When I was fifteen years old, my closest friend started dating a boy from our brother school. It was very sudden, and she refused to talk about it, but I figured that she was uncomfortable with the attention from her friends- not uncomfortable with him.
Months passed. One day, she confided to me that something had happened and she wanted to end things with him. It was a school lunch period, sitting in our little plaid skirts, that she finally told me everything. How he had come to her house while she was alone, how she kept making excuses, saying no, how he kept insisting.
Of course, this is just one story from one person. Many of the classmates and friends of that boy are our brothers and boyfriends and friends, who would never dream of disrespecting our consent in this way or discriminating against anyone on the basis of their gender. For them it would seem that my friend was an outlier, the unlucky victim of a deviation from the norm. But beyond what happened to her, the bigger problem lies in how we as a society address the concerns and experiences of women like her.
Contrary to what many may think, stories like my friend’s aren’t a gross anomaly. Such stories of injustices faced specifically by women are common in spaces where girls feel comfortable sharing their experiences. However, this is not always the case: when boys are included in the conversation, discussions of gender inequality are taboo. Thus the refusal of boys to address these important issues and broaden their perspective stands in the way of their ability to offer support for the girls in their lives and be contributing members of their communities.
It is understandable why boys may be reluctant to start or take part in conversations about the discrimination faced by women. The vast majority appreciate the accomplishments of women, do their best to uplift their female friends, and respect their significant others; being seen as a villain, understandably, doesn’t sit well with them. Beyond that, opinions on social and political issues can be deeply personal, and pushing others to share their own may seem too aggressive. In fact, lots of my male friends have held the opinion that blatant sexism simply isn’t an issue in today’s society, and discussing it is detrimental.
Nonetheless, an open conversation about gender inequality needs to occur, as failing to consider others’ points of view slows societal progress and perpetuates an inadequate understanding of the concept. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, while 63% of girls aged 15-24 agree that women face a lot of discrimination in the U.S., only 43% of their male counterparts believe the same. Such a discrepancy can only be explained by a lack of communication that leads boys to not understand the struggles that girls go through on a daily basis.
This refusal to open one’s perspective evidently impairs their ability to fulfill their duties as members of society; the same study also shows that young women are much more politically and socially active than men. On a personal scale, a limited worldview can manifest itself in many implicit ways, such as upholding restrictive gender roles for both women and men.
But these effects can yet be mitigated. When it comes to expanding one’s worldview, the most effective vehicle is simple: books. We all have experienced the magic of being transported inside some else’s experience, having a private window into their thoughts, and discussing the reasoning behind their ideas. That’s why we should begin introducing feminist literature into both coed and all boys classrooms.
Frank analyses of the modern debate over feminism, these books would be a vastly different perspective that would stimulate conversation about gender issues and force students to examine these ideas in an impartial, facts-based classroom environment. Reading this book would force the boys and students of the world to be open to others’ ideas and help them develop their own educated opinion so that they can be better citizens and better support the women in their lives.