Sugartits – Addressing harassment

“There you go, love.”

“Thanks, sugartits.”

It’s becoming a regular exchange but none of the men that R has called ‘Sugartits’ has even appeared to notice her campaign against being called ‘love’ or ‘darling’. Each time I hold my breath, but nothing happens.

I asked her why she had to go all the way to sugartits. Love and darling aren’t really on the same scale. She said that if she went with anything more gentle, they’d think it was a come-on. I saw her point.

I also see her point about love and darling. The terms that men use for other men bestow either equal or greater status; ‘boss’ or ‘mate’ or ‘bro’. The terms they use for women place us in an intimate, sexual or at least affectionate relationship; it is a verbal bonding to a complete stranger.

R also has strong views on people who harass or make comments to her. “They are just bullies, they want you to feel uncomfortable or afraid and they rely on the fact that you won’t say anything. So I just say the worst thing I can think of.” I won’t tell you the things she says. She can think of some pretty horrible stuff. When she starts she doesn’t stop until she has won. She calls it the ‘shock and awe approach’.

The strange thing is that when there are other people around, they seem to accept whatever the man has said, no matter how sexist or racist it might have been. At least, nobody bats an eye nor do they step in. What makes them stare is R’s response. It appears that harassing a Black woman is standard, generally accepted behaviour but a Black woman standing up for herself is just plain shocking.

“There was this one guy who clearly spent his whole life in the gym. He had something to say about me being fat so I said that just because he’d been a fat kid and nobody loved him didn’t give him the right to fuck with me. He looked like he was going to cry.”

The exchange highlights the abuse of the initial comment. R has been asked why she is being so mean, she says “Well, you were mean to me first and I have nothing to do with you. Why were you talking to me?”

What R is doing is increasing the risk for men who think that women are just going to accept their harassment. For many men, the silence of the women they harass and the men who witness their behaviour is approval. R makes them feel what she feels; abused and attacked. What she does is risky and brave and I love her for it.

So while I won’t be using the term ‘sugartits’ myself, I am going to stop pretending to be selectively deaf when men make comments. It’s not just for me; it’s for all of us.


This course of action might not be for everybody. Men with dented egos are nasty and unpredictable, I wouldn’t grudge anyone who decided to opt out of the encounter.

If you are a man and you happen to overhear a woman being harassed, you stepping in is much more powerful and much safer for you than her standing up for herself. Two simple questions “Do you know her? Then why are you talking to her?” can be very effective. It’s crap, but that is the way power works. When you stay silent, you tell everyone that you agree with what is happening.

Sugartits – Addressing harassment

Tory-Proof Your Kids’ Education – You don’t have to go private!

Let’s dispel a few myths. The teaching in private schools is worse than the teaching in state schools. Having taught in private schools, I can promise you, I would never send my kids there for the teaching. There is a ridiculous amount of “Turn to page 34 and answer all the questions”. You pay for the other kids, not the teacher; so if your child can zone out Billy who has ADHD, he or she will do better in a state school.

Kidulthood was a work of fiction not a documentary. Your child is perfectly safe in an inner city London school, or at least, just as safe as she would be in any other school. Private schools have a nasty habit of not acting on sexual abuse and covering up their bullying problems. Their reputations matter more to them than your child’s safety.

You do not need to pay for private tuition either. It’s only going to be more of the same, so your kid will be bored, not enlightened. If your child needs more attention, give it to her yourself. You might not understand calculus, but you can ask “And what did the teacher do next?” and “Have you checked those answers by working the problem backwards?” or “Explain the whole Archduke Ferdinand thing to me”.

Your kid will have a better chance at getting into university if you follow these steps. They can be implemented at any stage:

  1. Not the kid, you. They will do what you do and if you only want to watch TV, that’s what they will do. Let them see you read and talk about the book you are reading. The more they read, the wider their frame of reference and the better they do across the board.
  2. Enrol them in some kind of club, Scouts, Guides, Cadets, Duke of Edinburgh, whatever. They will meet different people and have opportunities that you can’t provide. Plus it looks great on uni applications.
  3. Do free stuff with them. Walks, forests, galleries and beaches are all free (for the moment). Do something once a month. Again, it widens their frame of reference and gives them confidence.
  4. Encourage them to volunteer. Once again, it looks great on a uni application, but it will also increase their sense of self-worth
  5. If you are going to pay for stuff, make it amateur dramatics or sports. At least they are fun, healthy and give new skills.

If your kid is in 6th form, you need to start campaigning. The Tories have already made massive cuts to 6th form funding and are set to cut even more. This means bigger class sizes and fewer subjects. The government is hoping you won’t make a fuss. Don’t accept it. If your kid can’t choose the subjects she wants at the school she wants to attend, write to the papers, your MP, Nicky Morgan, everybody. Get together with other parents and raise hell – it’s the only way to make sure that everyone has access to a quality education.

Your local school will probably have to cut out pretty much all of its teaching assistants with the budget cuts, so it might be good to volunteer if you have time, and it’s definitely a good idea to stand for the board of governors so that you can keep an eye on things.

Ask about teacher workloads; a tired, over worked and stressed out teacher is not going to give your child the best education. If your child has a different teacher every five minutes, it means that the school has a problem. Ask what they are doing to improve teacher retention.

Boycott the SATS and the baseline tests. Testing your child at 4 is not in her benefit, it is just so a computer can make predictions about what GCSEs she should get. Keep a close eye on the school before testing time; if all they do is stuff for the SATS, your child is missing out on her education. Complain.

