Georgie Porgie: An early reference to sexual harassment in English Literature

I was looking through a couple of Nursery Rhyme books to find out how many rhymes had violence in them. There are many.

But this rhyme got my goat and I thought I should write a blog on it.

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

This is a common nursery rhyme taught in kindergarten schools. I learnt it, my son learnt it — it is quite likely I myself taught it to him, without paying
attention to the words. I hope I am wiser now! And yes, my grand-daughters have learnt it too.

So let us first analyse the character of Georgie Porgie.

  • He was a bully and took pleasure in sexually harassing the girls
  • He was a coward as he ran away when the boys came out to play
  • He was an observer and strategist in that he came out to play only when the girls were alone.

There have been and there are plenty of Georgie Porgies around who bully and sexually harass girls, and boys too.

Take this case of a LKG child who walked into school with an awkward gait. When the teacher enquired, she said her father had done something to her. On checking, she was red and bruised around the genitals.

Or the 5th standard girl who went to the school counsellor afraid that she could be pregnant because her older cousin had made her watch pornography with him and touched her inappropriately.

In almost every ‘Growing Up’ session that I have conducted (especially with smaller groups of girls) someone has got up to ask a question, or share a concern prefacing it with, ‘this is happening to my friend and I want to help her’. I answer the question or concern knowing full well that she is talking about herself. I also tell her to meet me after the session and then the pain and trauma spills out.

So, what is sexual harassment? Unwelcome sexual advances, requests or innuendoes for sexual favours and any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature is sexual harassment. The words ‘unwelcome’ is the critical word. Sexual conduct is unwelcome whenever the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome whether a child, teenager or adult.

Georgie Porgie was a coward. A bully at heart — is afraid. Bullies are insecure in their feelings about themselves and so they fight that fear by causing fear in others or run away if they perceive that they can be taken on.

Georgie Porgie was an observer and a strategist. He knew when the girls came out to play. All Georgie Porgies watch, observe and plan their movements. According to the Stairway Foundation, sexual offences begin much before the touching. They begin in the mind of the offender. He selects the target → then builds trust → often makes secret promises → escalates the sexualisation of the relationship → Executes. Moreover, in the case of children they do not fully comprehend to give consent or refusal and they are developmentally not prepared.

Let’s take a look at the response of the girls to Georgie Porgie’s kissing — they cried. They probably felt helpless and afraid. Their response was the typical stereotype of the feminine gender. Girls and women are conditioned to behave in a way that has been dictated down the centuries, also conditioned to believe that they are to blame. The screams are silenced. Wasn’t it strange that so many women came out after years and decades to join the ‘Me Too’ campaign? What made them break their silence? Probably it was the belief that their voices will finally be heard because they came out in numbers!

In this context, what is the origin of the word ‘Eve teasing’? The explanation of the expression has always made me angry. Eve tempted Adam and so somehow the woman is the temptress and deserves to be teased, with an implied thought that she can be sexually abused.

Empowerment therefore has to start from as young an age as possible when children are taught not just about the good and bad touch but more importantly, comfortable and uncomfortable touch. When her cheeks are pulled, if she is uncomfortable she should be taught to object and yell out.

Our children also need to be trusted and believed when they confide.

She said, “I waited for the night, for my mother to come and lie beside me — to tell her what had happened that day. When I told her, the only person I trusted — she said I must have done something for it to happen and she turned her back on me”!

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology