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All-Boys schools and violence against women

As discourse continues to grow surrounding Australia’s attitude toward women, men around the country have reflected on what they can do better to create safer spaces for women. Federal Independent MP David Pocock told the media that “this is first and foremost a men’s issue” and called for a “fundamental shift in the way we treat women in this country.” I wholeheartedly agree with his points, and in doing so, I have been incredibly reflective of my time at private school.

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For six years, I spent my school days at St. Kevin’s College, flying through my teen years and rubbing shoulders with the other 2000 testosterone-filled boys. In my time there, St. Kevin's became the focal point of the public's distrust of all-boys schools. In the space of roughly four years, the school found itself in numerous controversies surrounding the treatment of women. This includes students performing misogynistic chants on a tram in 2019 and several female staff alleging sexual harassment from colleagues and students. 

I should preface my arguments by stating that I am incredibly grateful for what my high school experience gave me. I met amazing people (peers and teachers) from whom I learned countless valuable lessons and still love and rely on to this day. This should be a widely held view by students. For the most part, although it might not seem like it, private schools are still filled with caring, hard-working, and generous people who care greatly about and make valuable contributions to our community. 

But obviously, most is not enough. For too long, all boys schools have continually failed to give boys the reality check required that would make them understand the consequences and connotations their actions carry. The media and the private school community’s constant reiteration of boys' upper-class stature shelters them from the truth of a functioning society and crushes their individuality.  It makes them vulnerable to inheriting behaviours from the wrong people. 

Boys who form toxic ideas about women and society grow comfortable in bad environments because they come from the same background as their peers. Private schools fail to stamp this out. A need to uphold a privileged reputation is prioritised over a need to treat women better. 

My biggest issue with the media coverage of events like this is the specific focus on private

schools and the disregard for a wider upper-class problem. When reporting on these issues, phrases like “elite boys school” or “prestigious Catholic” are often thrown around. Reporting like this only perpetuates this misconception of the families in private school communities.

The idea that these boys are at the top of society, outstanding citizens, and above the average person is constantly repeated into the ears of these boys from an early age. On the sporting field, on the stage, and in most places outside of school, these boys are given countless opportunities that naturally would inflate anyone's ego. There, of course, isn’t anything wrong with giving a child a plethora of opportunities to grow and succeed, as long as their advantage is continually reiterated. 

The messages of privilege, however, should be done so in a way that emphasises responsibility, not power.

Instead of  “You have a great opportunity to get ahead of other people” the message should be,  “You have a great opportunity to contribute meaningfully alongside other people.” By doing anything otherwise, boys are virtually given a licence to act in a manner whereby they don’t respect minorities as they should. 

No psychology degree is required to point out: If you tell 13-year-old boys they are above other members of society, they will act like they are above other members of society.  

When you walk into St. Kevin’s College, you immediately feel a part of a community. When you pull that candy-striped blazer over your shoulders, you get this sense of belonging and brotherhood. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with this. Wouldn’t giving a bunch of young men a sense of belonging be a good thing?

The problem stems from the reputation put on these schools, these blazers, and these establishments. As a society, we no longer frame these schools as a place to encourage young men to follow their passions and educate them into promising and noble pursuits. These schools are now externally viewed as places where you can show off scholastic achievements or rub shoulders with the people you think you deserve to rub shoulders with. 

When a community tries too hard to uphold ‘elitism’ and ‘prestige’, it innately crushes the individuality of those within the community. If boys are moulded into a certain ‘elite’ criteria, they waste away the years that shape their character the most. If a boy's individuality is missing at school, they look for it outside of school, and that is where they run into dangerous and vulgar ideas about women. 

We should never have gotten to a point where this generation receives their ideas about feminism from the internet. The chances of a young vulnerable 14-year-old boy watching a season of ‘Gilmore Girls’ are unsurprisingly much slimmer than the same boy watching a YouTube video titled; “Ben Shapiro’s Best Moments - OWNING SJWs and Liberals”. Giving a young man free will on the internet is not necessarily an issue, but allowing them to fall into a problematic echo chamber certainly is.

This, of course, is not an issue specific to all-boys private schools. However, these problems are more prevalent in these environments, because a large number of students are raised in incredibly similar backgrounds. A lack of diverse backgrounds in a schooling environment fails to give students the reality check required. 

I am grateful that I went to a smaller community-driven primary school, where I was brought up with kids who were far less privileged than myself. Too many teenagers who attend private schools are not given this same experience, and thus, feel comfortable in a toxic environment. 

This, until very recently, is something that hasn’t been focused on in the private school system. 

St. Kevin’s College did not create or manifest a misogynistic attitude for their students to inherit. A failure to directly call existing attitudes, allowed it to continue. 

The lack of attention to the right issues at St. Kevin’s shaped misogynistic behaviour. The behaviours that will maintain our place in the upper class are emphasised more than our behaviours around women. Hair touching your collar? Sent to the barber. Wearing a hoodie to school? Detention and a letter home. Make a vulgar comment about a female teacher? “Yeah, be better.”


It’s not that boys don’t understand that what they’re doing is wrong; it’s that they aren’t made aware of the just consequences of their actions.


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