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Why Men Need to Role Model Gender Equality

The confluence of events that have led to a call for more information about the meaning of “consent” and a mechanism for women to register complaints about inappropriate behaviour from men in the Canberra Parliamentary hothouse are long overdue. They will not, however, lead to a cultural change from men until there is a deeper examination of the root causes of the totally unacceptable behaviour that men are led to believe they can get away with.

Schools will play a role in this, but only a role. We need to examine where this behaviour springs from and what the triggers are that make so many men believe that is acceptable to see women as objects.

These attitudes are learnt. There is very little evidence of this kind of behaviour in early childhood playgrounds or pre schools. Witness the ease with which young children co exist.

At some point boys are taught that they are different, and even superior, to girls. They don’t learn that women are sexual objects at school. No school, not matter how elitist and male dominated, educates its young men to see women as sexual objects.

This is something they learn from the media, both traditional and social. They learn it from their role models in the sporting and entertainment worlds. Tragically, for many of them, they learn it at home.

If young men are raised in a household where women are marginalised and forced to play a “supportive” role to their male partners, they will begin to believe that they too are superior. This kind of role modelling crosses cultural, social and economic divides. It is often intrinsic.

As much as we have made advances since the 50’s, what percentage of men are responsible for “pick ups’ after pre school and primary school? How many men see their rare excursions into the kitchen as emblematic of their heroism instead of being par for the course. Speaking of “par” how many women leave the children with their husbands while they play 18 holes of golf and have a few beers afterwards.

How many men make inappropriate comments about women in front of their sons? How often do they excuse otherwise offensive behaviour from their sons as “sowing their wild oats”? How often do they treat their partners as second class citizens?

The attitude of a number of male journalists to the allegations about Christian Porter and the Brittany Higgins matter are cases in point. Many of these men just don’t get it. Why was it predominantly women who were wiping tears from their eyes during Grace Tame’s spellbinding address to the press gallery? Did any of the veteran male commentators go home and consider this? Were any of them capable of seeing Grace Tame’s address as being about male behaviour that they may have been inadvertently guilty of condoning.

As was evidenced on Sunday’s Insiders program, a press gallery so long dominated by loud, opinionated men is at last challenged by women who will no longer tolerate their pomposity and barely concealed sexism.

We all know how few women there are in Parliament and how they are subject to different pressures to male politicians. We know there is still a huge chasm between what men are paid and what women are paid. We know what expectations the commercial news media have when it comes to the physicality and dress of female newsreaders and commentators. And I haven’t even got to the litany of offences against women perpetrated by sportsmen. Or the story of how a conventionally “pretty” surfer received sponsorship while another, equally talented surfer without cliched “surfer good looks”, didn’t.

All Boys schools may have had a role to play in the establishment and maintenance of Empire but they have become increasingly irrelevant since its fall. How can boys who have no real experience of women on a day to day basis come to appreciate them as equals? It may horrify the Old Boys of these establishments but, maybe that’s the point. It’s time to move on and make all schools co educational.

It goes without saying that sexism and inappropriate behaviour exists in co ed schools. Neanderthal attitudes to women exist everywhere. It is time to draw a line in the sand and put an end to them. When they degenerate into abuse, either verbal or physical, it is time to call the

perpetrators out.

Our leaders in all fields need to lead the way in this. All fathers need to lead the way and show by example that sexist attitudes to women belong to another age. When that happens, schools can reinforce these basic principles and help young people negotiate the increasingly complex world around them. Until then they are swimming against the tide.

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