Man Up? Men need to stand up and challenge sexism.

A values driven school will use those values as principles that guide behaviour. These behaviours need to relate to the lives and actions of the whole school community: the adults need to live and model the values as much as the children do. As adults we set examples which are often determined by our experience and social background, our beliefs, culture, faith and also by our gender.

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When we see such shocking reports as this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41499243  and with child-on-child sexual offences on the increase as reported here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41504571 and here https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/huge-rise-alleged-sexual-assaults-under-18s  there is clearly an issue which needs addressing in terms of sexualised behaviours by children and young people at an early age, particularly relating to the conduct of boys.

In the wake of the revelations into the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, some professions and businesses have been considering the extent of sexism and misogyny within their staff. Questions are being asked within the Football Association in regard of the conduct of Mark Sampson and others. Education is not exempt from this debate. Just this week this article https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/schools-are-not-immune-virulent-sexual-harassment referenced the conduct not only of our male pupils but also of some male staff.

‘Lad culture’ is probably something that has evolved since the dawn of humanity but the growth of popular culture and of social media has promoted stereotypes and not actively discouraged certain behaviours. Briefly in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in our universities, there might have been some awareness raised of sexist attitudes, but just this very morning on BBC Breakfast a recent undergraduate admitted that in his student days he was part of the ‘rugby club culture’ and that he participated in ‘leering, chanting and ‘not taking no for an answer‘ the latter part of which he felt uncomfortable in developing further.

As male teachers in education, we are often told that we have to be ‘role models’ for our young male pupils. Whilst we have enough on our plates already and could never be ‘substitute’ fathers or brothers, in many cases we are the only positive male presence in the lives of our boys.

Men therefore need to be able to challenge sexist and other inappropriate behaviours in school. We have heard, even with primary aged children, of boys groping female staff and pupils and these would need to be dealt with as safeguarding concerns. Sex education lessons sometimes raise questions that even broad-minded adults may blush at. We know that these behaviours were challenged and dealt with, but the matter of how a primary aged boy thinks any of these as appropriate begs the question about his actions and attitudes as an adult.

A recent episode of Educating Greater Manchester featured Year 7s in a relationship, ‘dating’, breaking up and making up. Both had been ‘dating’ in their primary school. Are children of this age really ready, emotionally or socially, to say they are dating? Are they ready to cope with the emotional impact of a ‘break up’ and the way it will affect their mindset, friendships and academic work? The boy, the less mature of the pair, seemed quite possessive.

Likewise, any boys who think it acceptable to strike a girl need to be challenged. Any violent act needs to be addressed but this aspect should be especially acted upon not only for the act itself but what it implies in our society.   The boy, and equally as likely the girl,  may have witnessed domestic violence themselves. The cycle of DV needs to be challenged and broken.

Whilst all of these matters will be dealt with by anyone in school, there is a moral obligation upon our male staff to stand firm with the example set and to challenge the stereotypes that this infographic illustrates.

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Do our male teachers always act in the appropriate manner? Many do, but these are some examples of what we have heard from some schools.

  • Overheard from a neighbouring room after school: male staff ‘ranking’ the female staff by ‘desirability’. The actual terminology used is inappropriate for this medium.
  • Overheard in a staffroom; ‘The trouble with the female staff here is that they are only interested in chasing boyfriends, getting married and having babies’.
  • A male teacher giving the name of an adult film actor to a child to include in a story.
  • One male teacher challenged by a male member of SLT about sexist comments to and about female colleagues: ‘Some people are offended by the comments you have made’; ‘Well send them to me I’ll have a word’; ‘Actually, it’s me!’. The offender had the good grace to leave the school shortly afterwards.

Challenge. This is the key word. Challenge: because it isn’t acceptable. Challenge: because it’s wrong. Challenge: because if you joined the profession to make a difference, here you can make a difference!

The revelations about the conduct of Weinstein suggest that this has been known about for years but fear has been a factor in keeping his behaviour hidden and to allow it to continue. The Sampson case suggests that some degree of cover up or an inherently sexist culture within the FA. Fear, for career prospects or of social exclusion, may have been a factor in the lack of challenge of such incidents detailed above.

Social media and the internet is a powerful tool to challenge but also to reinforce negative cultures. Male tweeters can be passive-aggressive in their tweets and selective in their use of language and quoting statistics about the numbers of women teachers and the numbers reaching leadership positions. This is dismissive of the experience of all of those women who have had their career paths diverted or scuppered because of attitudes about gender or because of stereotypical assumptions of pregnancy and maternity.

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Wednesday 11th October 2017 marked International Day of the Girl, and though unable to contribute to any of the speaking events we wanted to contribute to the agenda of the day and to do this particularly by challenging sexism, both in attitudes and in inappropriate behaviour. We began drafting this blog last week have added and edited  after recent events and revelations.

We also shouldn’t forget men who are victims of sexual assault, but who might not feel able to speak out/up as openly as women do. And by creating the divide: women are victims and men are predators, we are not giving them the chance to speak up. We feel passionately that it is not about gender, it is about human rights, it is about men and women coming together to fight against what is morally and legally wrong.

The term ‘Man Up’ is regarded as offensive, with implications that men should behave in a certain manner, not express emotions or display any sensitivity. Let us reclaim the term. The #MeToo and #IHearYou hashtags have allowed women to speak of their experiences without fear. They can be used by men too to call out what they believe to be wrong. We have the skills to challenge the culture. ‘Man Up’ and use them!

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4 thoughts on “Man Up? Men need to stand up and challenge sexism.

  1. Pingback: Call it out! | Healthy Toolkit

  2. Pingback: 2017: The Year in Wellbeing Posts | Healthy Toolkit

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