On Masculinity Part 2

We’ll start today with a game of Did You Know? Did you know that:

  • Worldwide, men are committing suicide at four times the rate of women?
  • Barring Costa Rica, Colombia and the Indian state Himachal Pradesh, girls are outperforming boys in school worldwide, regardless of socioeconomic factors?
  • In the UK, Boys are over three times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion and almost three times more likely to receive a fixed period exclusion than girls?
  • A report from the charity homeless link highlights that 86% of the people that are homeless are men?
  • The majority of victims of domestic homicides recorded between April 2013 and March 2016 were females (70%) and that the vast majority of the killers are men?

These numbers are staggering. The average boy is more likely to be excluded, underperform in their exams, be a domestic abuser, end up on the streets and kill themselves. Why?

2018 feels like it has been the year of demonising masculinity and it is easy to see why. What do you see when you look at these images?


trump rally.jpg
Photo by Martin Cartagena


white rally.jpg
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


gang 1.jpg
REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez

I see many things: a sense of belonging, fear and a strange kind of uniformity. Trump supporters revere him for ‘telling it like it is’. They forgive his misogyny, xenophobia, racism and general prejudices because he is ‘just being honest’. In a very real sense, he is their hero. He often positions himself as such, saying things like ‘I alone can fix…America’. How were so many men (white men in particular) seduced by him?

I would posit that it is because he provided an answer for the disconnect that exists today. Remember that game of Did You Know at the top? What Trump did was tap into the frustration that statistics like that reveal. At all stages of education, boys are more likely to be excluded. Here’s how that looks:

gov stats
Taken from the gov.uk website

Something has gone wrong when boys are 9 times more likely to be permanently excluded when aged 4 and younger and 19 times more likely at 5 years old. To provide more context, here is a look at the reasons why students are being expelled.

exclusion reasons

The leading cause of expulsion for primary school pupils is persistent disruptive behaviour and that is a real worry. I’ll give you an anecdote from my time as a teacher to tell you why that is more troubling then it perhaps appears.

I observed a lesson with a class that was considered disruptive that I had previously taught and had no problems with. There was one boy in the class that was considered particularly troublesome. He was a top athlete, competitive and eager to please. He also liked to play the role of class clown, which fit into his desire to please. This pupil, we’ll call him Frank (because no child today is called Frank? Ed), was seated with his back to the rest of the class and away from them. I wrote on my pad ‘is Frank the child Hannibal Lecter?’ in my notes. About 10 minutes into the lesson, the teacher asked the class a question and Frank shouted out the answer.  The teacher berated him and threatened him with a punishment if he did the same thing again. The lesson continued and the class were set a task. Frank, finding a section difficult, raised his hand, and, perhaps mindful of the prior warning, didn’t call out. He kept his hand up for 10 minutes. In that time, he wasn’t seen, despite him doing the thing that younger students do of straining one arm towards the sky whilst using the other to support it. Eventually, he put his hand down and his shoulders slumped. When they left, I asked the teacher about the lesson and they praised Frank’s ‘good behaviour’ after his rough start.

Frank was trapped in that lesson:  shout out for the teacher’s attention and run the risk of further punishment, or do the right thing and be forgotten. I wonder how many boys that are expelled are like Frank, damned if they do and damned if they don’t? And I wonder how many teachers equate silence with good behaviour?

If you’ll indulge me with one more story, I’ll show you how masculinity is easily corrupted in education establishments.

I taught a boy in Year 9, this time we’ll call him Parker, who was lazy and disinterested. No amount of chats with Parker’s parents did anything to solve it and I was annoyed when I found out he was in my GCSE class. But then something miraculous happened. Parker grew up, becoming conscientious, hard-working, diligent and all the other positive phrases that parents see on school reports. When he reached Year 13, I asked for him to be a prefect for my form. I thought he was a superb role-model. Some of my colleagues were surprised that I’d selected him. They’d say things like “You know Parker is a lazy troublemaker, right?” and “I’m glad I didn’t get Parker in my form”. Parker knew of his perception, based on what he was like as a 14 year old, and it bothered him.

He and I had a chat one day when he mentioned the alt-right. He thought they said some things that made sense and wanted to talk to me about it. What had drew him to them, among other things, was that he thought they tried to empower men.

Is it so difficult to believe that after years of being unable to shake the disruptive label, Parker would be attracted by the idea of a group that was mostly male and disaffected?

I asked earlier what you saw with those images. I see many things, but one stands out: corrupted masculinity. We learn from our experiences, and too many boys are being labelled as difficult and trouble makers from a young age. These same boys feel detached from the education institutions that should be helping them to be aspirational. Like Parker, they are unable to make people recognise that they aren’t the same person they were at 14. In that situation, if a person like Trump, or a group like the alt-right made you feel welcome, would you reject them? If those same groups said the problem was women or foreigners and not you, would you be on board because they showed you love and acceptance? If we don’t want Parker and Frank to turn into Milo (prominent member of the alt-right) and Donald, we need to quickly figure out how to foster positive masculinity. I will give my ideas on how to do that in part 3, coming soon.


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