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Australia is Teaching Male Privilege in Schools and that is Awesome

It’s always nice to hear good news, and this is certainly one of them: Victoria, Australia is launching a $16.5 million education program called ‘Respectful Relationships’ aimed to teach students about male privilege and gender-based violence.

The program will be enacted in public schools all over the state in the next couple of years; it includes topics such as social inequality, wage gap and pornography. Primary school students will be taught gender roles, with material including images of both girls and boys playing sport and doing chores, as well as statements like ‘girls can play football, can be doctors and can be strong’. High school students, meanwhile, will study gender identity and sexual orientations, along with male privilege.

The Year 7 and 8 curriculum defines privilege as ‘automatic, unearned benefits bestowed upon dominant groups’ and states ‘being born a male, you have advantages (…) and this will be true whether you personally approve/think you are entitled to this privilege.’ Hegemonic masculinity will be introduced to Year 11 and 12, and it is described as the societal requirement for males to ‘be heterosexual, tough, athletic and emotionless, and encourages the control and dominance of men over women’.

Some people critic the program, dubbing it ‘indoctrination’ that simplifies domestic violence and overlooks factors such as welfare, substance abuse, and family dysfunction. Victorian education minister James Merino defended the program, saying, “We will not stand by while one woman in Australia is killed every week through domestic violence.” As evident in Merino’s statement, the statistics on violence against women in Australia are alarming: women are three times likelier than men to face domestic violence, one in five has experienced sexual violence, and eight out of 10 experience harassment on the street in the past year. Yes, domestic violence is a destructive consequence caused by a number of factors, but educating the younger generation about some of them (i.e. male privilege and rape culture) may at least help improve the way society treats victims, and it should be welcomed with nothing but positivity.

Respectful Relationships embody all that many—myself included—desire from formal education. The majority of (if not all) schools, regardless of what country it is in or what curriculum it follows, function to teach solely academics, which include subjects and theories that not rarely serve little purpose beyond the examinations and grades that are given. Sure, schools are supposed to teach concepts in order to develop minds, but shouldn’t it also teach morals in order to open them?

Teaching about real issues that affect real people is a great way to expose students on what the world is like, especially of how diverse it truly is.

Most people view topics like gender identity and sexual orientation to be so radical to the point that they are taboo, and consequently we’ve built a society that looks at new and different things with distaste or fear. If schools teach kids from the start about the diversity present in our world, that fear could possibly be eliminated and replaced by respect and tolerance. As stated by research fellow Anna Dabrowski from University of Melbourne, “While broader social and political rhetoric may influence the way in which students understand themselves and others, the classroom offers a space for students to engage in critical and reflexive practice about what it means to understand and engage with difference.”

Aside from raising awareness, programs like Respectful Relationships could function as a safe space for students who are struggling and relate to the topics that are taught. What if there’s a 12-year old boy who likes experimenting with makeup but he faces harsh disapproval from his family? What if there’s a 16-year old girl troubled by an emotionally abusive partner and she isn’t sure what to do? What if there’s a 14-year old kid who isn’t sure what gender and sexuality they identify with? The existence of a program that teaches gender identity, sexual orientation and domestic violence can help kids like them understand their situation better. They would know that it’s okay to deal with what they’re dealing, or to feel what they feel. They would get validation and support, and that’s important in a world where people aren’t always willing to accept differences.

Hopefully Victoria’s new program will succeed in becoming a platform for raising awareness and tolerance. Here’s to wishing for more good news; here’s to wishing for more schools and more countries follow in Victoria’s footsteps.

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