Tackling misogyny in schools: a five-step guide

Tackling misogyny in schools: a five-step guide

Adolescence is a challenging time, when young people are forming their identity and exploring different ideologies and ways of looking at the world. It’s also a time when teenagers tend to pull back from their families, spending more time on their own, or connecting with...

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Adolescence is a challenging time, when young people are forming their identity and exploring different ideologies and ways of looking at the world. It’s also a time when teenagers tend to pull back from their families, spending more time on their own, or connecting with friends, both in real life and online.

Sadly, social media isn’t always a safe place for young people to spend time. There is a lot of radical content and harmful messaging – and it’s easy for vulnerable young people to get sucked in.

Andrew Tate, a notorious online influencer, is just one example of online misogyny, but his videos have reached millions of young men and boys, and he has become a role model for thousands of teenage boys. Some admire him for his wealth and aren’t as sure about his gender messaging – but others have been radicalised and have developed an ugly attitude towards women. Now, female teachers are having to deal with the fallout.

So, how can schools address the rise of misogyny among their students? A one-off assembly isn’t going to cut it. Schools can combat pernicious online discourse, but it requires a sustained effort. What does this look like in practice? Here are five steps to tackling misogyny in your school:

1. Create an inclusive environment

All teachers want to create an environment where students feel safe to show up and be themselves. Representation can be a good place to start. Whether that means focusing on indigenous history, or finding resources from female climate scientists, or reading books by LGBTQI+ authors, make sure that your educational resources represent a broad range of genders, ethnicities and sexualities, so that all your students feel seen.

It’s also important to call out prejudice whenever you hear it. If the adult in the room doesn’t call out hate speech, then it creates an environment where dangerous attitudes can flourish.

Learn more about creating an inclusive, diverse classroom environment.

2. Talk about gender roles in the classroom

The most powerful way to combat misogyny is to show students that other ways of seeing the world are out there. Following on from the creation of an inclusive environment, it’s important to engage with students’ opinions, even if you find them offensive. Teenagers can be defensive, and by simply labelling offensive views ‘bad’, you are just pushing your students away from you.

Rather than shutting down the conversation, it’s important to open it up. Start a dialogue with your students about their views, and share other perspectives with them. Encourage them to think critically about what they read and watch, and empower them to make their own decisions.

The most important thing is to talk about these issues little and often. Don’t just devote one lesson to it; instead, address gender roles in the classroom whenever they arise, and be consistent in your approach.

Learn more about talking to your students about gender and pronouns.

3. Promote positive role models and encourage critical thinking about negative role models

Why have so many teenage boys connected with Andrew Tate? Well, part of the appeal is that he offers simple answers to complex questions about masculinity in today’s world. To adults, he might look like a cartoon Bond villain with his big cars and cigars, but to a lot of impressionable adolescents, that looks like success – and some of them  absorb his hateful views towards women, and slowly become radicalised.

So, how can teachers tackle this type of misogyny? Well, one way to reduce Andrew Tate’s appeal is to reframe modern masculinity by promoting positive male role models who young men can look up to, such as Marcus Rashford, Colin Kapernick, or Trevor Noah – men who have all used their voice and platform to advance social causes and help their communities in tangible ways.

Even if you’re not a man, you can be a role model for your students. Don’t underestimate your impact on your students’ lives. After all, like any other students, teenage boys and young men need people in their lives who really listen to them, who give them the space to be themselves and share their problems without trying to solve them. Just by listening to your students, you could make a difference.

Learn the importance of active listening with your students.

4. Engage parents and the community

Teachers can’t do all the work of tackling misogyny on their own, so it’s extremely important to engage parents and the wider community.

If students are expressing harmful views or behaving in misogynistic ways in school, communicate that to their parents. A lot of the time, young people are consuming extreme content in their rooms, away from parental supervision, so parents might not even realise what is going on.

Recommend to parents that they talk about what their children are watching online, and ask about Andrew Tate and other influencers that their children have seen. Opening up those lines of communication is crucial, as it creates space for young people to ask questions, express doubts, and benefit from their parents’ perspective on these ideas.

Read more about teaching students to recognise fake news.

5. Provide ongoing staff training and support

These conversations aren’t easy to have. So, ongoing staff training and support is really important when it comes to tackling misogyny in schools:

  • Create a school-wide strategy for dealing with incidents of misogyny towards staff and students, with clear boundaries of what isn’t acceptable, and consequences.
  • Train teachers with a clear process to follow when students show signs of being radicalised. It can be difficult to know what to say when students are openly expressing misogynistic views in the classroom, or derailing lessons with disrespectful comments or gestures, so equip teachers with the training they need to deal with that.
  • Bring in outside agencies to reinforce these previous steps. In the UK, there are organisations like Bold Voices and Tender who go into schools to hold workshops with students. There are also classroom resources, workshops and lesson plans available online around the theme of toxic online communities.
  • Finally, offer support to teachers who have been at the sharp end of misogyny. Don’t dismiss the impact of misogynistic abuse; acknowledge the impact on teachers and support them to feel confident in their classrooms.

The fight against misogyny in schools must involve parents, teachers, school management and the students themselves. Working together, the school community can create an environment where students are less vulnerable to toxic ideologies like the ones peddled by Andrew Tate and his ilk online.

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