A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights decided to expand its biennial report on civil rights issues in public schools to include school bullying. In reviewing the data collected during the 2011-2012 school year, researchers found a trend in students' self-reported experiences with harassment that is both disturbing and totally unsurprising: girls faced significantly more bullying than boys, much of which was gender-related.
The Washington Post broke down the department's findings to show the disparity in bullying as the study's participants got older, and that's where the data starts to get really troubling. While girls of all ages reported higher rates of harassment than boys, the gap between the two makes huge jumps from elementary to middle to high school. The least bullying for both boys and girls occurs in elementary school, though females still experience nearly 20 percent more harassment than male students. In middle school, total bullying makes a dramatic leap... but girls still face 34.4 percent more than boys. By high school, the difference is stark: young women reported a 56 percent higher rate of harassment than young men in grades 9-12.
There are problems with the data, as the Post points out. Because the study relies on self-reported information, it's likely to be skewed to show less gender-based bullying than actually occurs. First of all, the questions regarding harassment are new, and so it might be difficult for schools to organize and present accurate information. Then, of course, there's the issue of schools being unlikely to paint an adequate picture of harassment, because it's not like that doesn't happen all the time at institutions of higher education feigning to address campus sexual assault.
Last, there is the problem of many students failing to report bullying and harassment, likely for fear of retribution or making their own situations worse. This is the constant struggle of addressing student-on-student torment of all kinds, but it's particularly salient when it comes to gender-based bullying. By high school, "gender-based bullying" could just as well be referred to as "all-out sexual harassment," and the young women who experience such disproportionate rates of unwanted sexual attention aren't just unable to speak up about their in-school experiences. They are left ill-equipped to address the harassment they face on the street, in the workplace or really anywhere someone deems it appropriate to treat them like a sexual object. What's reflected in the male/female school bullying disparity isn't just a gender problem in education. It's a chart of how boys and girls learn sexual harassment in the classroom.