Your stomach flip-flops whenever that gorgeous guy in homeroom beams his green eyes at you. And when the Goddesses of romance hears your prayers and makes your crush whisper sweetly to you, you practically glow with happiness. In your most delightful daydream, your amour just happens to brush his hand against yours and, next thing you know, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.
Unfortunately, the real world of girl-boy relations doesn’t always turn out happily Ever After. Instead of gazing admiringly, some guys stare at territory much lower than eye level. Walking by a crowd of boys, you may hear crass comments about you. Male acquaintances might tease or make rude gestures. If this has ever happened to you, you’ve probably thought, “What’s going on here? Are boys flirting with me or—what?”
These kinds of comments, contacts, and come-ons happen much more often than many people realize. According to one survey, eight out of ten girls have been touched, pinched, or grabbed by guys they know. Even more have been on the receiving end of suggestive jokes, comments, gestures, or leers. That’s why we’re giving you the lowdown on recognizing harassing behavior and advice for how to deal with it.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
Situations such as those described are confusing for lots of reasons. Like, maybe you liked a guy and wanted him to notice you—at least, at one point you did—but not in the way he’s doing it. Having him look at you like you’re a pork chop isn’t exactly what you had in mind. Or say a male pal starts out being nice, and then says or does something offensive that totally throws you. Maybe he gets way too close—beyond your comfort zone, that is. Or his teasing—which you once considered all in fun—has taken a totally nasty turn. Now, it just makes you feel bad about yourself. Perhaps you hear he’s been spreading sick rumors about you—is that liking you, or what?
Another reason it’s confusing is that the guy may tickle, pinch, or grab under the guise of “all in good fun”—despite your shooting him dirty looks and yelling “STOP!”
And so much of the time, this stuff happens right out in the open, like in the cafeteria, during gym, or even in class. Tons of other people are around—your friends, his friends, even teachers.
The fact is, even if people do see what’s going on, they don’t always react the way they should. They might even tell you to chill out and stop making a big deal—as if it’s your problem. This makes many girls wonder if they’re losing their minds. But, whatever you do, don’t second-guess your gut reaction. Feeling out of sorts, uneasy, uncertain, or upset by someone’s aggressiveness is perfectly normal.
WHAT’S THE DIFF?
How can you tell what’s innocent flirting and what’s not? Simple. If it makes you feel okay, it’s flirting. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s not flirting—it’s hurting. Whether a boy talks to you, touches you, or teases you, if you don’t want him to, it’s not okay. You have a right to say how someone’s behavior makes you feel. If you consider the attention unwanted, unwelcome, and inappropriate, by definition it’s considered harassment. Some girls describe this as being pestered, bothered, annoyed, hassled, bugged, insulted, or teased.
It doesn’t matter how your BFF sees it or what your favorite teacher says. Even if they think what a boy says or does is hilarious, if you don’t, then it’s not. No matter what anyone else in the universe says, trust how you feel inside.
Pay attention to uneasy feelings. They can signal that something’s not right in how someone treats you. Be aware of your emotions. If you’re not sure how you feel, talk to someone, maybe a friend or sib who’s had a similar experience. Writing about it in your diary could help you realize you’re upset, scared, or sad.
If you find yourself changing your routine, avoiding situations or people, or feeling low, it’s likely someone has crossed the line of what’s comfortable for you. The next step is taking action. What can you do? Plenty.
SEND A CLEAR MESSAGE
Think you’re helpless to change what’s going on? Wrong! About one third of girls in these situations are too scared to utter a word, but the worst thing you can do is laugh along with the “joke” or ignore your so-called friend’s behavior. Guys rarely stop on their own—especially if they’ve been made to feel they haven’t offended you. And, girls feel worse and worse about themselves when they feel powerless.
About two ot uf three girls in such instances tell the guy to stop doing whatever he’s doing. They may say it using polite words (“Please stop that right now!”) or, more rarely, they transmit the message via a universal physical language.
Regardless of how you say stop, say it like you mean business. Try, “Stop! I don’t want you to do that one more time!” Often it is necessary to say it again, as in, “I’m telling you for the second and last time. I wont’ tolerate you don’t that again.”
And while we urge you to be assertive, some approaches are not exactly recommended. Even though you might be seething and cooking up furious revenge fantasies, acting on impulse usually backfires by causing the situation to escalate. As tempting as it might be to start a rumor about a boy who wronged you, please resist. Harmonious boy-girl relations are a two way street—make that, hallway. Will saying “stop” work? Sometimes. Other times, no.
WHEN AND WHY TO “TELL”
If all else fails, you need to think seriously about turning in a boy who won’t heed your clear messages to cease and desist. Even if you can think of two zillion reasons not to. For example, you may still doubt you have a legitimate reason to be upset. Maybe you’re too embarrassed to report what happened. Or you worry that adults won’t believe you. Or maybe you have tried to tell people who merely respond, “He just likes you,” or “It’s no big deal.” Some girls dread ratting on guys because they figure they will retaliate or won’t even be punished for their actions.
In truth, these are all possibilities. But there are many good reasons to try to get adult help. It’s often hard to get boys to stop inappropriate behavior on your own. You may need extra support. If you don’t put a lid on the problem, boys think it’s okay to treat girls inappropriately. The behavior could continue or even get worse. It can do a number on your pride, your confidence and even your grades.
So if you tell an adult who doesn’t listen patiently enough or take you seriously, don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong or that your problem isn’t important. Tell another adult. Keep on telling people until someone realizes these aren’t just kid pranks, that it’s upsetting you, and that steps should be taken to stop it. Try your parents or other relatives, a family doctor, teacher, or guidance counselor.
The bottom line? Know your boy-comment barometer. Every girl has one. If someone says something that makes you hopping mad, don’t just grin and bear it. Speak up, for goodness sake, or seek help. Many states now have harassment laws to protect women and girls from the offhand comments that come a little too often. Does this mean that the next time Billy calls you a nasty name from across the room, you should stand up and start quoting the Constitution?
Well, no. When you feel uncomfortable, and act on that gut reaction, your instincts are pretty reliable. After all, it’s your right to feel safe and secure, sister.