Reader question #78: Honor students can also be inappropriate assholes.

Darling Captain Awkward,

Most of your writers are adults. They deal with adult men. I, a female in high school, come to you with a even worse malignancy… teenage boys.

Oh, but you say: teenage boys? They’re perfectly harmless except for the stray sexual innuendo or the occasional Death Ray Pimple. But I’m also a scientist and mathematician, and I’ll let XKCD summarize what I usually deal with on a daily basis: Maybe add a few more pimples to the guy though. And maybe have, say, a guy to girl ratio of 10 to 1. And maybe fill up that page with sandwich jokes. 
Ignoring them is difficult during activities and labs because we work in teams. I’ve tried standing up for myself but I don’t really do well in panic situations and I’ve ended up gotten in some physical scrapes (nothing bad, but I’m kind of weak). The school has made it clear that they will only slap these guys on the wrist because they’re “honor students.” Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to just tells me that this isn’t a big deal and that I should just let it go. I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to figure this out, and I feel (and have been told) that I bring this onto myself by not laying low and batting my eyelashes. Am I overreacting?  How do I deal with this in the future?

I try to make light of what happens but, really, I am brokenhearted. I’m upset that most of the guys are going to top colleges and that I might not get in. I hate myself for not being able to let this go even though most of them have graduated, and I hate the social standard that I’ve noticed– when talking to my guy friends, they always talk about something productive; when talking to my girl friends, all we talk about is guys and other trivial things, and they don’t want to change. Mostly I’m just sad, lost, and afraid (and that’s not helping me deal with any of this). 
So, thanks, and I would love to hear your input.
Pi Squared

Dear 9.869604401:

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:

  1. EXTREMELY NOT OKAY (touching you, threatening you, sexual comment that are about things they’d like to do to you)
  2. NOT OKAY (sexual comments that are inappropriate but not directly about things they want to do to you)
  3. 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.

32 thoughts on “Reader question #78: Honor students can also be inappropriate assholes.

  1. Great advice as usual. I just want to say to Pi^2 that any of the pieces of this advice will make the situation better, even if you don’t do all of them. Just First and Third, for example, or just Fourth but just showing it to a teacher but not your parents, or vice versa. Also a self-defense class is a great idea because those are about training yourself how to respond in these situations, not about developing crazy superhero skills.

    Also, an online community of other girls might help – there are some that don’t always talk about boys, although sometimes it feels like there aren’t. Maybe can help you?

    Good luck, sister! Let us know how it goes!

  2. This is really good advice. I imagine that it might be really hard to follow, but it’s really good advice. I can’t offer much else, but I do want to echo what the Captain said about how this isn’t the time for ball-kicking or telling them to fuck off. Depending on how important these honour students are to the school, you might end up getting in trouble for that, either with teachers and the administration or with other students, and things might get even worse for you after that. It sucks that some teachers and schools don’t take bullying seriously. Maybe dealing with these jerks will be a wake-up call for your school, and maybe your teachers will learn that letting this kind of behaviour slide is not acceptable. But even if that doesn’t happen, it is true that high school doesn’t last for ever and that things will change as you get older. It’s not advice, but I hope it helps.

  3. All of this is good advice. I would like to add a couple of things that would have helped me:

    The thing that kept me sane throughout high school, which was miserable for me, was online gaming. Text-based- yeah. I know. Super nerdy, right? Anyway, that is why I recommend having an online community. Maybe that’s feministe or geekfeminists or something entirely different. It helps having an escape valve.

    The other thing that would have made life easier for me and which I plan to recommend to my students is this: take a community college class next summer. I don’t know- are you a senior? Maybe this is no-good advice for you because you’re graduating soon but if you’re not, it will help to get a tangible reminder of life-after-high-school.

  4. I really don’t have anything to add except 1. DO DOCUMENT EVERYTHING, and 2. Life does get better. One day you will find your people.

    This was mostly to see if wordpress supported the HTML symbol code for π² – which it totally does!

  5. And if all the Captain’s outstanding advice fails, I’m pretty sure every reader will be on the barricades for you, and would help you make this a HUGE problem for your school administration. Just sayin’.

    The Captain’s advice is amazingly good advice for your current situation, and on how to deal with this should you ever encounter it in your adult life as well, just subtract the parents from the equation, and change the word “teacher” to the word “boss”. Because these boys grow up, and some of them get better, and some of them do not.

