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”.