Thursday, July 09, 2009

Us & Them

I'm sure all Aussies have enjoyed the stories coming from the HMAS Success about a delightful competition between the sailors to score the most points in a harmless little game of "bonk the bimbo". It followed the familiar format of higher points for harder targets. Can't imagine why there's been such a kerfuffle really...

The interesting thing to me has been the average reaction of people I've chatted to about this. The pretty standard response has been along the lines of "Yeah, well, this is what happens when you get a bunch of men, barely out of school, together. This is classic school-boy mentality."

It's fair to say there is a bit of a theme of this sort of behaviour in arenas where men go directly from school to a massively male-dominated world - football, cricket, single sex colleges and no doubt plenty of others. Observations of this trend tend to be followed with comments about not being required to grow up.

So I'm wondering, why is the objectification of women standard schoolboy mentality? I don't pretend to have the comprehensive answer to this, but I suspect it has something to do with the way teenagers go through the process of differentiating themselves from their family, and eventually, hopefully, from everyone else as well. You start by identifying with your peers and adopting something of a group mentality. Since most of the time kids are in gender groups at this stage, it tends to involve pretty stereotypical views of the opposite sex. Boys see girls as prizes to be won, girls see themselves as clearly superior to boys (despite defining themselves through the eyes of those same boys - I didn't say their views were logical or consistent).

These simplistic views are broken down as we all start to identify with our selves, rather than our groups, by virtue of gaining more experience and learning about other people as individuals. How broken down they get is highly variable. However, I firmly believe that to break them down effectively, you need to interact with people of the opposite gender - and not just in courtship.

I think this is at the heart of why I don't like single sex schools. It is very easy to maintain the "Us and Them" mentality when you never have to interact with "Them" except in very prescribed roles. It's much easier for the boys to grow up seeing women as objects to be won and lost, and for girls to grow up believing that boys aren't really capable of anything better than that anyway. Or of cooking, child-rearing, cleaning or managing a bank account.

Don't get me wrong, if there is no required interaction in a co-ed school, it probably has no benefit in this regard. And people who go to single sex schools who have other interactions with "Them" can and do develop appropriate, complex views of both genders. It just seems to me that the more we separate the genders, the easier it is to justify the binary, to maintain the "Us and Them".

I have a number of issues with single sex schools, this is just one that only crystallised recently. By far my biggest issue with single sex schools is that as it stands, my kids will have to go to one. Unless they all manage to get into the local selective school, which I also have a problem with.

My current options are:
Single sex public high school
Co-ed elective high school (with the massive assumption that my kids get in)
Private (Catholic, I think) co-ed high school

My current strategy is to hope that in the next 5 years someone decides to merge the single sex public schools into a co-ed. Seems the most productive option.

One thing has become abundantly clear to me over the years of debating schooling options with other people - I rate social outcomes WAY higher than academic ones. At least for high schools. Primary school is a very different matter.

This is because if my kids come out of school with dodgy grades, they can make up for it later, if they come out arseholes, it's a lot harder to recover...

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