Teaching Boys and Girls Consent

Thursday, 13 May 2021

The Jewish Day schools have collectively given priority to the issues affecting our young women and men including acknowledging and discussing the importance of consent today.

We have turned our attention to the implementation of a number of age-relevant, school-based initiatives whilst at the same time recognising the equally important role families play in working with our schools and in protecting and supporting their children appropriately.

Our Jewish schools have committed to work with and learn from each other, external experts and our respective leadership teams to promote the wellbeing of our students. We believe that the timeless Jewish values that are inherent in each school’s ethos should forever act as guiding principles dealing with the myriad issues that confront our young people.
We know that influencing cultural norms and talking to young people about CONSENT will take time and will require different approaches for different ages. (Think of a year 5 child’s needs compared to a high school kid or a woman in the workforce?) There will naturally be different approaches to a widespread problem underpinned by an acknowledgement that these issues need to be dealt with early. 

The advertising agency that created the confusing milkshake advertisement on consent could not have got it more wrong. The video pulled from the campaign cost Australian government $3.8m. Some questioned the parliament’s ability to deal with an issue such as Consent given Parliament had been an epicentre of the problem and was now being asked to find solutions.

 (An excellent discussion surfaced recently on The Minefield (ABC Podcast - can politics bring about the change women are demanding?). Any government that deliverers the cringeworthy Milkshake advertisement to deal with consent issues it was said, may not understand what the issues are. However, it is pleasing to see that there has been acknowledgement of many social issues reflected in the budget.   

There will need to be a legislative approach although the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Enquiry Report 2020 is currently getting the dust blown off the cover and may well address many of the issues if it is fully acted on. It is an excellent start with 55 recommendations and it is noted that: 

“To be effective, primary prevention needs long-term sustained effort and a high level of leadership and political will.” 

There is no doubt there are some major issues that need to be dealt with regarding sexist demeaning behaviours at schools and in society at large. However, there seems to be a lack of specificity as to what is being asked for exactly and where one starts. A few weeks ago, there was outrage and there was a strong media focus. What now? Thankfully, I think there are some positive signs emerging.

The current sentiment and talk of consent education (which has become more sharply focussed) is perhaps a reaction to the lack of clear outcomes from the #MeToo movement in so far as what was being demanded from that movement was unclear. Unlike the civil rights movement where the issue of race relations and overt discrimination demanded a specific outcome or women’s suffragette movement which identified the need for equal rights voting, many are unsure as to how to tackle the issue of Consent. 

I have seen some commentators talking about the ‘what’ - teaching respectful relationships (as if this has not always been our focus) but I am more interested in the ‘how’. Whilst it is hoped that the money from the budget will be put to good use – somehow, somewhere – and live in the hope that attitudes can be changed, I still harbour concerns about the average teenager plonking himself in front of the highly rated Married at First Sight complete with its gaslighting of women and faux trauma. (Perhaps they should be made to watch the excellent See What You Made Me Do on SBS). 

The long hard work begins now. And as Michael Gross said:

  1. Start the consent ball rolling at an early age.
  2. Teach no means no.
  3. Emphasise choices.
  4. Teach kids to seek consent.
  5. Model consent at home.
  6. Get dads to step up – it is not just the mothers’ responsibility.  

Finally, well done to my team - the teachers at Mount Sinai - who have started the conversation and have demonstrated a real interest in addressing these issues.  

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