Apologies for falling off the face of the blogosphere. I’ve been buried underneath research papers over the past week – reading and reviewing articles on masculinity and its influence on gender disparity in education – part of my slave work until the end of this month, thankfully. From reading so many of them I’ve been struck at how hegemonic masculinities often ruin the schooling experience for both girls and boys.
Primary education is often seen as an extension of the home where female teachers are viewed as nannies rather than role models. It also pays poorly, and is undervalued as simply ‘women’s work’, no different from childcare, cooking, cleaning, etc. – all factors that drive men away from teaching younger kids. There’s another side of primary education that’s a product of its reputation as a woman’s work and that is the reinforcement of hegemonic masculinities amongst certain male teachers. This means male teachers tend to toughen-up their image, make excuses for “boys will be boys” behaviour, and adopt profoundly sexist attitudes towards female teachers and pupils. The very few male teachers who refuse to submit to hegemonic masculinities by applying feminine attributes such as care, nurture, and patience into their teaching and interactions with school children often face the challenge of being labeled a sissy, gay, and accusations of paedophilic inclinations.
Apparently the huge concern over the lack of men in the classroom lies in the belief that boys desperately need male authority figures or the cool older brother they never had to make school life enjoyable and successful. In other words, boys need male role models. But mind you, officially, male role models do not come in all shapes and sizes and sexualities. They need to be “real men” who can wield authority and power better than female or gay teachers.
There is a difference between masculinity and the damaging effects of hegemonic masculinities here. Unlike masculinity as gender performance, the hegemonic construct is the more dominant, hyper-normative version that many men seek to attain. But as long as dominant masculinity remains heterosexual, racist, sexist, elitist, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist in the highest order, very few men can attain its prestige.
This brings me back to issues parents have with adult-child interactions outside the home. These issues become perverted into fear when every male stranger with a camera, or who offers to take their children to school, or happens to be a person of colour are viewed as untrustworthy, dangerous, sick criminals. Essentially, a knee-jerk reaction. Men training to become teachers avoid the anxieties of being boxed into every parent’s rogues’ gallery by steering clear of teaching primary education altogether.
How did we arrive in a society that views men around children with distrust? Could it be the same hegemonic masculinities valorised in Dolce and Gabbana ads and GQ magazine the same ones capable of perverting our thoughts full of child abusers lurking at every corner? The same powerful image of a man as the head of the family, who gets his way because he’s a “real man”, and valued for being strong but devoid of interpersonal skills, is the same mythical male role model young boys are made to look up to. It’s not surprising that toys aimed at boys tend to reflect the rougher, tougher, and predominantly male trade such as the army, construction work, and race car driving.
It is the same less-than-benevolent hegemonic masculinities that overpower the weak that many parents expect to defend, inspire, and educate their children. Until there’s an acceptance for diverse masculinities in the classroom, the playground, and in the home, hegemonic masculinities will die as they cease to be dominant. Maybe then we can finally address our fears about those ‘really bad men’ on the street.