The Issue of the Day

Latest News Thursday, 11 Mar 2021

Many schools have been galvanised into some deep thinking following the revelations and insights we have gleaned from Grace Tame (Young Australian of the Year); Chanel Contos, (a 22-year-old Sydney school graduate); Brittany Higgins (former staffer at Parliament house) and numerous others. Those who have not been heard – those who are silent or are silenced - are represented well through these young women.

By extension, there has been a great deal of commentary regarding the behaviour of many young men who don’t seem to understand (or want to understand) what ‘consent’ means or fail to consider that what they may be doing constitutes a crime. Some principals have noted (‘Principals Seek Change After Sexual Assault’; Sun Herald 21 Feb) that ‘the problem of sexual assault goes beyond the school system and requires parent involvement in particular’. Unsupervised parties, drugs and alcohol consumption and overt lasciviousness are a potent cocktail. Laissez faire, permissive parenting is certainly a major contributing factor in the breakdown of social order.
The attitudes that many young men have of young women are formed early, well before senior school. In relation to school-age kids, young men don’t suddenly emerge from a cocoon and become feral and behave in deplorable ways against young women. They formulate attitudes and behaviours almost from preschool and have these reinforced or mitigated by living in a particular familial, societal and cultural context. Many commentators have noted that this is a problem which affects all schools not just a handful of ‘elite’ schools. If anything, I think there are some young men who feel entitled in life and this manifests itself in the ways these young men treat women. So, it is not so much an issue of one or another school, perhaps more an issue of the ‘born to rule’, entitled young men feeling it is their right to ‘have’ what is theirs!  

I will be talking to, and hopefully learning from, principals and others over the next few weeks about the role we play as schools, and how best to start the process of educating our boys and girls on these issues that have had rightful media exposure. There is no doubt that the once-only chat to kids is next to useless as we need a cultural shift in thinking which will only occur with a more systemic approach.  

The general consensus in talking to my colleagues is that a large proportion of the blame can be laid at the feet of the porn industry. Keep in mind that many parents are totally unaware of when and how their kids access porn and that over 80% of all porn shows violence against women. Parents need to have conversations with their kids about this sooner rather than later. How to have conversations can be found here.

(Furthermore, if you are wondering how the porn industry has shaped the views and opinions of young men and women there is a documentary worth watching - ‘The Porn Factor’ - a documentary on SBS - 10 Unsettling Things We Learnt From ‘The Porn Factor’ here. It is sad to see the number of young women in this documentary who feel they have to succumb to what the boys want and just as pathetic to see how ignorant young men are of young women’s desires). 

Our next Fathering Project afternoon will be with dads only. We will be discussing these issues – and how we, as fathers, can educate our children and ensure they grow up understanding ‘Consent’ and we will examine what respect means to young people. We will also discuss the pernicious aspects of the porn industry. This will form part of a broader approach to dealing with these issues. 
And whilst we are on the topic of adoring fathers and the ways in which we can (dis)empower our daughters, it may be worth considering if a father’s loving phrase ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ helps or hinders a girl’s social and emotional development. (Dads may want to read ‘Daddy’s Little Princess is a Dumb Thing to Call Your Daughter’ found here)
There are so many aspects, influences and considerations we need to talk about when it comes to the issues of how young men and women connect. The beauty industry, unnecessary cosmetic surgery, parents inability to say “no”, body image, etc all of which intersects and overlaps with these contemporary issues of significant import.
It is certainly worth considering the ways in which the beauty industry is influencing young women (a good story can be found here - 7 Ways The Beauty Industry Convinced Women That They Weren't Good Enough - Are your biggest "flaws" really just some of the beauty industry's greatest marketing successes? by Amanda Scherker (HuffPost, 2017). The relevance here is the extent to which so many young women feel the need to capitulate to the demands of boys. This has to change as much as anything.  

More recently, we have seen the re-emergence of social ills which seem grossly and disproportionately amplified through social media and which run against the grain of a pluralistic, tolerant society - toxic male separatist movements, racism and xenophobia, white supremacism, etc all of which similarly are male-led or dominated ideologies. The apotheosis of this whole problem in my mind was when the US voted a perfidious president who gloated about ‘grabbing them by the pussy’. What does that tell us?  

Sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming and the instinct is to protect. That is a fair enough instinct, but we also need to educate and empower, and I am hopeful this is the time to make the change.   

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