CULTURE

Transforming young boys into the men we want

By Jonathan Smith

The theme this month for the FeministSA website was the challenge as to What is the contribution you have to make?  Jen’s challenge was that, as a feminist, what are you doing to make a difference,  and are you on the right path to ensure that difference is being made? As the new month encroaches on us, this is a challenge I am facing in my current life and direction.

So after a long recent struggle with loads of self-reflection, self-awareness and prayer, I very recently decided to change life directions in my late twenties.  Having become completely disillusioned with the corporate world and mind-set and the continual quest for money, I decided to follow my passion for teaching; and thus next week I will be starting at the bottom again as a teaching intern.

My current challenge is that the school that decide to take chance on me is a Traditional All Boys School.  I myself schooled at an all-boys Boarding School, and I cannot emphasise enough that such an environment is extremely sexist.  In fact, reflecting on what was said by students and the male teachers, it could almost be said to be misogynistic.  There is the continual barrage of language and images that the boys share in describing and, dare I say, lusting, after these ‘things with boobs’ that are not always within reach, but definitely there to serve one’s desires.  The concept of the ‘AXE’ deodorant man is perceived as the ideal goal for a boy to aspire to, and girls are either classified easy or ugly.  I recall many conversations in the bathrooms about who scored with who and how and which girl is easy to get drunk…I think you can grasp the image.  And even the underlying philosophy of many of these schools comes from a basis of developing “Real, Manly Men”, the sort of men who need to lead and be in control.  In my five years there, I can’t ever recall hearing any discussion about the injustice of gender inequality, nor challenges to undo the injustices.  It was a man’s world, run by men, trained to be strong men in society.

So as I enter such an environment again, which I doubt has changed much over the last nine years, how do I make a contribution to the feminist cause?  I am aware of the massive potential I would have, but I have racked my brainand come up with little in terms of real practical solutions or measures to implement apart from the influences I would exert in my day to day dealings, conversation and lessons.

So readers, do you think that is enough?  Should I seek to, perhaps, institute a young feminist club as a cultural activity?  Would this work or perhaps distance the boys further?  Does anybody have any other good ideas or concepts?  As I enter this challenge I am reminded that great injustice happens when good people do nothing.

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4 thoughts on “Transforming young boys into the men we want”

  1. wow jonathan!i can understand where you’re coming from.i have an interview at a traditonal boys school as well and wondering why i even applied given my politics,but that’s a conversation for another day.i would suggest that you do not create a separate programme to make the boys aware of feminism.rather find opportunities through the school activities to bring their attention to sexism because we out our gender everyday.i have had experience with young guys in high school and they are unconscious about their ideas but i’ve seen they are more open to challenges.so if there’s a debating club,suggest topics that address gender issues,or if there’s an sca,ask about the role of women in the bible or if there’s interaction with the sister school,take the initative in creating an activity where gender biases are challenged…all the best!

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  2. First, thumbs up for taking the gamble!

    Second, I’ve been working through similar questions, although primarily concerning issues of race (which obviously has many overlaps with what we are discussing here). I regularly meet with a black (actually “colored”, but I’ll skip the technicalities of racial hierarchies for now and stick with black) student studying in a mostly white environment, and we struggle with how to challenge the overt, and more often very much invisible, racism he faces daily, struggling with how he can help change those with whom he is in contact.
    My one suggestion is that if we are correct about the workings of oppression and oppressive systems in their various forms, then the facts will be on our side. It sounds simple in a sense, but if black people continue to be oppressed, then the facts will be on the side of those who argue for this. Now obviously we come from a centuries-long intellectual tradition which produced tools of interpreting the world in such a way that the oppression of woman, black people, homosexuals etc remained unchallenged, but in reality it is not that difficult to challenge the foundations of these ideas. The ideology which reinforce the thinking which says that it is OK to continue such an oppressive system is more difficult to exorcise, but if you simply study the facts, then you have to face that things are the world is set up for men to win.

    I wonder whether that might not be one of the first things that those in education should start with: helping kids to get their facts right, helping that young boys get pre-loaded with enough data on what is going on in the world concerning gender issues.

    Questions such as: “who are doing the work world and who are getting the pay”, or, “who are the best students and who are getting the jobs” all force us to notice that something is wrong.
    Doing this imply that we stick with what is supposed to be the core of education, while creating the building blocks for a next generation challenging these injustices.

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  3. Hi Jonathan. May I suggest that you watch Kavita Ramdas’s TED video — “Radical women embracing tradition”

    It may give you some ideas. she’s saying that we can use tradition to effect (meaningful) change.

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  4. Hi Jonathan,
    I did exactly what you did – left a comfortable corporate job and went into teaching and I’ve been teaching for nearly 5 years now. I’m also at a private school, and although it is co-ed, I am still amazed at how deeply entrenched the gender roles are. I make a point of tackling gender perceptions every day that I teach. I would love to help but there is no way I can cram everything into this little comments box. No doubt you can get my email from the site, so please feel free to email me. Good teachers are priceless. We must help and support each other.
    I applaud your decision to follow your calling and I wish you strength and inspiration in your new job.

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