. Your school, somewhere, has an anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policy. They may not enforce it, but they had to write it down (probably after Columbine). Find it. Read it. Know it. Know how the stuff that’s happening to you fits into it.
2. You may not get justice. They may not be punished for how they’ve treated you. Keep your eyes on the prize – high school will end, and you don’t need them to stop being assholes, you just need them to stop being assholes TO YOU. Their parents (and possibly the school) will try to make the argument that “they’re good kids with bright futures” and paint you as someone out to ruin their lives. So are you ready? Because I’m scripting your St. Crispin’s Day Speech right now. Cue the triumphant music.
“Can I say something? I know it’s hard for you to believe that your kids are acting this way, and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but I need them to stop harassing me. I’m a good, smart kid with a bright future, too. Maybe these guys don’t mean any harm, but when they make constant sexual comments and put their hands on me, it makes it impossible for me to concentrate on schoolwork, and I don’t have to put up with it. I’ve tried asking them nicely, I’ve tried asking them not-so-nicely, I’ve asked for help from the teachers, and they keep doing it. Would this kind of stuff be acceptable in college? Or in the workplace? So why should it be acceptable here? I need us all to agree that this behavior stops now, so that we can all go back to focusing on class.”
If the school doesn’t back you and you can’t come to some agreement, I’m sorry to say, it might be lawyer time. And if one of those boys threatens you or puts his hands on you in any way after that meeting, it’s time to call the cops and swear out an assault complaint.
And be prepared for some blowback from the boys. Probably the best you can hope for is stony silence.
This is because the world is unfair and people suck. As for your last paragraph, I don’t know if you’ll find fellow nerd-friends in high school, but when it ends, you will find your people and they will be cool and you will talk about boys sometimes but you will also talk about serious stuff, I promise. I promise.