Feminist organizations don’t have nearly enough opportunities to talk to young children about why equality is important, writes Jenn Martinelli
Note: This entire post is a direct response to this ridiculous article from The Telegraph. I suggest reading it first for maximum enjoyment of my highly clever rebuttal.
On Wednesday, the Daily Mail reported that a school in Oxford has become the first to introduce “Good Lad” workshops, in which boys are singled out for sessions that teach them about “the scale of sexual harassment and violence aimed at female students” and how they must stand up for women’s rights.
The workshops are the latest in a welcome series of initiatives in which equality activists are being invited into schools, driven by the belief that children need to be educated about the effects of sexism and the challenges girls and women face in today’s society.
In November last year, a program in London Schools in which two American women, one a former sex crime prosecutor, presented information to teenage boys to help them understand how to appropriately treat their female peers. Here are examples of comments from girls about how boys their age make them feel, in order to illustrate the affect their behavior has on their classmates:
- “Rape jokes just aren’t funny.”
- “Porn seems to be influencing expectations from guys. I don’t want to do some of those things.”
- “Calling me a slut in front of your friends because you think my skirt is too short doesn’t make me feel good.”
A London Times article about this presentation describes some of the class as follows: They start the class by asserting that “misogyny is on the rise”, before going on to “describe real-life sex crimes that have happened to teenagers in this area with brutal accuracy”. The article concludes that by the end of the session, the boys are “scarred for life”. It certainly is upsetting to find out the kinds of things that are said and done to women, and I can imagine it would scar people. Imagine how much more scarred the women who actually experience this abuse feel than the boys who apparently found it so upsetting, according to The Times.
While some seem to believe that we should spare boys this kind of information because of other problems they may face in their life (such as a higher suicide rate and lower achievement in schools), others say things like, “That doesn’t make any sense. How does hiding the truth about sexual assault and violence help men feel less suicidal?” and “Why would suggesting to boys that they not call girls sluts make them do badly in school?”
Primarily, sources suggest the best way to deal with any upset feelings boys may have when they learn about unfair treatment of their peers, is for these very same boys to treat girls as their equals and not call them sluts or make rape jokes. As outrageous as this seems, there is some evidence it actually may help both genders feel better about themselves and each other.
Another organization, A Call to Men UK, also goes into schools, stating on its website: “A CALL TO MEN UK believes that preventing violence against women and girls is primarily the responsibility of men. We re-educate through trainings (sic), workshops, presentations, school projects and community initiatives.”
“Of course”, said every woman we spoke to about this statement. “If men are being violent towards women it seems like the most obvious and best time to intervene is when they are children and they can be ‘raised right’.” Anecdotal evidence of boys being “raised right” suggests that they become well-adjusted adult men who treat women with respect.
And yet another, the Great Men Value Women project, frames its mission as about helping young men, but it’s also driven by the belief that young men need to be re-educated as feminists – not just for their own good, but for women’s too. “Wow, an organization that is helping both men and women, what a great idea!” said one woman we spoke to. “I wish more organizations would do things like that.”
On the section of their website listing the organization’s values, their final point simply states: “Feminism: This says it all”, with a link to a video of TED X talk entitled: “We Should All Be Feminists”.
Says Dan Bell, in a recent Telegraph article, “Really? Who says so?”
I say so, sir. And everyone who believes that women should in fact enjoy full equality. That’s who.
While some people seem to have a problem with the idea that boys or men should be feminists, feminists don’t understand why anyone would view this in a negative light.
As Asiz Ansari now famously said, “If you believe that men and women have equal rights, and then someone asks you if you’re a feminist, you have to say yes. Because that’s how words work.”
Mr. Bell goes on to say, “Most importantly though, since when was it acceptable to impose ideology on school children? And for that matter, would we ever dare to suggest school girls ought to be taught that Great Women Value Men?”
Mr. Bell, nobody needs to teach girls that society values men in a special class in school. They are already indoctrinated by everything in today’s society to understand how much value men have. I can say that with authority, because I am, in fact, a woman, in today’s society. I know exactly what sort of messages women and girls receive about boys and men. Here are some:
- “Boys will be boys.”
- “Don’t upset boys by telling them the truth about sexual violence that their female peers face.”
- “Boys are better at math than girls.”
- “Women are too emotional. I want a man in charge of making important decisions.”
At this point, honestly, Mr. Bell just goes off the rails ranting about completely irrelevant statistics and tangential news stories somewhat related to boys, but really having nothing to do with the subject at hand.
I am literally certain that any expert on early childhood intervention and education in general would say that childhood is exactly the right time to expose children to things they should know and understand about the proper way to behave and treat their classmates and friends, who will be their future coworkers, life partners, and families. There is no better time to mold boys into responsible, respectful men, who will treat women as their equals, than when they are children.