Taboo? The topic young men won’t talk about

ImageIn one of the university tutorial classes I teach, we had the best discussion this week of the unit so far: the students were engaged, presented different viewpoints, and listened to what others had to say.
Yet, it was, in some ways, the most disappointing tutorial I have ever taught.
Why? Well, of the five men in the class, only one attended. Yet, 9 out of 10 of the women attended.

The topic was gender in the media. It was a look at both historical progression and current challenges.

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the men in the class were absent: they have had excellent attendance rates every week until now.

Students must attend 75% of tutorials, thus some choose which ones they will miss. Eighty per cent of the  young men in the class chose this one.

I don’t know for sure if they were absent because of the topic, but if that is the case, I suspect it could be for one or a combination of these reasons:
a) They think gender equality is women’s business;
b) The topic bores them;
c) They believe the media is already equal, or that, in fact, women have it better;
d) They don’t care;
e) They find talk about feminism intimidating.
I don’t blame them: at the beginning of adulthood, young people are largely a product of what they have observed and learned through childhood.

This made me think about the reason we have so far to go in the media to give men and women an equal voice, to give female journalists the same opportunities to take leading roles as male journalists, and to achieve equal pay across the genders.

It will take both sexes to achieve gender equality, and we desperately need to engage young men in conversations about it, particularly in learning environments such as at university . But how can  we do that? How can we encourage young men to take an interest and to become advocates of equality instead of the status quo?

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18 thoughts on “Taboo? The topic young men won’t talk about

  1. Pingback: What Have You Done For Peace Lately? | CardCastlesInTheSky

  2. Pingback: Taboo? The topic young men won’t talk about | The Storyteller Project

  3. It’s a good question and (f) all of the above might be the correct answer (if so, do I get a chocolate fish?) The popular perception amongst guys (well, the ones I know anyway who are a fairly eclectic mix) is that any discussion of gender has a 90+ probability of turning into a man-bashing sessions. Whether or not that perception is correct or not is another thing but I think that you hit the nail on the head when you identified that the answer lies in engagement between both sexes (thank you for not referring to them as ‘genders’) and discussing perceptions and issues with each other or not solely within our own groups.

    • Yes, a chocolate fish to you! It’s a shame they didn’t come to class, as the discussion was not at all a man-basing session. I think they get that idea from popular media, unfortunately (and most of the class want to be journalists). We discussed, among other subjects, the rise of militarism in politics and politicians, women in combat, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech in Parliament, whether a man could call himself a “feminist” (my students overwhelmingly said “yes”), Leader of the Opposition (and perhaps PM after today’s federal election) Tony Abbott’s attempts to dispel reports that he is anti-women, and balance in the newsroom.

  4. it is frustrating i’m sure, because one of the ways of changing the status quo is to be educated, and if the opportunity is offered and the ones who may need to understand the most don’t attend, it is just perpetuating the status quo – thanks for trying to make a difference )

    • That’s right. Perhaps we could spring it on them. Like, change the order of the tutorials when they’re already in class one day, and say, “Actually, we’ll be talking about gender balance in the media today”.

      • I think it’s a great idea too…it’s been my experience that most/many a lot of students don’t do pre-tutorial prep anyway so clearly they are good at impromptu tap-dancing…and you might also get more open responses if students have not had the opportunity to prepare for it… looking forward to the results of the experiment (It is OK to experiment on live students, isn;t it? 😉 )

    • “…and the ones who may need to understand the most don’t attend…” I think we should keep the ‘need’ all evens-stevens – one of the reasons that guys tend to steer away from such sessions is that perception (on both sides perhaps) that they are the ones that get gender equality the least. It’s got to be a two-way ebb and flow, give and take process otherwise nothing changes and we all just crack on under our current stereotypes…

      • We also considered stereotyping of men and discrimination of men, particularly the idea that women are better nurturers of children, for example. The women all agreed that it worked both ways. I would love to have heard more from the men who usually come to class.

  5. I’m disappointed that the young men didn’t show up for class. Although tremendous progress has been made toward gender equality, sadly, we still have a long way to go. Have you read, “Half the Sky”? I can’t remember the authors (a husband and wife team) off hand, but it is an enlightening book of the inequality of women worldwide.

    • Thanks for that – I will look it up. Yes, it’s disappointing that the young men didn’t show up. I have heard so many older men insist women have the same opportunities and that they actually have it better than men, and that women are all out to be kept by men anyway, that I wonder if the young men’s fathers are unduly influencing them, and that’s why they didn’t want to show up. Part of this problem is because of images the media constantly bombards us with, I think.

      • “… I wonder if the young men’s fathers are unduly influencing them, and that’s why they didn’t want to show up…” I don’t think so…I would think that it may be more to to almost aversion therapy in that the equal opportunity wagon is pushed so hard, and alongside similar message like domestic abuse is solely a male problem, that many/most males by the time they leave high school, just automatically steer away from the subject…

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