Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

Helsingin yliopisto, Helsinki 2006

Tytöt, pojat ja sukupuolinen häirintä

Sanna Aaltonen

Väitöskirja, joulukuu 2006.
Helsingin yliopisto, valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, sosiologian laitos.

In this research I ask what is interpreted as sex-based harassment by 15-16-year old girls and boys. By sex-based harassment I refer to one-sided, unwanted attention that is based on gender and that makes the target feel embarrassed, frightened, hurt or angry. My focus is not on the most overt cases of harassment but rather on everyday encounters. While young people differentiate between harassing and non-harassing attention, at the same time they define, assign value to and construct differences and power relations on the basis of gender, age and ethnicity, for example.

My main data consists of essays (N 104, 54 girls, 54 boys) and thematic interviews (N 14; 20 girls, 3 boys) of ninth graders of a secondary school in Helsinki. In the essays and interviews, students construe the border between pleasant and unpleasant, tolerable and intolerable attention as clear in principle, but, they suggest that in practice this border is ambivalent, negotiable and contextual. The interpretations of incidents are justified by referring to features of the target, the scene or the perpetrator.

Targets of harassment are most often construed as being girls who are characterized as thin-skinned, but at the same time they are expected to be understanding toward any sex-based attention they may get, particularly when it is not physical. On the other hand, girls are regarded as equal and even active participants in incidents of harassment. Such statements include considerations of how girls either reject or invite particular kinds of attention by their actions and outward appearance.

Forms of harassment, ways of understanding it as well as overcoming it vary according to spatial context. By situating incidents in different spaces and places, young people contrast their experiences with ordinary and predictable non-harassment that takes place e.g. in discos and unusual and unexpected harassment that takes place e.g. in the city streets in the daytime.

The behaviour of boys harassing a girls is naturalized by appealing to young masculinity and the childishness but also strong sexual drive which is seen as characteristic of teenage boys. On the other hand, sex-based harassment is racialized and pathologized in ways that separate the phenomenon from young, Finnish, "normal" masculinity.

Both the material experiences of the young people and the definitions of the parties involved in harassing incidents are gendered. Girls encounter and deal with sexualized commenting and unwanted approaches much more often and in a more intensive way than boys. Furthermore, there is a vast cultural repertoire of acceptable accounts that can be mobilised in order to excuse male harassers, to critically evaluate the appearance or action of the female targets and to divide the responsibility between the female target and the male perpetrator.

The title page of the publication

Julkaisu on tekijänoikeussäännösten alainen. Teosta voi lukea ja tulostaa henkilökohtaista käyttöä varten. Käyttö kaupallisiin tarkoituksiin on kielletty.

© Helsingin yliopisto 2006

Viimeksi päivitetty 13.11.2006

Yhteystiedot, Contact information E-thesis Helsingin yliopisto, University of Helsinki