    Also, if you’re at all confused about documenting and how to do it, I highly recommend emailing a summary of your discussion with someone to them after the fact. After you meet with your teacher/administrator and present your typed list of assholery, email the teacher/administrator a summary of that meeting and what you discussed and what was agreed to, and then it will have a date/time stamp on your outgoing message in your email storage, which will be super helpful if we get to lawyer time. Your parents should also do this after they have contacted school administration. Tone should be polite and professional, thanking them for their time, etc. A fast way to help yourself document the day to day assholery is to email individual incidents to yourself, from your phone or laptop, right after it happens. Would help to fly under the radar if you are fearful of how the boys will take it if you write things down in front of them and you don’t want to have that confrontation, since they will just think you’re texting or typing and won’t be able to read over your shoulder (hopefully). I agree with the Captain that you should proceed carefully there, and protect yourself. Always be protecting yourself.

    And while I agree that the self defense class is a great idea will mostly be for your confidence and to give you tools to defend yourself, be smart about how you use that power that you gain. As totally unfair as it sounds, no matter how much they may have tormented you, if you hurt one of them physically their parents will find a way to make the whole situation your fault. So use that power if you must to protect your physical person from serious harm, but handle the rest by being smarter than them and a professional badass.

    Good luck. It will get better. You will always be smart and fabulous, and will only get smarter and fabulouser. They might grow up and be cooler, they might be sad sack adolescent assholes forever. Either way, once you’re outta there, you never have to see them again. Awesome.

  6. Hey there, pi^2. The Cap’n has handily addressed the harassment angle of all this, but I also want to talk a little bit about being sad, lost, and afraid.

    True story: When deeply nerdy CommanderLogic was in high school, my parents offered to send me to a very prestigious all-girls school rather than my public high school. I said “HELLS NO. There wouldn’t be any BOYS.” Not because I wanted to date boys mind you, but because boys were my primary competition. I mean, there were smart girls at school, and I was friends with them, but if I wanted to WIN at school, it was the dudes I needed to outrank. I thought, where was the feminist glory in placing first in a class of all girls? (Hey, I was young, and I know NOW that an all-girls school is plenty feminist, and placing first in a class of girls is just as hard to do. But at the time, I was unaware that I was being subliminally misogynistic. You live, you learn.)

    So I went to co-ed public high school, and I did really well. I didn’t get harassed by boys because I think I projected an air of “I AM HERE TO WIN.” Of course, I didn’t get asked to any proms either, and that hurt, but I chalked it up as an acceptable loss if it meant I was Best Student OMG. Now, I didn’t get the highest scores on the SAT at my school, but there were only two boys ranked ahead of me (and three girls, btw) and I was in the top 1% in the nation. I didn’t go to an Ivy League, but I went to a fantastic Liberal Arts school and found My People.

    This will pass. You will find Your People.

    Incidentally, my Lady People meet up weekly and we talk about clothes and boys, but also about experiments (one of the Ladies is a working neuroscientist) and scifi novels and computers and movies and current events and how Cosmo is insane. But we also talk about Girly things, and that’s okay. You contain multitudes, and it’s fun to be frivolous sometimes. That’s something that took me a LONG time to learn. Be goofy and girly and immature if that’s how you feel with some of your friends. It doesn’t make you a less serious student. I promise. ❤

  7. This is really excellent advice, and something I wish someone had suggested to me when I was at school. (Back in the dark ages, about a quarter of a century ago.) I went through two stretches of being bullied – once by two girls, and once by a whole pack of boys – and both times the physical bullying stopped once adults were made aware of exactly how physical it had got, but I was treated as the “problem”. I have no idea what, if anything, happened to the kids who were doing the bullying, but I don’t think anything much did – whereas I got called in for meetings with a school psychologist because I melted down in tears in a few times over the situation. I couldn’t eat lunch in peace because the other kids had decided that my being a vegetarian was a matter for rough teasing – I had a habit which took me years to break of always finding somewhere to hide in order to eat my lunch.

    It didn’t help, of course, that I honestly found a good book better company than most of the other kids in my class.

    Curiously enough, one boy stopped bullying me because he was in the same Scout troop as my brother, and my brother saw me getting bullied and spoke to the boy. My brother told me afterwards that the boy had assured him it wasn’t HIM who was bullying me, it was his friends: he was lying, but my brother believed him. I suppose at least the boy made his lie truth by not bullying me after that.

