By Wendy Murphy
In the throes of relentless news stories about the #MeToo movement, Larry Nassar’s sexual victimization of more than 250 girls, and widespread abuse of women by celebrities, businessmen, lawmakers, etc, it seemed an appropriate time to examine the status of females in Belmont. So I asked several young people to comment because they are in the midst of developing core ideas about what it means to be female in Belmont and beyond.
Here’s the gist of what I heard.
1. The boys treat the girls as if they get to decide who deserves their attention based on who is willing to do sexual things.
2. The girls who kiss up to boys are the ones boys pay attention to.
3. The boys basically rank the girls as good or bad based on how willing they are to do what they want. Girls who stand up for themselves are called bitchy, and ugly.
4. I think girls should start ranking boys, and telling the boys they’re not worth anything unless they do whatever we tell them to do – so we can show them how it feels to be treated like a servant.
5. This starts in Middle School but nobody ever talks about it – teachers and principals know it happens but they never talk about it as a bad thing.
6. It was great that the high school had a community gathering when a racist Instagram message was sent last year, but how come they never do anything like that when boys call girls sluts, or bitches, or worse?
7. Sexism is such a huge issue at the high school and when we try to talk about it, it isn’t respected.
They (and some parents) also talked about other things they see as unfair:
1. The cheerleaders suffered many concussions last fall, but nobody made an issue about it. There are so many stories about football players suffering head trauma. How come cheerleaders’ head trauma gets no attention.
2. Female athletes were asked by the Boosters to help with a fundraising drive, even though the money was primarily intended for the press box and the press box is used almost exclusively for football. Girls are happy to help other school teams but they already see excess favoritism directed at football.
3. Female athletes were recently made to store their gym bags on the second floor, while male athletes were allowed to keep their bags with them on the first floor.
4. Male athletes who play hockey and football have their names on individual signs on Concord Avenue, but there are no individual signs for female athletes of any sport.
5. Cheerleaders are unofficially required to bake cookies for football players before the games.
6. When female athletes are on the turf at the same time as the football players, they often get pushed back to 25 percent of the field space.
7. Diversity week programming at the high school at the end of January ignored sex/gender as a category worthy of attention. There were events on race, LGBT, Armenian Genocide, and even a “medium” who talked about feeling the presence of dead people, but no program was dedicated to issues important to girls, such as sex discrimination, dating abuse, and harassment. [Belmont could face state and federal civil rights investigations, or lawsuits for money damages, for subjecting sex/gender to different treatment in this or any other context.]
Belmont is hardly the only community that isn’t getting sex/gender right. But we claim to be ahead of the pack on social issues. We became a welcoming community on behalf of immigrants, and we have a very active group against racism. We also expect young people to volunteer for community service projects. Why are issues related to women and girls invisible? They suffer far more abuse because they are female than does any other class of people suffer abuse because of who they are in society.
Belmont should aggressively be teaching students about women’s oppression and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Most people don’t even know that women are not yet equal under the United States Constitution. This is the result of a failed education system. Thirty-six states have ratified the ERA. Nevada ratified in 2017. When two more states ratify, women’s full equality will be established once and for all. Until then, females will continue to be abused with impunity no matter how many #MeToo movements we have, because equality – not hashtags – will prevent disproportionate harm against the underclass.
Between now and when equality finally happens, Belmont and all communities should make every effort to teach young people that sex discrimination, including harassment and all forms of abuse, is the same type of civil rights violation as race discrimination, and none of it is welcome here.
A copy of this was shared with Belmont High School Principal Dan Richards and John Phelan, superintendent of the Belmont School District. I met and communicated with both men about some of these issues, and I asked them if they wanted to respond before publication. I offered to include any such response in this piece. Richards indicated a willingness to meet with me, again, in an effort to address the issues, and he offered to speak with guidance counselors and others to obtain information from them about their views on the issues raised.
Murphy is a former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor who teaches at New England Law/Boston. Wendy specializes in the representation of crime victims, women, and children. She also writes and lectures widely on victims’ rights and criminal justice policy. She also serves on the Belmont High School Parent Teacher Student Organization and Advisory Council and is co-President of the Belmont Woman’s Club.