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Teachers work hard, they are trained and can be trusted; they are the ones who have a relationship with your child and care about her. School leaders, politicians and newspapers only see your child as a statistic, so they don’t care. Politicians and reporters are not educators, remember, they have no qualifications or training and they don’t know what is best for your child.

Tory-Proof Your Kids’ Education – You don’t have to go private!

Virtual Parenting for Virtual Kids


Our kids have an added dimension of self-hood; their virtual selves, yet we are doing nothing to shape it.

I have just returned from a very scary conference about child and adolescent mental health. The effect of the internet on young people’s mental health is terrifying: cyber bullying, the effect of porn on expectations of relationships, the increasingly negative perceptions of femininity, participation in trolling, creating and distributing sexual images, all are affecting our children at increasingly young ages.

As a teacher, I have often spoken to parents about monitoring their kids’ online activities. There are lots of basic things you can do – limit smart phone use, only allow internet access in shared areas of the house etc. Monitoring is great, but I have come to believe that it is not enough.

Just as we want our children to be self-regulating adults in the real world, we want our children to be self-regulating in their virtual realities as well, and it is not going to happen unless we actively socialise them on-line just as we do in real life (IRL, as the kids say). We do not expect children to gain the skills they need in real life just through monitoring, nor will this work in the virtual setting. I believe that parents must move to a more active engagement with the construction of their children’s online identities.

We must find a virtual equivalent of everything we do IRL, in effect, we must become virtual parents. We teach our toddlers not to run around naked IRL, it is just as hard and just as important to teach the same online. Lessons about kindness and feelings need to be taught in a virtual setting as much as on play dates. We must try and instil a sense of virtual right and wrong that will guide the child even when she is totally anonymous.

I have no real idea about how to do this. Off the top of my head, I would suggest modelling and scaffolding our children’s online experiences as we do other things. We guide their hands and narrate our processes when we bake cakes together, perhaps we need to narrate our own online choices, talk through our responses to a bad photograph or an opinion we encounter that we disagree with. We could work with them to help construct their own online identity through social media. Perhaps we even need a starter site, where parents can work with their children to interact in a monitored setting. I am very sure that if we don’t engage more actively than simply monitoring, the things that scared me so much over the last couple of days will become even worse.

If you have any ideas about what virtual parenting might look like or what we might do, please share them below. As I said, I have no proficiency in this field, I am simply aware that a need exists.

Virtual Parenting for Virtual Kids

Education for all – Taking action against homophobic bullying

Manchester is planning a separate school for LGBT students. I’m beyond furious!

There is no earthly reason why mainstream schools cannot support their LGBT students, except that they lack the will to do so. There shouldn’t need to be separate schools where students can be safe; every single school should be safe for every single student. The end. For always.

Homophobic bullying has very little to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with gender stereotyping.  Homophobic bullying punishes children for not conforming to gender stereotypes. Many teachers and parents let homophobic bullying slide because they think it will encourage the victim to conform, to ‘man up’ or ‘be more ladylike’ (you think I’m kidding – I wish I was).

If homophobic bullying is happening in your child’s school, it will affect your child, regardless of their sexual identity or orientation, or even whether or not it is happening to them directly. It will reinforce every single gender stereotype and all the consequent limitations they place on your child.

So, wearing my teacher (“behaviour specialist” actually dahling) hat, here is what you can do, regardless of your child’s orientation.

  • All schools are bound by the 2010 Equalities Act, which defines certain ‘protected characteristics’, including sexual identity and orientation. They have to set Equality Objectives which show what they are doing to promote equality in the school. The majority don’t bother, but if you ask what their Equality Objectives are and where you can read them, it may be enough to spark a reaction.
  • All schools should have policies relating to homophobic bullying, again, many don’t. Ask to see the policy
  • Ask what the school is doing to promote community cohesion – this is a great tactic where there may be perceived conflicts of opinion. I use this to justify my work for LGBT equality in a school where the majority of students come from hostile religions. The promotion of community cohesion is another legal obligation covered by the Equalities Act.
  • If all else fails, bring out the big gun – Ofsted. Schools are required to show what they are doing to to tackle homophobic bullying. Indicate that you would be prepared to discuss any lack of action with Ofsted.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, if your child is experiencing homophobic bullying, this is a child protection issue. This is a really important phrase to use when dealing with the school as it has massive legal implications. Once you have raised something as a child protection issue, the school is compelled to investigate and take action. If they don’t, you can contact Ofsted directly, which can result in a “We’re at the gate, let us in” no-notice inspection. If you are a student experiencing homophobic bullying, you can use this phrase too and it will have the same effect.

There are lots of organisations which help schools to tackle homophobic bullying. “Educate and Celebrate” and “Schools Out” are just two. A quick internet search will give you loads more. I’m happy to share what we do at my school, just leave a message below. Just don’t feel that there isn’t anything you can do. There is.

Post Script

Just after this blog was originally posted, Grindon Hall, a Christian school in Sunderland, was put into special measures for failing to protect its students against homophobic bullying.

The Ofsted report actually states the following in the list of reasons why the school failed: “Prejudice-based bullying, while reported on, is not tackled effectively enough. Discrimination through racist or homophobic language persists.”

I’ll admit, I felt rather smug!

Education for all – Taking action against homophobic bullying