Tackling Male Violence Starts in the Classroom

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

An EDDi Provocative from Dr Stephen Whitehead

This EDDI Extra is powerful and provocative, deliberately so.

EDDi’s raison d’être is to occupy the space between casual blogging and formal academic journals, with more editorial control than the former but less constraints than the latter.

Our articles are research-informed but, free of the conventions of formal academic writing, have more latitude. As a regular reader, we hope you’ll agree that EDDi has a voice and that we try to use that voice for good — whether that’s digesting important research, sharing news and opinion or, like today, offering pieces which ask you to think, reflect, and ponder.

Written by Dr Stephen Whitehead, today’s ‘EDDi Extra’ (below) asks the question:

What do Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Julia James and Sabina Nessa have in common?

Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Answer: These women were murdered by men in the UK over the past year.

If you’ve followed recent UK news then you’ll recognise the names above.

But do you know the names of the other 80 women killed by men since Sarah Everard was murdered by Wayne Couzens? Probably not, though their UK families and friends certainly do.

Here is another question, what do the women and their murderers have in common?

Answer: They all went to school.

Yes, among those delightful faces in your primary school classes sit the next generation of female victims and the next generation of their male murderers, rapists, abusers and torturers. Sure, it is a most unpleasant thought to contemplate but that doesn’t make it any less true.

There is absolutely no chance of stemming this tide of male violence and its ensuing misery until we educationalists step in to address it.

The judicial system won’t stop it.

Every country in the world suffers from male violence and every country in the world has penalties for it.

Wayne Couzens won’t ever leave prison. Small comfort.

Because very soon we are going to read of yet another woman murdered by a man — inevitable as on average one woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK.

In the year ending March 2020, 81 women in the UK were killed in a domestic homicide. The Office of National Statistics (UK) estimates that one in three women over the age of 16 in the UK were subjected to at least one form of harassment in the past year — a figure that increases to two in three for women aged 16 to 34. [i]

In the very week this article is published, a couple are knifed to death in their Somerset home while their children slept in another bedroom — a male neighbour has been charged. The body of 18 year-old Bobbi-Anne McLeod is found in Plymouth — murdered. And three men are charged with the 1996 murder of schoolgirl Caroline Glachan in Scotland.

As you read about these horrors, there are many thousands of females around the world being subjected to rape, abuse, violence, harassment and murder. Violence, especially sexual violence against females has become normalised in society. The day I began work on this article, women across the UK are boycotting nightclubs because of the epidemic of ‘drink spiking’ and the ensuing risk of rape and harassment at venues. While BBC 3 presents two documentaries featuring Zara McDermott and her uncovering of a ‘rape culture raging in Britain’s schools’. [ii]

Yes, in our schools.

You may prefer to imagine rape culture is not a problem in your school, but how confident can you be about that? How many of your female students are already caught up with the ‘sexting’ culture, feeling pressured to send potential boyfriends nude photos of themselves?

It’s happening, and in the most ‘prestigious’ international and independent schools.

This is the real global pandemic we face as a human society.

‘Toxic masculinity is so engrained in society we interpret it as a ‘progressive act’ when urban planners start focusing on how to design cities so as to make the streets safer for women, enabling them feel more secure when moving around a city. We applaud when trains and subway cars start having ‘women only’ carriages. We consider it a sensible move when cities such as Seoul find it necessary to introduce women-only taxis. And we look with some incredulity when a quarter of a million Japanese women feel it necessary to download an app designed to stop men groping them on rush-hour trains. This is how bad it is. So bad we have stopped seeing it.’ [iii]

If you are a woman reading this then it is 100% certain that you’ve been on the receiving end of male aggression, abuse, sexism, unwanted sexual attention/messaging, harassment, perhaps even a lot worse.

If you are a man reading this, how does that make you feel? It should make you feel ashamed, damned annoyed and determined to do something to stop it.

This problem is like a virus within the male species and it is global. I know, it is just too vast a problem to comprehend. But comprehend it we must. Because this is one virus that cannot be eradicated by a vaccine.

We educationalists are the only antidote available and we must apply it as soon as these innocent boys and girls enter our professional domain — ideally from pre-school onwards.

The first step is to ensuring our schools are totally inclusive. What exactly that means and how to go about it is detailed in my forthcoming co-authored book, Creating a Totally Inclusive School. [iv]

Total Inclusivity means recognising, valuing, protecting and nurturing diverse identities, including those of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, disability, age, religion and language.

This will provide the school with the necessary framework and value system to enable it to move forward to the next stage which is tackling misogyny, sexism and male violence — in the classroom.

A key element here is getting teachers (and parents) to understand that gender identity is not a biological given but one of a number of socially intersected identities which go to form the individual’s (child’s) sense of self and identity.

In other words, male does not automatically equate with problematic behaviour, any more than are all adult men a threat to women. There are different types of masculinities and only one of them, socially referred to as ‘toxic masculinity’ but which psychologists define as ‘hegemonic/traditional’ masculinity, is the problem one.

Unfortunately, it is also the most common.

The good news is that because male identity is social, not biological, it can be made less toxic with the right interventions. The question remains however, do schools care enough to want to do something about it?

Schools around the world have been caught up in the performative treadmill, fixated on results and targets, with far too little attention given to how toxic masculinity might be addressed in education and how we can educate boys to have healthy relationships, respect females, develop emotional intelligence, and regulate their emotions.

Do you imagine boys/men are going to be able to overcome their toxic masculine social conditioning by themselves? Hardly. This conditioning starts young and is reinforced by 24/7 social media and all the prevailing messages about what it means to be male, to be a man.

There has to be an intervention but it’s not going to come from politicians, the judicial systems, social welfare, or an obsession with competitive sport. Nor is it going to come from having great academic results.

‘Unesco and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, among others, emphasise the importance of “learning to be” and “learning to live together”, not just “learning to know” and “learning to do”. (Dr Sue Roffey, UCL)

I am not saying we ditch ‘learning to know’ and ‘learning to do’. But surely ‘learning to be’ and ‘learning to live together’ must come first.

For all our sakes, for our children’s sakes, but especially for the sakes of all those girls and women who are going to be raped, abused and murdered by men in the years to come, we need to be planning our interventions as educationalists because we are the only antidote left.

By: Dr Stephen Whitehead


[i] Whitehead, S. (2021) Toxic Masculinity: curing the virus. London: Andrews. (p. 35)

[ii] Aow, A, Hollins, S. and Whitehead, S. (2022 — forthcoming) Creating a Totally Inclusive School. London: Routledge.

[iii] Whitehead, S. (2021) Toxic Masculinity: curing the virus. London: Andrews. (p. 35)

[iv] Aow, A, Hollins, S. and Whitehead, S. (2022 — forthcoming) Creating a Totally Inclusive School. London: Routledge.

Originally published at https://eddi.substack.com on November 26, 2021.



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