Victoria, Australia is planning to start a compulsory course in primary and secondary schools on ‘respectful relationships’. An honourable goal, and possibly necessary right now. However, it instantly falls over itself and is destined to fail.
It does contain some excellent material, about laws, UN Resolutions, and laws of countries other than Australia, as well as teaching that anyone can do anything if they set their mind to it.
The main points of contention are as follows, they assume gender is socially constructed behaviour that has no biological influence. This is far from proven and while nurture certainly influences behaviour of people nature also has part. A basic start would be hormones, men and women have different levels of hormones and we know that hormones can and do affect behaviour. Behaviour can also influence hormone production but for the illustration here we don’t need more detail. To say behaviour is purely socially constructed is quite simply false.
While it is very unlikely your nature will affect what colours you like their is research that shows baby boys prefer staring at mechanical objects and baby girls at faces. There are plenty of other research that shows other differences between pre-socially taught boys and girls and differences in their behaviour. For this school course to presume it is all social is just false and is quite obvious to be dogma driven rather than in order to learn.
The course also covers the ways children pick up behaviours, but again it assumes it is all social rather than people doing what they want because that is who they are naturally.
It asks questions, such as;
Did you know that 32% or less than one-third of Australian Parliamentarians are female? Ask: What message do you think this sends to girls and boys as they grow up in our country? (RRRR 5 and 6 pg. 69)
This number doesn’t tell us anything. You can assume based on how you view the world different things. If you view it from a feminist lens then it is sexism and must be 50/50 to be classed as equal. If you view it from a classical liberal lens it is people making their own individual choices and studies on why women pursue politics less than men would be interesting to find out. Their is no obvious answer.
The course doesn’t give answers for the questions it asks in the guidelines (at least at time of writing). Great. It shouldn’t because their is a plurality of possible answers, however, if it all depends on the teacher then the children being taught this may very well be getting a one sided view. Being told they are wrong when they are just expressing a different opinion.
It spends a topic covering domestic violence but under the name ‘gender based violence’. All examples and class activities involve a male doing something against a female – in the gender based violence and sexual assault examples. Introductions to each part assume women will be the victims, even though they cite statistics which show 25% of domestic abuse victims are male. Only one activity asks the students what violence boys may suffer from a girl (RRRR 5 and 6 pg. 90).
Following on from “gender-based violence” comes power relations. Here is assumes women have less power than men, this is sexism and teaches sexism. To teach that men have more power than women is inherently sexist and completely misses the point of what this course is trying to do. But this is a theme throughout and the source of its material is clearly gender studies courses. How they cannot see what they have written is regressive is cognitive dissonance to another level. Anyway, the activity for power relations is robot and controller without any direction on who is who, thankfully, so the lessons will hopefully have both girls and boys being controller or robot because in reality people control people and sex is irrelevant.
RRRR (Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships) 11 and 12 Learning Materials covers much of the same other year groups do and builds upon it with new material. An example of this new material is privilege. Male privilege. It assumes men are born with more privilege that women. It defines privilege as ‘automatic unearned benefits bestowed upon members of dominant groups based on social identity’. Well this is not hard to show, at the very least, not universally applicable. It does present privilege as a scale rather than a yes/no aspect and also discusses wealth, religion, and sexual orientation privileges. Back to the male privilege, the example is homeless men. Their is no privilege for the homeless whether male or female, so to argue that men have privilege by just being men doesn’t seem to hold water. In Australia 56% of homeless people are men, in England 74% of homeless people are men. It is quite clear that their is no immediate privilege from being male, in some areas their may be (and privilege to being a woman) but to assume all men have privilege is incorrect. A more complex situation is likely to be occurring where some jobs are more likely to need typically male characteristics and other jobs female characteristics. Whether this should be the case can be discussed but just think of firefighters and that they need to be able to carry an amount of weight most people can’t and possibly be expected to carry a person on top of that. Women CAN do this but due to a lack of testosterone will struggle to build muscle and maintain it. I have linked to a bodybuilding website and a biological study looking at muscle fibre and how men and women have biologically different fibre and how that impacts muscle building.
After that slight detour on pg. 70 of RRRR 11 and 12 is a list of supposed truths about Australia. None of them are cited. Some are obvious truths, others are questionable, some are ridiculous. One of them is “In Australia, if you are not into sport you are a nobody.” There is no way this applies so fully has the sentence suggests. Another “In Australia, gender-based violence is excused by many people because they believe it is hard for men to control their anger.” Why does it assume only men commit domestic violence, they actually have the stats in their lesson plans but completely ignore that 25% of domestic abuse victims are male. These subtle suggestions that men are bad are throughout the whole course which is going to be present from primary to secondary school in all Victoria State schools.
On top of this it depicts women as victims that need promoting and protecting because they are women and this is inherently a position of inequality. If this course were teaching equality it recognise all the stats, discuss why men were more often the perpetrator than victim but discuss ways to help all people suffering rather than just one group. It would present privilege in a far more realistic way and from a position as neutral as possible rather than a feminist one. There are many good things this course will cover but the problems within must be addressed and critics of the course have already told the government that when it was taught it was very much portraying men as bad and women as victims and that it suggests all men are potential abusers. These ideas cannot be taught to children for the simple fact they are untrue. If you think this should not be taught to children and you live in Victoria please message your governor and representatives and make them aware you do not approve, after all it is a democracy.