    One of the things I’m sure someone will say to you – possibly, has already said to you – is “just ignore them”. While that’s do-able if they’re words-only bullies, and was my strategy once the physical bullying stopped, it’s really not a good strategy. I turned into the kind of person first of all whose reaction to verbal bullying was to shut down – because that was how I survived my school. This is not a good way to react when managers or co-workers or indeed anyone starts to bully you.

    I react defensively even now to anyone trying the physical grab – I second the suggestion to do self-defense/build upper body strength, and practice the surreptious could-be-an-accident fightback. (For example, once when a boy was getting in my face, I shifted till my foot was over his and then I bore down *hard* and *sudden* on his foot till he yelled – and if anyone had got on my case about it, I would have said “Gosh, sorry, but he was standing pretty close to me: I hadn’t realised his foot was right there.”) As with the grabbing and twisting the hand, you’re unlikely to get into much if any trouble for that.

    I don’t react well even today to people who come on like bullies: I fight back. I fight back all the harder because of all the years I didn’t. In a sense Im taking care of my younger self: but the method Captain Awkward describes should be very much better. You’re unlikely to be the only target of these guys, or the only girl in the school getting treated like this. Publicly talking about what you’re doing when you document their attacks, verbal or physical, especially when the authorities are forced to take action, may win you no friends in the circle the bullies belong to, but there’ll be quite a few other people silently cheering for you – and perhaps not so silently.

  8. I really don’t like when authority figures tell people “oh it’s not a big problem, roll with it.” It definitely brings out the righteous fury! Of course it is up to pi^2 to do what she wants, but I am rooting for her to pursue solution #4. This behavior is a problem! The administration does not seem to think this is a problem! Lawyers can help the administration realize it is a problem! Though it is important to document how the boys’ harassment and what the administration does about if first, as Captain Awkward said.

    Also I am willing to bet that simply pursuing solution #4 will make the letter writer feel loads better since it means she is starting to regain control of the situation. I think a large part of why she gets so upset by this behavior is because she feels so powerless to stop it.

  9. My People! Hi! We’re here and waiting for you when you get out the other side of high school. Actually, we’re chilling on all sorts of sites like this one and we’re happy to hang out and be cool. I can assure you that there are groups of women that talk about things like social issues, great books of all kinds, current news, and scientific developments and how they’ll affect our lives and futures. Even my one friend that I speak to mostly about her kids and such loves having conversations about international relations too. Also, we’re not the weird ones. The ones that talk only about men and make-up, to the exclusion of all else, are considered the boring ones. It’s great sometimes, but the vast majority of us broaden our horizons.

    The Captain’s advice, I think, is spot on. She’s 100% right in that this kind of crap wouldn’t (shouldn’t) fly in an work environment and shouldn’t fly in your school which is *your* work environment. Sandwich jokes? Really? They can’t even be original? Thought these were the smart boys. Tell them to think up something new. She’s also right that when you start to use that kind of official sounding language a little switch in people’s heads flip that pretty much says ‘Oh crap, we’re in trouble. Better do something’ and I hope, I hope, I hope, that the people in charge of you are smart enough to realize you’re not the problem here.

    One thing people don’t want to see and don’t want to know is that honor students aren’t always good human beings. Just in my graduating class we had lots of liars, plenty of cheaters (gotta keep that GPA up!), a few bullies, and at least two students that were already accepted to Ivy League Schools broke into the school and trashed half a dozen classrooms (with computers in them!). Honor students aren’t always nice, and they’re not always good people. Your letter illustrates this quite well, unfortunately.

  10. As Ace just said – My People!!!

    We’re rooting for you. Things will get better. There is a lot of wonderful, wonderful advice from CA and from all the commentators. I cried reading through this and am ready to back you up, if you need backing up. Unfortunately, I’m not a lawyer, just another teacher, but will call anyone at CPS for you, if that is what you need.

    Stay strong.


  11. Agreed that you should find what your school’s policy is and make a note of it. You (and ideally your parents) want to be winning a round of buzzword bingo when you sit down with the principal. For example, “This is becoming a hostile learning environment because…” or “examples of bullying behavior include….” Whatever the policy says, use that as your starting point for how to phrase what you’re talking about.

    Regarding not having like-minded friends, naturally college will bring you much closer to your people but that doesn’t help you much in the meanwhile. The internet has a lot of awesome places to hang out with people who share your interests, so I think having that as an outlet will help.

    For meat space – does your school have a drama club? In my experience pound for pound you find more smart, funny, progressive, open-minded people in drama club than any other group in school. You don’t have to act. They need plenty of people to help out backstage with set design and the like. Heck, you could even do what I did and just make friends with drama club people.

