Toxic masculinity and misogyny bedrocks of all-boys schools

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
All-boys schools teach children to be aggressive, unemotional and controlling, the writer says.
All-boys schools teach children to be aggressive, unemotional and controlling, the writer says.
Image: NIGEL LOUW

We need to be very concerned about the problematic culture in all-boys schools.

We cannot envision a society free of toxic masculinity, patriarchy, misogyny and violence against women without focusing our attention on all-boys schools.

The principles, culture and practices found in these schools are bed-rocked in misogyny and toxic masculinity. A lot of the toxic social norms around the boy child are moulded at these schools.

This comes with a burden for our society - when they go into the real world they do not suddenly unlearn these toxic behaviours that they were taught in their schools.

It is important that we create an environment in which boys are able to live meaningful lives according to their own scripts, devoid of everything society tells them to be. The social scripts taught at these schools are toxic and detrimental for boy children because they are taught stereotypical, archaic notions of what it means to be a man.

Cultural norms within these schools teach male children to be aggressive, unemotional, and controlling. These boys are barred from expressing sadness and vulnerability in favour of negative response emotions such as anger and detachment - all in order to prove their "manhood".

In his book Real Boys: Rescuing our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, William Pollack argues that "among boy's anger and rage are perceived emotions of strength and even power - while sadness, fear and loneliness are considered weak".

Pollack says that the traditional view on masculinity has created a "gender straitjacket" for boys and that this "gender straitjacket" leaves boys no avenues to safely express emotions.

It cannot be positive that boys are not able to safely express their emotions because as human beings, our very essence is partly our emotions.

In the book The Will to Change, Masculinity and Love Bell Hooks says: "The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence towards women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.

"If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem."

A parent's experience of their child being at an all-boys school is proof of Hooks's assertions. A parent narrated to me how her son who goes to an all-boys school, since joining the school, has low self-esteem, isolates himself and his grades have dropped. This is due to bullying and initiation practices that happen at his school.

Should he opt out of participating in these gross practices, he is harshly punished through beatings and other ghastly acts. One thing I know for sure, he is not the only boy who has had a negative experience.

The appropriate response is not to say, "change schools if you do not like how things are done", that sort of thinking takes us nowhere. The appropriate response is that all-boys schools should look at their traditions; how they reinforce the very things that our society is working towards eradicating.

A lot of men who went to all-boys schools will read this article and say: "Argh, we went through the same hectic initiation and other practices/teachings and we turned out fine."

Did you really turn out fine? Or the deeply problematic practices and principles have been so deeply entrenched and etched in you, that you have fully internalised them to the point that you are unable to detach from them?

If we invest in early prevention mechanisms that reinforce positive notions of masculinity that sway away from limiting stereotypical and toxic teachings on what it is to be a man, we will spend less money, time and resources undoing the consequences of years' worth of indoctrination of negative male stereotypes and machismo.

We will spend less on gender-based violence interventions and sexual harassment.

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