Yesterday it seemed like everyone and their dog was pointing me towards the article in the Telegraph by Dan Bell of Inside Man magazine. “We must stop indoctrinating boys in feminist ideology” screamed the headline, followed by the standfirst: “Feminist organisations, backed by government policy, are teaching young boys at school to feel guilty and ashamed of their gender.”
I should be clear from the off the Dan is a mate of mine, I am generally a supporter or (and occasional contributor) to Inside Man, and the argument that is about to follow is one that Dan and I have had (literally) over a pint in the pub before, and may well do again. On that basis I am sure he won’t mind if I take it public, and explain why I believe on this issue he is not just wrong, but irresponsibly, damagingly wrong.
The basic claim of Dan’s article is that “feminist organisations” are, under the guise of sex & relationships workshops, indoctrinating school pupils in feminist ideology and shaming or terrifying young boys as a consequence. He offers four examples, the first of which is something called The Good Lad workshop which has migrated from Oxford University student union to a local secondary school.
Which local secondary school? Presumably a rough comprehensive, rife with teenage pregnancies and interpersonal violence? Well, no. Actually it is St Edward’s, or as the Tatler class call it “Teddies” – fees over £8,000 per year with another ten grand on top for boarders. The Good Lad workshops are run by Oxford rugby club types, and rather than presenting some angry radical feminists preaching about patriarchy, would appear to be more along the lines of a couple of hours chatting about how a good chap should properly behave around the fillies, what-ho.
The second example is only alluded to via an article last Autumn in the Times. The piece is paywalled, of course, but describes a lecture delivered by the RAP Project (standing for ‘raising awareness and prevention’.) Dan Bell quotes the Times article as “concluding– approvingly — that by the end of the session, the boys are “scarred for life”.
What has scarred them for life? Here’s the full quote from the Times.
“We once spoke to parents, and a woman who was a mother and on the admissions board of a London university told us what young people need to realise when they apply is that we now have IT experts who can go through their IT history. Despite being head boy, if you have a history of sending explicit images, that would ruin your chances of getting that job.
“Shocking but true. You are at a top school. Would you want your chances at 16 or 17 of becoming a lawyer or a doctor to be ruined?”
The hour is up. The children file out obediently. These are boys any parent would be proud of and they are also now scarred for life. Any time they imagine doing something furtive online, it will trigger the thought that adults of influence — maybe even some formidable American women — are seeing into their souls via their search history. Mission accomplished.”
Notwithstanding the rather silly journalistic hyperbole of the phrase “scarred for life” (scared for life might be more accurate) it is clear that this is not describing boys being shamed into believing themselves potential rapists or predators, but being rattled by some eminently sensible advice about the real risks of the real world as it now is, for better or worse.
Unlike some of the organisations mentioned, the RAP Project has a large and detailed website which explains what they do in some detail. Their principle line of work appears to be workshops with girls, rather than boys, and focusses on how they can “keep themselves safe” at risky times of life, including when partying, on a gap year, or when first arriving at university. Now my sharp-minded readers might, at this point, be thinking ‘hang on a minute, that doesn’t sound very feminist’ and you would be quite correct. I cannot find anything on the RAP Project’s own website or within any of the (many) pieces written about them elsewhere that suggests there is any ideological feminist basis to what they do. As far as I can tell, they appear to be roughly following the approach of Sexual Assault Resistance Programs, courses which focus on women’s self-confidence, self-defence and risk management, and which are most commonly derided by feminists as being ineffective at best, exercises in victim-blaming at worst. For good measure, RAP Project’s list of clients once again seems to be heavily weighted towards expensive private schools, rather than the mainstream of British education.
What are we left with? There are two other projects mentioned, A Call To Men UK, and the Great Men Value Women project. Both of these would appear to have an overtly feminist standpoint and I suspect if I were to sit in one of their sessions I would have a fair few differences of opinion, but what is their worst offence? Apparently it is telling boys that “preventing violence against women and girls is primarily the responsibility of men.” The horror.
