Mansplaining and Toxic Masculinity in schools…

I’m in a right mood with Dua Lipa!  There, I’ve said it.

I have been a secret fan of her Pop!  Admittedly these days from the safety of inside my house and my kitchen-dance floor…however, things have changed!  Dua Lipa is now marketing herself as a feminist and this is tricky for me to accept particularly in light of her latest tune: ‘Boys will be Boys’.

This is what I have learned…boys don't try

One of our T&L foci this year at RPCC is BOYS.  We’ve dedicated CPD time to exploring the strategies used to engage boys in our school and attended Matt Pinkett’s presentation of his book ‘Boys Don’t Try?’ which inspired long involved discussions.  We are an honest and transparent bunch and so when I asked everyone to complete an audit: Teacher Expectations – Engaging BOYS at RPCC I am confident that the results are accurate and reliable:

I draw your attention to slide 3 which, for this purpose, is the most pertinent of the 8 statements I put to our teachers.  I think the interest piqued for this result more than any other because as a group of teachers we were trying to uncover whether any of us was inadvertently guilty of phrases that could be labeled Toxic.  Toxic Masculinity is defined in Pinkett’s book and so many of us have read it but what about real examples from within our school…how many of us had dropped this bomb and did we actually know what constitutes Toxic Masculinity?  I put these examples out for debate:

  1. Don’t be such a girl!
  2. Man up!
  3. That’s too girly for you!
  4. Grow a pair!Toxic 6
  5. Man Flu
  6. Mansplaining
  7. Don’t get your knickers in a twist
  8. Boys will be boys
  9. Be a man!

But how many of these are really up for discussion?  When listed as stand-alone exclamations there is little grey area – these are examples of Toxic phrases the we all agreed were not acceptable for use in our school (Results analysis/audit/CPD September 2019).  Why are they not acceptable?  Because we know that our job is to educate and stand as role models and that we must ideally model the behaviour of intelligent, tolerant and open-minded citizens. To put it plainly, we know that these antiquated utterances stigmatise and limit the emotions of boys and men!

Of course this discussion continued past our CPD session (as all good CPD discussions should!) and teachers were reporting a heightened sensitivity to Toxic phrases heard around school – this can only be a good thing!  Teachers at RPCC challenged students in their classrooms when they were heard using Toxic language ‘at’ each other and here’s the important thing:  teachers challenged boys and girls…  Our female students (who may or may not have been mimicking adult role-models) were just as guilty as the boys when throwing around damaging labels aimed at their male peers and always excused in the same way… ‘but I didn’t even swear Miss!’  I could argue that a Toxic use of language designed to disintegrate male egos and fuel insecurities is much more harmful than a quick swear!  Mrs. O’Brien launched a Working Party and its purpose: To conduct in-house research in to Toxic Masculinity.  Many of our teachers joined and they continue to explore not only the way that we teach boys at RPCC and the strategies which will afford the highest levels of progress (both pastorally and academically) but also the abolition of Toxic language in our setting.

In addition, I happened across some lessons imbedded in to the curriculums in our school which promote the safe discussion of Toxic Masculinity in society.  This is an example from Miss Donovan’s English class which unearthed some very interesting insight from her Year 9s:

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When schools closed I decided to send a video link of our usual T&L CPD Briefing via LOOM (a daunting and not completely un-embarrassing venture!) wherein I discussed the things I learned from John Tomsett’s amazing book: ‘This Much I Know About Love Over Fear’.  I was particularly inspired by his chapter on ‘Teaching Cheeky Lads’ which detailed some very sensible and respectful strategies for teaching boys. It was when I was preparing for this session that I happened across Dua Lipa’s song on the radio and it made my ears bleed!John Tomsett

Is Dua Lipa supposed to be a role model?  Does she have a social responsibility?  I think the answer is yes and yes  – with the trappings of fame and success I am afraid these are the burdens she must bare.  Dua Lipa claims to be a feminist now.  In an interview entitled:  “Dua discusses feminism and man-hating… “she claims ‘feminism to me is not man-hating, it’s just being like we deserve the same opportunities”  then she does lots of angry swearing about men before going on to explain that when she eats too much pasta she hates her body…blah blah blah.  It’s angry petulant nonsense given status because of her status.  It is completely irresponsible.

The title of the song I am referring to is ‘Boys will Be Boys’ – you’ll notice the immediate link with number 7 on my list above!  This is an idiomatic expression used to say that we should not be shocked or surprised when we see boys/men behaving in violent or unacceptable ways – implying that this is the way that nature programmed males to be.  Thank you Dua Lipa – this is hugely unhelpful.

Dua Lipa’s lyrics go:Dua

“Boys will be, boys will be boys

But girls will be women…”

Some will argue that Dua Lipa’s lyrics are her feminist objection to the idiomatic expression – I’m afraid I am affording her no such excuse after all, how many school children will understand the difference between using this Toxic phrase ironically or as an insult designed to patronise and demoralise?

It’s impossible not to find this song insulting, in my opinion.  The lyrics suggest that men will forever be immature and that girls will transition from immaturity to maturity (women).  This is a damaging message for young women who look to examples of feminists in society and it is an obvious insult to boys/men.  Dua Lipa claims that she intended this song to be ‘a conversation starter and an eye-opener’…I’m afraid it is an eye opener, but perhaps not in the way that she had hoped – this irresponsible Toxic language stunts our progress and damages young minds and her proclamation that ‘her intentions weren’t to offend anyone’ are frankly unbelievable as she croons “if you’re offended by this song you’re clearly doing something wrong…”.  This conversation (she refers to) had already started and all this song achieves is throwing us back in to the dark by linking males to all that is violent and anti-social.

‘A feminist is an advocate and supporter of the rights and equality of women’.  We don’t need to say bad things about boys/men and we certainly don’t need to be heralding this Pop song as a feminist anthem!

Published by Natalie Reed

Assistant Headteacher - Teaching & Learning

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