Bullying because of gender

We often call this ‘Sexist, sexual or transphobic bullying’.

It describes situations where a pupil (or group), intentionally and usually repeatedly, harms another pupil simply because of their gender or because they don’t conform to what is thought to be typical for each gender. The root cause of these forms of bullying is gender inequality.

Sexist, sexual or transphobic bullying are the not the same as homophobic bullying. However, in many cases sexist attitudes will be expressed via homophobic bullying and any young person who is perceived as not ‘following the expected script’ for boys and girls – however stereotyped this may be – can experience homophobic bullying.

Sexist, sexual or transphobic bullying may also occur in tandem with other forms of bullying, such as racist bullying or bullying related to special educational needs or disabilities both on or offline. It can be used as a proxy for some prejudice: for example people with Learning difficulties report high levels of homophobic insults because the perpetrators think they can get away with this form.

DCSF guidance (see link below) lists the following key messages for schools:

  1. Sexist, sexual or transphobic bullying is commonly underpinned by sexist, homophobic, or transphobic attitudes.
  2. In order for these forms of bullying not to go unrecognised, schools must develop specific approaches for dealing with sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying that are aligned with their approaches to dealing with other forms of bullying.
  3. Behaviours displayed as part of sexist. sexual and transphobic bullying are in many cases similar to those behaviours displayed in other forms of bullying, but may also be specifically characterised by inappropriate sexual behaviour. This can in extreme cases constitute sexual abuse.
  4. Schools must always consider in cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying where links need to be made with their safeguarding procedures or processes.
  5. Girls are more commonly at risk from sexist and sexual bullying. However, boys also report being victims of sexist and sexual bullying. Boys and girls may be victims of transphobic bullying, particularly where they are not seen to conform to the gender roles that are dominant in the school environment or society more widely.
 Useful Documents:

Contemporary pressures

Sexist bullying in schools is inhibiting girls from putting up their hands and speaking out in class because they fear appearing “swotty and clever”, according to a senior teachers’ leader.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said sexist bullying was still prevalent in the classroom, where girls often felt under pressure to “keep quiet and listen to the boys talking”.

Speaking before the ATL’s annual conference, in 2016 Bousted described “the tightrope” girls walk between being attractive and achieving at school. She said there was “a conspiracy of near silence” among girls, who did not want to appear “brainy” for fear of being called names.

“There are lots and lots of pressures on girls – to be thin, to be attractive, to be compliant and to be quiet – and it’s as great now as it ever has been.

Misogyny on the web.
At the same time there is intense debate about misogyny online with high profile MPs attacked, trolled and even stalked.

Some girls say they fear the internet and are losing out by not using it.

Boys are also harmed by this form of bullying as they are corralled into a narrow mould – unable to develop their true personality lest it be seen as less than manly. Bullying of any boy who seems ‘girly’ reaches a peak at around age 10 and continues through the teen years. Young people struggling with their identity can suffer extreme depression and stress due to this form of bullying. Ironically, perpetrators are often acting in this way because they fear something within themselves that questions their own identity.

Violence is often present and sexual behaviour, pressure or violence is a possibility.

How to help someone

Educate young people on the issues of sexual bullying. This should come from both home and school. It is a fundamental right to be equal and valued for who you are and in this country it is a basic freedom. Talk to young people about making positive choices and what this might mean for them as an individual now and in the future. Explore images in the media and help  them understand where pressure to conform is coming from so that they can make their own judgements about who they are.

If a pupil discloses that they are experiencing sexist bullying you will need to recognise that this is very embarrassing and humiliating for them. Stay calm, thank them for telling you and adopt your professional code of conduct. Do not view any images unless you have alerted the designated safeguarding lead. Lock away any devices as evidence. Check whether there is significant harm or a risk of it happening. Make sure the pupil is currently safe. Keep a record of the incident and seek advice at a senior level as to next steps.

If someone suffers sexist bullying they will need help at the earliest opportunity. Encourage them to seek help from someone they trust, such as a parent, family member or a teacher. They can keep a diary of all incidents as evidence and take screenshots if  it involves online messages,  images or threats.

This form of bullying is very serious and victims may need emotional support and counselling. Pupils can speak to Childline on 0800 1111 or call The Mix (formerly Get Connected) on 0808 808 4994. In some cases this is a police matter. Is the other person the same age or considerably older? Is the victim under 13? What is the nature of the behaviour? These questions should  be part of your safeguarding procedures.

Family Lives runs TeenBoundaries workshops for schools and youth groups to prevent sexual bullying, peer on peer sexual exploitation and promotes positive gender relationships by challenging attitudes and promoting tolerance, understanding and cohesion between young people.

Value each one for who they are

Define and name Sexist bullying in order to tackle it! Research shows that if you explicitly name the different forms of bullying in your policy and strategy documents, it is far more likely that staff will feel able to challenge it and pupils and parents can come forward.

Sexist bullying can be defined as bullying based on sexist attitudes that when expressed, demean, intimidate or harm another person because of their sex or gender. These attitudes are commonly based around the assumption that women are subordinate to men, or are inferior.

DCSF Safe to Learn, Sexist, Sexual and Transphobic bullying


Forms it can take

  • Abusive, sexualised name calling and insults. Spreading rumours of a sexual nature online or face to face. This includes using homophobic language and insults towards others.
  • Unwelcome looks and comments about someone’s appearance or sexuality, either face to face or behind their backs.

  • Inappropriate and uninvited touching without consent, also pressurising someone to do something they do not want to do, using emotional blackmail such as ‘you would do this if you loved me’ or comparing previous encounters to make someone feel obliged to do something sexual.

  • Pressurising someone to get involved in sexting and using emotional blackmail, for example threatening to end a relationship if they don’t send an image. Sending the image to others without consent is a form of sexual bullying and might be illegal if it is a sexual image of someone under the age of 18.

  • Inappropriate sexual innuendo that is persistent and unwelcome.

  • Sexism in all its forms and gender stereotyping roles of male and females.

  • Graffiti with sexual content or display/circulation of inappropriate material of a sexual nature, such as pornography. Also badges or clothing depicting inappropriate sexual innuendo or language.

  • In its most extreme form, sexual assault or rape

Steps to take to reduce it in schools:

  • Focus on a strong ethos of inclusion and acceptance. Most young people do not bullying one another. Try to make it unacceptable to the majority as they will exert pressure on those who do it. Do not put all your energies into working only with the perpetrators – but instead enlist the majority to shape their thinking, challenge stereotypes and value the identity of every individual.
  • Always challenge sexist language
  • Ensure your school displays and enacts equality in all its dealings with students and staff
  • Celebrate difference and enjoy the variety!
  • Teach relationships, sex education and consent
  • Ensure that online safety and handling relationships online is taught throughout the school.
  • Ensure all safeguarding training is up to date and all staff are trained to recognise signs of sexist bullying.
  • Ensure students know that it is acceptable to report this form of behaviour and that their complaint will be dealt with sensitively.