What is also missing here is any sense of context or scale. There are literally thousands of organisations, of all types, offering workshops and materials to schools. Dan asks when we began allowing ideology to be taught in schools? The answer is the very day the very first school opened. What does he think faith schools are about? Free schools and academies reflecting the ‘ethos and values’ of communities? The entire Prevent agenda being pushed by the prime minister the very day his article ran? Amongst the organisations offering workshops to schools are many religious and social conservative groups, many of whom also mass-produce ‘educational materials’ and send them free to head teachers. The vast majority of the ‘workshops for schools’ sector is less controversial, of course. Some sense of the scale can be gleaned from this directory. Just how many schools are taking up the offer of ‘Great Men Value Women’ workshops compared to, say, didgeridoo workshops? I have no idea, but quite clearly neither does Dan. And yet I doubt he’d write lengthy essays about how the nation’s youth are being indoctrinated by aboriginal woodwind.
There is one additional piece of evidence Dan Bell presents to demonstrate the encroaching terror of feminist ideology in schools.
In March, the Government announced the introduction of new consent classes for children aged as young as 11. The plans were launched on International Women’s Day and the PSHE guidelines repeatedly state they are primarily part of the Government’s A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.
According to a “Fact Sheet” published by one of the guidelines’ key contributors, a top priority for the lessons is “challenging notions of male sexual entitlement” and the lessons should be seen “in the context of a society in which gender inequality is the norm… and girls and young women are subjected to high levels of harassment, abuse and violence – overwhelmingly from men and boys they know”.
Apparently, in the eyes of the government, schoolboys don’t so much see girls as their friends and peers, but as potential prey.
I had to read this section a few times to make sense of it, as it is so wildly misleading in conflating two entirely separate documents. The PSHE guidelines on consent, launched by the government in March, are written by the PSHE Association, an umbrella body of teachers and educators in personal, sexual and health education. The consent guidelines can be downloaded from here. It is a quite excellent piece of work and I very much hope it is being applied in my own sons’ schools. Not only is it current and relevant to our technological era, it is packed with sensible advice. Despite saying in the first sentence that it was commissioned as part of the government’s VAWG initiative, from that point on it is impeccably, studiously gender neutral and inclusive of diverse sexualities and gender identities. It talks throughout about ‘the person seeking consent’ and ‘the person giving consent’ and similar phrases.
The ‘Fact Sheet’ described by Dan Bell is produced by EVAW, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, an overtly feminist campaign organisation. Their CEO Holly Dustin is thanked in the acknowledgements of the PSHE consent guidelines, but she is not listed as one of the 19 authors of the document and, to be honest, there is barely a trace of their ideology anywhere within the PSHE guidelines. To imply that it is the EVAW Fact Sheet which is being distributed to and in schools with the blessing of the government is entirely untrue and highly irresponsible.
That word, ‘irresponsible’, is perhaps the best summary of Dan’s article as a whole. At the moment there is an ongoing battle to ensure proper sex and relationships education is delivered in every school, to every pupil, something which is (scandalously) yet to happen. Last week Caroline Lucas MP began yet another attempt to legislate for mandatory adequate sex education on the national syllabus, with issues of consent and abusive behaviour at its heart. Information and education are not only the best way to ensure that boys and girls alike have safe, happy, fulfilling sexual lives, but also to furnish them with protection from exploitation and abuse, whether by their peers or their elders.
Lined up in opposition to this is a ragbag bunch of religious fundamentalists and crusty conservatives, the kinds of idiots who believe that teenagers will remain chaste and pure in body and spirit until some evil liberal comes along filling their heads with sexy thoughts.
Right now, these people are marshalling every argument they can muster, however ill-informed, spurious or irrational, to resist the provision of sex education in schools. Dan Bell and the Telegraph have just provided them with a whole septic tankful of bullshit to bolster their case.
Decent sex and relationships education is needed by boys and girls alike. There are some real issues to be discussed in how simplistic readings of the Violence Against Women and Girls agenda can neglect and ignore the very real needs of boys, and indeed how the PSHE / SRE syllabus can do the same. It is vitally important that we critically examine and understand not only what is being taught to our children in our schools, but what is not. That process is not helped but is actively undermined by paranoid, fictionalised caricatures of what is happening in our schools.