    It’s complete and utter bullshit that this is going on at all, let alone that it’s escalated to physical contact. You should not have to lay low, nor grin and bear it, nor bat your eyelashes at them. Anyone who’s told you that is just buying into the same sad cultural mindset that allows these guys to think that a penis and a 4.0+ GPA allows them to do whatever they want.

  12. This is great advice. I hope that your parents can get on board, LW–you shouldn’t have to handle this on your own.

    I definitely do not think, however, that you should get physical unless your safety is threatened. School environments are more disciplinarian than ever, and police interference in school disciplinary procedures is even more common. A physical altercation may not only make all this harassment “your fault.” It could get you in legal trouble and do serious damage to your school career.

  13. If only there were blogs when I was in high school…

    What helped me was graduating. And…I never spoke to a single guy from high school ever again. I met other guys in my field. They were nice to me and I met guys who wanted to date me. I met women who shared my interests. Last night I hung out with 6 girls for 4 hours and there was ZERO boy talk. Hang in there. These jerks may be peaking early, and that’s just sad. Much better to peak in your mid-20s, 30s, or beyond.

  14. I feel most people here have covered the majority of your letter, so a small suggestion on the last paragraph –

    Get new friends.

    No, don’t dump the ones you have, but rather than worry about why they’re concerned with topics that don’t interest you, find other women who do. You’re problem right now is that you’re confined to a very specific space with a limited range of people to deal with, and for the most part, it dominates the better part of your waking hours. I echo the sentiment that this will change dramatically past high school, but if you can’t find the community you seek there, you need to try looking for it in other places. For instance, you can see if there’s any science/community projects going on in your area that you can join. Do you have a community college nearby that offers weekend recreational classes? Are there book discussion groups at your local libraries? How about after school clubs? These are kind of places you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for. That way you find the balance – the friends who will talk string theory and Rosseau until the sundown, and the friends you sit around and shoot the breeze with over nothing. Both kinds of relationships have their own particular value; it’s just a matter of prioritizing their specific worth.

    1. Christ up a tree, I just realized how many typos that paragraph contains. That’s what I get for posting without glasses on. Sorry about that.

    2. Yes. I agree with this. I was an ambitious future Air Force pilot in high school–and Civil Air Patrol was my saving grace. I kept my sanity, and I could appreciate my school friends for who they were.

      Before that, the local community center and the library were places that you could almost surely find me.

      Captain’s advice is great–especially the bit about vocabulary.

      Does your school have security guards or police officers posted? If you do, make friends. Start by saying hello, later move up to chatting. Let them know what’s going on–it’s doubtful teachers and administration communicate with them about ongoing issues. That way, they can look out for you, and watch the boys bullying you. Perhaps they’ll even catch them bullying others, which will make it harder for the administration to ignore, because it establishes a pattern. But more importantly, you’ll make allies.

      I was an RA, a Resident Assistant, at the freshmen honors dorm for a year at my university. Honors kids in high school don’t necessarily go on to be Honors kids at college. Some will go wild, overdosing in the freedom that adulthood gives them. Some go on thinking their shit don’t stink, and have to be brought down by their RAs, who will tell them that yes they are getting written up because the room is so messy it’s a fire hazard and it STINKS and YES YOU CAN BE KICKED OUT OF HOUSING AND YOUR PARENTS WILL KNOW THIS. The pompous, arrogant kids you’re dealing with are never as smart as they think they are, and their professors in college will tell them so, too. My first day of college, some guys were being pricks and the professor bluntly told them they they were being assholes and that they were going to shut up. (It was that moment that I fell in love with College.) They fell silent, in shock, and their faces were priceless.

      All this to say, don’t sweat just yet about these guys getting into better colleges and doing better than you. Focus on you. Don’t worry about their futures–they’ll get theirs. I have tons of stories from my year as an RA. Read books outside school, learn as much as you can. Develop good study habits and writing skills. Follow Captain Awkward’s advice. Make frequent visits to your guidance counselor to talk about schools and scholarships. Apply for them.

      And if you want to talk, I’m here. Drop a comment on my blog, and we’ll get in touch.

      1. The pompous, arrogant kids you’re dealing with are never as smart as they think they are, and their professors in college will tell them so, too.

        yep, these fellas are big fish in the tiniest pond imaginable. They’re in for a big wake-up call.

