Teacher’s Corner: Toxic Masculinity

Well, this Wednesday there was a particularly rough fight at my school, and while this one escalated rather a lot, fights between the boys are in no way rare at my school. Quite often, I’m puzzled about what they actually want from me when they come complaining, and you never actually get to the bottom of the matter. You get different versions, depending on whom you ask, and usually they cannot even agree what started that particular fight. You get stories that sound like the clans in Asterix in Corsica going back weeks and months (with different versions for each chapter in the saga!), but the patterns of the fights are usually pretty much the same.

They start with some trivial matter like brushing past each other, somebody calling somebody else’s friend fat, or somebody looking at a girl that somebody else is interested in. This will often already start on the bus to school. Insults are traded, challenges are made. People push each other. Friends get involved. Until, at some point, one of them utters some magical words like “son of a whore” or “I fuck your mother”. Then the one insulted feels justified in starting a real fight, seeing himself as the victim*, and the other one feels like the victim because he’s the one being attacked.

Being the innocent victim who only reacted is very important because then you cannot get into trouble. Or at least in their mind you should not get into trouble. Because it’s not their fault, right? The fact that they all regularly get into trouble is totally unfair. Because in their mind, they did not have another choice. Because in their world, a world of adolescent boys trying hard to be a particular kind of man, losing your face or being seen as weak is the worst. Much worse than fucking up your education.

When trying to get to the bottom of the fight on Wednesday I asked the kid what the fight was actually about. He didn’t really have an answer. Many stories from last year and some minor stuff and somebody insulting his friend. I asked the kid why he didn’t just ignore that shit and either walk away or call a teacher. His answer was true and the actual problem: “If I do that they will say I’m a pussy!”

Our problem is not the two kids who had a fight on Wednesday. Or the ones from Monday. Nor the ones who’ll get into a fight next week. Our problem is a micro cosmos steaming in toxic masculinity. And so far i don’t have a solution because sadly, my solutions are worthless. Most of my colleagues are female, we cannot solve the boy problem, because we cannot enter their world. We’ll need to find some men, men of a similar social background, who can teach them how to be cool, and that being a man doesn’t mean getting into fights every day. I worry about our boys. They’re still kids, and so far the consequences are small, but if they keep growing up like this they’ll get into trouble. They’ll hurt their own chances, and they’ll hurt others. they’ll hurt the women and girls in their lives, directly and indirectly. they aren’s Donald Trumps or Kavanaughs, with enough money and connections to get them out of trouble and up the social ladder. They are already on the bottom rung, fighting many social disadvantages.

As a feminist I’m often accused of “hating men and boys”, but I swear that nobody hurts them as much as the people who go “boys will be boys”.

*This is regardless of whether the boys are native Germans, kids of immigrants or recent arrivals from the Arab world. I once had a boy trying to beat up another kid for “insulting his mother and his family”. When I asked that second boy what he had said, it turned out that the first kid had hurled those insults hoping to provoke the second kid to start a fight. That second boy was rather cool and just said “same”.


  1. kestrel says

    The Partner and I were just saying this, that the patriarchy hurts everybody, not just women. We were talking specifically about young men in their twenties, but of course all of this starts much earlier than that.

    I remember listening to an interview with a woman who told the story of her daughter in preschool, and how this little boy would come over every day and knock down the little girl’s blocks, and instead of reprimanding the little boy, his parents would say things like, “Oh, boys are so different!” and laugh. Finally the mother of the little girl took the boy’s parents aside and tried to explain exactly what they were teaching their young son… It’s an uphill battle because I think it does have to start very young and the parents should ideally be on board as well.

  2. says

    This sort of thing always makes me think of Sheri Tepper’s The Gate To Women’s Country
    What if the ev psych folks are just right enough that men tend to be assholes because of DNA not learned behaviors (It seems pretty obviously learned to me!) -- the consequences if that were true are really unfortunate.

  3. jazzlet says

    Uff yes The Gate To Women’s Country comes to mind. But also so many men I have met over the years who have felt the need to use violence to protect what they saw as ‘theirs’.

    Like the young local men in one of the places I lived as a student, we had become friends of a sort, they came to a party we had during which someone poured our shampoo out over the bathroom floor. This was considered sufficient affront to us that they later assured us they had discovered who had offended against their pet students, and beaten the crap out of them for us.

    It was that group who started the opening of my eyes to the reality of domestic abuse. They were in the pub one night discussing Dave, and the fact that Dave hit his girlfriend with a stick. It wasn’t the hitting by Dave of his girlfriend that shocked them, that was simply taken as something that happened in all relationships, it was that Dave hit her with a stick.

  4. rq says

    I worry about our boys. They’re still kids, and so far the consequences are small, but if they keep growing up like this they’ll get into trouble.

    I know exactly how this feels.
    Even the ones I live with, I have a hard time figuring out what is what, what’s going on, and then finding the time to talk about the best tools to deal with issues… never mind consturctively sorting out the interpersonal squabbles that happen at home. I’m lucky because Husband is pretty on board and keeps up with things, but still. It definitely feels like an uphill battle and I wish it didn’t feel so obvious. I mean, “I hope none of my sons ever rape anyone” seems to be a pretty low bar.

  5. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I had a few incidents like that … until I pointed out that letting the “other guy” control your behavior with their words meant they WON. Even if you managed to get in dome good licks, their words were strong enough to make you perform like a trained bear.

  6. voyager says

    There’s so little hope for that message to change right now. Trump, Jordan Peterson, MRA’s. The positive role models for boys have mostly gone quiet and the sociopaths ( pyschopaths, too) are in charge and they like keeping young boys angry because it makes them easier to control.

  7. says

    I had a few incidents like that … until I pointed out that letting the “other guy” control your behavior with their words meant they WON.

    That’s generally a message I’m trying to convey: You cannot change the behaviour of others, but you can decide your own reaction. that’s quite a superpower.
    Sadly, I’m the wrong gender for them to believe me. I’d like to send them both to an actual martial arts training because they do teach their kids discipline.

    BTW, those particular two were at each others throat again today. Literally…

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