Women Describe Their Early Experiences With Sexism

by Eliza Castile

By the time most women reach adulthood, they're deeply familiar with the effects of sexualization. In fact, judging from the popularity of the "When I Was" hashtag on Twitter, they've most likely encountered sexual harassment or assault firsthand from an alarmingly young age. As part of their mission to document "instances of sexism experienced on a day to day basis," the Everyday Sexism Project urged women to speak out about how young they were when they first encountered sexism, discrimination, and abuse, and the results are a disturbing reminder of how deeply entrenched gender discrimination is, even in the modern day.

" Many people are shocked and unaware that sexual harassment, violence, discrimination and abuse start from an extremely young age," the Everyday Sexism Project tweeted on Tuesday morning. Since then, the hashtag quickly caught on among Twitter users, who used it to discuss their early experiences with sexism in adolescence and even childhood. Although the stories ranged from fairly typical everyday harassment — sexist dress codes, catcalling, and being harassed in public — to outright sexual abuse and assault, they all have a common theme: The women in question were minors at the time. Many were preteens, and some women reported harassment stemming all the way back to elementary school.

In a trend that will surprise exactly no one who has spoken out about harassment or abuse, some women reported further sexism on the part of authorities like teachers or police, who either brushed off their experiences or engaged in victim-blaming.

Although the majority of those who spoke out were women, men joined the conversation as well. Some reported their own experiences with harassment or assault, while others pointed out how patriarchal societies normalize and encourage sexist behavior.

In an age where both women and men regularly speak out about everyday sexism and misogyny on social media, the stories told through #WhenIWas may not come as a shock. Gender norms influence and inform our lives literally from birth, and studies have shown that we begin teaching girls to equate their bodies with self-worth as early as elementary school. Furthermore, Rape Response Services reports that 67 percent of reported sexual assault involved victims under the age of 18. In a world where terms like "jailbait" are considered complimentary in some circles, is it any wonder that many children experience the effects of sexualization before they even hit puberty?

However, the very everydayness of #WhenIWas serves to highlight the problem. Gender equality may have made progress over the past few decades, but if this many women and men are still experiencing harassment from such a young age, there's still a long way to go.

Image: Jamie Taylor/Unsplash; all tweets used with permission of their users.