      2. At 41, I now have almost 30 years of following my father’s advice to ALWAYS make friends with security guards, janitors, and cafeteria workers.

        Mostly it just teaches you a lot about humanizing people who are generally invisible. Also it is good for your heart to make someone else smile. Occasionally you will get the last egg-salad sandwich because Marie knows you like them and holds it back for you.

        And every once in a while, when you are in danger or you just need a place to hide, those friends will really save your ass.

        1. I can only add:

          Secretaries/administrative assistants.

          Aside from knowing everything, these people control access to other people and to paperwork, both very important to LW right now and to everyone with a brain at all other times. I can never understand people who are shitty to administrative staff. YOUR FILE: SHE HAS IT.

    3. Very much want to add an I Agree With This Comment.

      I was lucky in high school, because despite being roughly 200 people (public school in a farm town, yo) I had a small group of other nerdy weirdos who were great, and the group included other girls. But I ALSO very much regret not branching out and looking into things in the local small-but-not-as-small-or-as-farm-y town 20 minutes away. Community theater and book clubs and fencing classes existed! I wish I had looked into them at the time, because having a non-school outlet, and friends who DIDN’T already think of me as That Smart Girl/That Weird Girl/That Whatever Girl would have been a really nice chance to spread wings, explore identity, etc etc.

      Specific to the letter writer, I think this could help you find Your People, who, aside from being female but not boy crazy, are also not giant assholes and will not treat you poorly. Those people can be hard to come by in high school, but they do, indeed, exist.

  15. Ugh, what a clusterfuck. I’m sorry to hear that you are going through this, Pi Squared.

    Captain Awkward offered some great, practical steps to take. You should not be going through this and your school DOES have a policy against it written down somewhere, so definitely, definitely start documenting. And, as she mentioned, I sincerely hope your parents will be on your side.

    I wanted to add that I have experience with the whole “desire to retaliate physically” thing, and boost the signal on piny’s advice above. If you lash out in response to their touching, you will probably, unfairly and very unfortunately, be labeled as someone who “gets into fights” and “overreacts”. Schools are really atrocious when it comes to discerning the difference between a fight and an act of self-defense, and will usually default to an “I don’t care who started it!” position.

    So, if you find yourself in a situation where you want to fight, please try to yell instead. Be loud, and be specific – instead of “Stop it!” try “Hey, get your hands off of my breasts!” or “Let go of my backpack!” or whatever else they are doing. This is good mostly because it instantly spotlights exactly what you’re reacting to. Being loud will still cause you to be labeled as a crazy bitch most likely, but specificity will make it more likely for you to be taken seriously.

    Also, re: top schools and such. My dear, it’s completely true that sometimes assholes unfortunately do not get what they deserve, nor do good people. The world is so unfair that it can feel like some type of practical joke. The important thing in life is to make a place for yourself in the face of all that bullshit. A competitive mindset can be helpful for that in some ways, but it can also wear you out. Just remember, grades and school rankings can look objective, but they are not. So often they are just a measure of who had the biggest head start when they entered the race. Hold your head high and realize that you, as a human being, are not the sum total of your GPA, SAT and AP scores. You have worth and dignity far beyond all of that, and once you get launched out into the world, you’ll have many opportunities to kick ass. Not all of your ass-kicking will be measurable or show up as extra credit on your transcript, or impress your future employers. But you’ll feel the truth of it when you get there.

    1. Actually….I have sometimes been labeled a crazy bitch for yelling at men who were bothering me. But other times, yelling at men who were bothering me has resulted in intervention by other helpful people! Including one time when a stalker was following me to my lonely train station after dark. So there’s that. I’ve made it my default response. It makes harassers embarrassed to be around the loud angry woman, and that’s exactly what you want, right?

      1. Exactly! I think the “crazy bitch” response is something that’s likely to occur if, like Pi Squared, she’s in a situation where the same people are going to witness her yelling about the same things multiple times in the same week, so I wanted to warn her a bit.

        When it comes to street harassment though – loudly vocalizing exactly what is happening is perfect, and indeed likely to summon help.

  16. Hey Pi^2,

    There’s a lot of great advice here, but it seems to deal primarily with sexual harassment and not so much with the GRILZ ARE DUMS issue that the xkcd cartoon was hitting on.

