As a school for boys and young men, it has been very important this week that we recognise and celebrate International Women’s Day. In a special Senior School muster, our sons heard about how much progress has been made toward gender equity and how much more progress is still to be made. I write this week asking us, as parents, to check in with our sons regarding this important matter. Parents of Junior School students may wish to store this away for an appropriate conversation at a later time.
It is one thing to recognise International Women’s Day; it is an entirely different challenge to take action collectively to advance gender equity. At Saints we embrace an all-boys education. At the same time, it is absolutely essential that our students understand that we do not live in an all-boy world. Recent press coverage has highlighted an underbelly of vulgar and anti-social behaviour in the wider community, behaviour that includes violence against women and sexual assault. As a school, we can either look at these issues from a distance or we can try to tackle them directly.
Regardless of how connected or disconnected we feel from the issues in the headlines, we have to find a way to respond. The challenge for all of us, together as a community, is to articulate what we mean by respect for women and girls. If we don’t, then we remain bystanders who implicitly approve the gender stereotypes and sexism that lead to damaging relations and actions. This is unacceptable. In our co-parenting role, there are times when it is necessary to speak directly to our boys about matters that challenge, confront and discomfort us.
All boys must understand that, no matter what they have seen on YouTube, no matter what a woman or girl says, no matter what she wears, no matter how she behaves; no woman or young girl has been put on this earth for objectification. We must impart this to our boys.
Another important consideration is language. Every day, across this country and beyond, disrespectful language exists. Specifically, language demeaning to women: to their bodies, their places in society, and to their roles in relationships. This language can exist in all sections of our society and, as co-parents guiding young men, we must insist our boys take a stand by not using or accepting any language that is disrespectful towards women and girls.
This is a commitment to removing the bystander in each of us, to do something practical, and to call out demeaning language. The challenge I put to the boys at Senior School muster is to commit to naming and removing all language that is demeaning to women and girls. That means no sexist slurs, jokes, sexual innuendo and social media posts focusing on objectification.
These issues in our society are not going away, so we must engage our children in the challenge. If we all work to make progress, then our recognition of International Women’s Day will have been authentic.
Tim Browning, Headmaster