Reinforcing hegemonic masculinity in the name of boy school tradition
Today I gave an impassioned speech to my junior social studies class to critically think and dissect the old adage of “boys will be boys” as the boy school “tradition” of final senior year silly season begins; a sanctioned period in which students preparing to leave the school for final exams and university engage in bombastic, ego-driven, raucous behaviour and harassment of junior students that show a flagrant disregard of school and hostel rules.
The tradition is legitimised by practicing boys as a necessary ritual to mark the leaving of the nest to become a “man” and an adult; something all students will ultimately grow to look forward to.
While talking with these juniors, I began to feel the weight of being a teacher who has failed to protect and holisitically develop his students emotionally and mentally. Around me, a group of fourteen year old first year students began to tear up and get emotional; struggling to openly discuss what being a “man” is, and in what manner it is or is not represented by the school traditions:
Being a man is not some sort of definition of testosterone fueled machismo and sense of paternalistic duty to the “weak” (however that plays out),
but rather is a commitment to being a good human who can hold the courage of their convictions.
Having the confidence to stand up against behaviour that fundamentally they know is wrong despite the actions of peers and others around them. And doing so in a committed, constant and consistent manner, not just when it best suits the individual.
To trust that inner voice, and not be swayed by that degenerate excuse of “being a lad”, “boys being boys”. Not wanting to fall back on this easy out that abdicates responsibility.
To show strength and bravery, not through reinforcing structural and physical intimidation, but through taking the onus to break the cycle and to deal with the repercussions from those upholding the structure, no matter the consequence.
The irony of setting a precedent for the start of adult life through joyously engaging in anti-social behaviour (legitimised as “letting off steam”) was lost on the junior class-men.
I don’t think they fully grasped the gravitas of what they were experiencing and grappling with; they’re both too young and too embedded within a system to consciously reflect on the emerging cognitive dissonance. Once the normal teaching resumed and the lesson ended, the words and emotion seemed to be quickly forgotten.
I most likely leave my short teaching career at the end of next month without having made much of an immediate impact; I only hope I planted enough seeds for potential change somewhere down the line. Though a part of me feels I would be lying if I said I was confident and had hope ofthis happening. For me, it is becoming increasingly apparent that students often succeed in spite of these sorts of boy school cultural norms, not because of them.
It needs to be remembered that structural violence plays out within hegemonic groups as well. It is how practices of intimidation, suppression, repression, and subjection are socialised as learned behaviour and repeated as unconscious norms; especially when they’re reinforced through the ethos of sanctioned “tradition”.
How comforting to know that, as a teacher, I was an instrument in passively perpetuating this system.