    And GRILZ ARE DUMS isn’t exactly sexual harassment so it’s a bit harder to get people to take it seriously. Authority figues usually told me “Well, come on, you know you’re smart so who cares what the heck these guys think?” And that’s great, except that if punks are calling you stupid every damn day, it does actually wear you down, regardless of how smart/tough you are. And you need to remind your authority figures (teachers, parents, etc.) that if making a mistake or speaking up in class or (GOD FORBID) being right on a problem is going to routinely result in someone making a snide remark about girls, it’s going to dramatically deter you from participating in your education.

    And remind them of the monthly NYT articles about the “leaky pipeline” because for Some Reason women don’t go into math and science and engineering! Remind them that the leaks start in high school, often because people are being assholes to smart women. And these women, being smart, are like “Fuck this, it’s not worth it. Women OUT,” and then they grow up to be brilliant other things, but not scientists and engineers***.

    The thing is, we don’t want bullies sapping our country of lady nerds. And socially backwards dudes do not inherently deserve any more protection than you do. I would put forward that they might need less protection since the system is already built around their needs.

    And to anyone who responds with “You need thicker skin.”: you have obviously forgotten what daily teasing can do to a person. I’m a tough woman getting a PhD in physics, I strike fear in the hearts of many, and when I cry in public, people emmigrate to other countries because the event is so freaking weird that they don’t want to be anywhere nearby when it happens, blah blah blah. BUT that shit can still get under my skin. When it gets bad, I still consider quitting because I can be good a lot of things (and so can you!) and getting kicked in the metaphorical teeth every day just isn’t appealing. And it’s not because there’s anything wrong with me. It’s because there’s something wrong with a system that protects bullies.

    Last bit of advice (and it’s been mentioned here already), find yourself some lady nerds to hang out with. I soooo wish I’d figured this out before grad school, but starting with grad school, in every new environment I dropped into, I actively sought out the other women and befriended them. Create a safe space where you can geek out and vent. Yeah, we also planned each other’s weddings a swapped pictures of our cats, and we still obviously work closely with lots of guys, but they know they can walk into my office at any time of day to yell, “Goddammit, my group is using me as the token woman AGAIN!” It’s good to have the solidarity around for the days when It Forgot to Get Better. Plus, if you do homework with the ladies, no one is making gendered remarks when you eff up the Legendre polynomial expansion. Pro-tip: while you’re there, force each other to stop apologizing for everything. And Impostor Syndrome is your enemy – kill it.

    Also, all of this:

    ***Obviously, this is not the only cause of the leaky pipeline, but I will argue that at the high school/early college level, this is at least a primary cause.

    1. Thanks for this brilliant comment, and for a re-read of the This Recording piece, which is brilliant also.

      1. I almost had a cow when I read the This Recording piece. I was sitting in a meeting at a large unnamed particle accelerator facility in Europe. I was the only woman in the room and had already been twice interrupted while speaking. Hilariously, one of those interruptions was to chide me to say “person hours” instead of “man hours”. #headdesk

        Anyways, thanks for your brilliant blog, it’s a guaranteed daily read!

          1. I did not, thanks! I really should be following these blog too. Linda’s story sounds pretty familiar, although I am a physicist (and pretty tall and VERY loud) which is probably why I get less of the “Aw, that’s so cute!” Believe it or not, engineers get treated like that here too. It’s a very, very weird social ecosystem out here at unnamed particle accelerator facility.

  17. Just a few things to add: (1) Try using a digital tape recorder (or your cell phone if you’re allowed to have it out) to document this crap,
    (2) When people try saying “these are good, smart guys,” say “Not when they behave like this they’re not. It is not a nice way to act, and they ARE smart enough to know better, so why is it unreasonable to expect them to act better?
    (3) To the claim that you are trying to ruin the boys’ lives: “I don’t want to ruin their lives, I just want them to stop trying to ruin mine, and you have a legal obligation to help me.”
    (4) To “boys will be boys:” “Boys will be men, who can lose their jobs for sexual harassment. You’re doing them a service, as well as me, by teaching them what is and is not acceptable.”

  18. I know I am late to the game but…

    In response to the last bit, I strongly recommend science and math summer camps, which will introduce you to lots of nerdy teenagers your age. There are even some specifically aimed at girls! Many also have scholarships if money is an issue. Being a (nerdy female) mathematician, I am biased and would suggest you poke around the sites listed here:

    All girls all math and SWIM are both strong programs for female students only. Promys, Ross, Mathcamp, Hampshire (all coed) are particularly well known, but have very differing philosophys and structures so I would look into which would be best for your particular learning style. I really wish I had participated in camps like these in high school because they seem like such fantastic experiences.

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