Homophobia & misogyny amongst boys in school needs to be tackled
With the news that a 9 year old boy killed himself after homophobic bullying at school, there needs to be serious efforts to teach primary school age children about tolerance and challenging gender stereotypes.
A nine year-old boy in Denver, killed himself after he was the victim of homophobic bullying at school. Jamel Myles had come out to his parents in the summer holidays but found such victimisation at his school that he tragically took his own life. At nine years old.
From a distance, the only way to respond to such tragic events is to think about how to make sure it doesn’t happen to any other kids, which is why issues of not just bullying and gender stereotypes need to be tackled young. We need to be bringing our boys up better.
Most of us know the score growing up – if you cry you’re a girl or gay, if you’re smart you’re a girl or gay, if you wear anything colourful you’re a girl or gay, if you’re not good at football you’re a girl or gay, if you have a haircut you’re a girl or gay…OK, you get it. Deviations from pure ‘boy behaviour’ are watched for by the playground hyena pack and called out as a weakness in the most derogatory terms imaginable – that it’s the kind of thing the opposite sex or a different sexuality might do, those apparently lesser beings.
This has been played out in schools for many, many years, but it seems finally things are beginning to change, or at least, the issue is no longer being ignored.
Re-Think On Teaching
This week The Guardian ran a story on teachers who have begun to challenge the way boys are taught. One teacher, Mark Roberts, from Tavistock College in Devon, says existing measures of boy-focused lessons, which typically revolve around sport and competition, is counter-productive as it reinforces stereotypes. He told them, “We have this kind of toxic masculine culture where to be successful at academic work is seen as effeminate. They’re not just seen as swots, but not being real men and real boys…I really emphasise gender as a construct and how society expects boys and men, and women and girls, to behave.”
It’s not just individual teachers taking matters into their own hands – new guidelines being drafted by Education Scotland, NHS boards and the Scottish Government, children will be told from the age of 5, that “your gender is what you decide.” The Scotsman reported that lessons will teach children about equality and state how the way others see gender shouldn’t limit what they can do in life. Teachers will give examples challenging stereotypes saying both boys and girls can play football, and both can cry.
While the usual conservative forces are crying foul about ‘right-on’ schooling, there is clear evidence in other parts of the world that progressive education can address gender-based violence and discrimination in wide society.
Educating boys to help girls
In Nairobi, Kenya, there is a No Means No Worldwide programme which aims to reduce the huge problem of sexual violence there, where almost a quarter of girls have been victims of sexual assault. In schools, it initially took the form of teaching girls how to defend themselves from attack but was then extended to teaching the boys to change the mentality around women and to intervene if they see an attack. Called ‘Your Moment Of Truth’ the classes were a big success, with the percentage of boys who intervened or alerted authorities when they witnessed a physical and sexual assault rising from 26% to 74% and the boys taught were less likely to endorse myths about sexual assault.
The people behind the project have seen that if a society-wide problem exists, there needs to be a change in values at the root.
With such thoughts in mind, from September 2019 sex and relationship education will become compulsory for all children in England. Children right from 4 years old at primary school will be taught about safe relationships, and older children will be taught about online pornography and sexting – values of tolerance for genders and sexualities are at its core.
Lots of teaching organisations are expressing concern that there seems little plan to train up teachers for these changes, and with faith schools allowed to create their own ‘safer’ versions, it remains to be seen how effective it will be.
Nevertheless, it looks like there is a movement growing towards building a safer more tolerant society, for both genders, built from schools upwards. It’s about getting children to show respect towards each other, regardless of sexuality – and by extension that expectations around your gender shouldn’t hold you back. This all follows years of hard work, by organisations like the Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, run by Alex Holmes, which already has 28,000 participants in its ambassador scheme in the UK and Ireland. The ambassadors are recruited from the student body and act at a playground and corridor level to support victims and deter bullies. “It’s about speaking out,” says Alex, “I didn’t speak out when I was bullied and a lot of people don’t. We want to put out a clear message that if you are being made to feel upset or uncomfortable or unsafe, you can talk to someone. We want to encourage empathy and compassion in other young people.”
But it’s not just up to organisations or teachers, it’s about parents too. And brothers. And uncles. Family friends. Everyone needs to be communicating to our boys that being clever is not a weakness but a strength. That crying isn’t just for girls. That being a girl or being gay is not an insult. That true strength comes from standing up to those who tell you any different.
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