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May 5, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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“Feminisation” and its discontents

Dear readers,

You could be forgiven for thinking the Women’s Column for this week has sprouted a pair of testicles; such is its subject matter. But let me assure you, this issue really does need to be discussed. I generally require a certain amount of exposure to rage-engendering things to get me through the day, and the when all else has failed to make me angry over the last few weeks, this has not.

You may or may not remember a flagrant piece of turd that popped out of the single-ply pages of The Dominion Post a few weeks ago. It concerned the ‘feminisation’ of our school system and the lone crusader against this Feminine Inquisition, a Mr Scrymgeour, principal of that esteemed acme of educational achievement that is the private all-boys Hereworth School, Havelock North. Mr Scrymgeour was crying out against the banning of physical games such as bull-rush and murderball at schools, saying that this ‘softly, softly’ approach to education does not suit boys, who apparently need rough play in order to avoid growing a vagina overnight. Mr Scrymgeour goes on to say that roughness is all part and parcel of boys’ natural ‘huntergatherer’ instincts, and our co-ed, feminised system is failing to teach boys how to express themselves when things don’t go their way. Compulsory sport and supervised fooling around are his answers to all young boys’ prayers.

Oh dear God. Oh dear God. Somebody pass me a softball bat.

In effect, this man is condoning the imposition of gender stereotypes on young boys via a system that should have as one of its fundamental aims the encouragement of individuality. Instead, Mr Scrymgeour is handing his boys a pair of PE shorts and saying, “this, lads, is what it means to be a man. Be macho! Fight! Harness your aggression! Learn to deal with your problems by upping your testosterone levels!”

This is not only institutionalised peer pressure, but peer pressure enforced from above.

I have no problem with using physicality as an outlet for pent-up emotions or teenage angst. But when you teach young men that getting rough is the ‘right’ way of dealing with their issues, you are instilling a mode of behaviour that will determine how they choose to settle their issues for the rest of their lives. This is particularly the case when this response is encouraged in an environment of learning. “Boys!” says Mr S. “Let’s teach you low-level violence while we teach you trigonometry.” Ultimately, the wives and girlfriends of these boys are going to be, in some circumstances, on the receiving end of this special education, and I have a huge, huge problem with that.

Let’s think about those boys who don’t have a killer throw or a fully developed-set of biceps. In a system such as the one Mr Scrymgeour advocates, there will always be a ‘victim’; a boy who is terrible at sport, or who just doesn’t want to engage in rough play. Not only will this kid be bullied by his peers, but he will berate himself on some level for failing to live up to somebody’s skewed definition of what young boys should be and do. To align the issue more with the purpose of this column, what is evident here is the association of the ‘feminine’ with the weak and the second-best. Why should we care if the school system is becoming more feminised? Hell, isn’t it about time? Open up and swallow a dose of the medicine you’ve been dishing out for centuries, Mr Scrymgeour, when your ilk told girls that they were not worthy of receiving a formal education.

Let’s return to more neutral ground. The ultimate question that needs to be asked is why we can’t foster an educational environment that caters to students based on their own personal characteristics as opposed to their gender. This is an example of a larger problem – the assignment of certain personality traits to certain genders. Men are seen as aggressive and stronger; women as nurturing, gentle and more submissive. What it comes down to it this: stop defining me by the physical presence or absence of a penis or a vagina. Stop telling me what behaviours I am meant to display, how I am meant to react. Just give me an environment where I am able to decide for myself.

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