“Real men” and “Feminazis”

For the last little while, I have spent a considerable amount of time twiddling my thumbs in various primary school staffrooms all across town (and out of town), and I have ended up reading a lot of education magazines and newsletters that are lying around. Generally I find these very interesting and informative, but yesterday I read a column in one of them that really rubbed me the wrong way. It was in The Education Weekly, and titled “Boys are taught better by men” (online here). What I dislike about this has nothing to do with the findings that boys learn better with male teachers (and girls with female teachers), because if that’s what the research found, then fine. What I have a problem with is this

This means that if schools and ministries of education are to do what their mission statements say they do (like ‘providing an excellent education for everybody regardless of ethnicity, waist–size and gender) they have to employ more male teachers. And not pretend-men; real ones.
Real men, lest there be doubt, use swear words when they squash their fingers with staplers. Real men throw a ball around at lunchtime.
Real men don’t, and this is important for the ministry people to understand, don’t do buzz groups, or group hugs or share their feelings about curriculum positions.

Specifically, I have a problem with the bit I have emphasized in bold: I have a huge fucking problem when someone starts to dictate what ‘real’ men do, and what they don’t. Why? Because it is bullshit, and exclusionary, and marginalising, and validates very restrictive gender norms. So men (male teachers here) who do buzz groups aren’t real men? Way to dictate acceptable behaviour and, by doing that, imply that people who don’t conform to this that they aren’t ‘real’ versions of their gender. I loathe this. This reinforcement that there are only a limited number of things that are acceptable and ‘real’ to indicate your maleness (or femaleness), and doing other things is weird, abnormal, or deviant (deviant in the ‘bad’ sense, not in the ‘different from the norm’ sense). Basically, it’s building  boxes, continually strengthening them, and compartmentalising people based on whatever shitty little standards, and constantly reinforcing those shitty little standards. Whatever happened to diversity? Acknowledging that there is a vast range of ways to be, and not one ‘real’ way?

In addition, I experienced a low level of familiar dislike after reading the rest of the column:

Girls are OK with long drawn out projects with frilly borders and stickers and glitter on the front pages and pedantic marking criteria, while boys prefer to play footy all year, and then study for a few nights before an exam.
The curriculum people must accept there is a gender issue inherent to the curriculum. Boys are not OK with poems or batik or role-playing during lessons on fractions.

Ah, this again. So warm, so familiar. As a woman who never got excited about borders and title pages, and always studied for just a few nights before the exam, I tire of this kind of assertation that group A is one way, and group B is this other way. People are multi-faceted! I know the examples given above are generalisations, but the problem is when these generalisations become entrenched and start to actual become what we consider a genuine representation of an entire group.

Also; boys aren’t ok with poems, or batik? Paging store management, do we stock any broader brushes? No?  Boys don’t like art, or poetry, because it’s for girls, right? A point to think about is maybe the reason that boys don’t like these things (which I don’t agree with, but bear with me) is because they are told things like “boys don’t like poems”, and boys who do are negatively reinforced (“poerty is for girls and homos” style).

And a final note, every time I see the word “feminazi”, I can barely stop from grinding my teeth. Yes, I get it, you don’t really get feminism and think it is all militant nut jobs. Gold star for ignorance. But please, surely you muct be aware of what the Nazi’s actually did, right? Because, um, even if you do think feminists are militant crazies, you cannot seriously think it is ok to draw a comparison between them and the Nazi’s (what with all that genocide and silly little things like that). It is horribly offensive, tasteless, and insensitive. If I could ban the word ‘Feminazi’, I would. (On that topic, lately I have noticed ‘Helengrad’ creeping back into internet comments. Also well done on the sensitivity, realism, and knowing-anything-about-history fronts there!)


  1. Sophia says:

    Ugh. I hate this kind of attitude. It’s also not backed up by solid research. One of the possible reasons for some of the issues that young men and boys face is the pressure that they face to be ‘real men’. This type of hegemonic masculinity that is promoted in society does a huge disservice to boys and young men. There is an interesting paper written about this subject called ‘Male Teachers and Boy’s Achievements: To Degree or Not to Degree” (http://tiny.cc/x8385) which I found useful when I had to organise a Men’s conference for NZUSA last year.

  2. Boganette says:

    I feel your pain. Particularly on the feminazi front. It’s a ridiculous term and incredibly offensive. When someone uses it I automatically know they’re an idiot and unworthy of of engaging with in a debate/argument etc.

    And in terms of the ‘real men’ shit. I’m pretty shocked that was published in a school newsletter. What a load of shit. And very offensive to men – as to me at least – it paints them as bumbling morons who swear and kick footballs all day. And WTF – NO child likes “pedantic marking criteria” the person who wrote that is an idiot.

    Great post Steph. You’re always in fine form.

    • steph says:

      Yeah, I was surprised to read it in this education newsletter presumably circulated throughout NZ schools. But it also kinda of (to me, anyway) seemed like it was written by one of those ‘I am notorious for being offensive and NOT PC and telling people HOW IT IS and people HATE IT but really they’re thinking it too’ style columnists. It had that kind of flavour, anyway.

      • Boganette says:

        Oh like every columnist on a rural newspaper in NZ? lol

        • steph says:

          Haha, yep. Or any columnist who is just starting out and thinks that the best way to get people to pay attention is to be ‘edgy’ and ‘in your face’ and ‘tell it like it is’

  3. Jason says:

    I loved role playing math. #notarealmandontcareidontlikethoseguysanyway

    Long live the third (non-swearing poetry liking) gender.

  4. Helen says:

    What a great blog. What a great post. (Here via Bluemilk and certain to return.)
    I’ve been meaning to vent my own spleen on this topic. Here in Australia, we had Education Wars under the previous conservative government and one of the tropes hanging around was that not enough men were going into teaching and that education was becoming “feminised”, hence boys turning off right, left and centre.
    The unexamined assumption underneath this – this wasn’t a minority view, it was getting flung about everywhere – is that boys just shouldn’t have to be instructed by women. Because women are lesser humans, of course.
    Of course they’d hotly deny this, but why else should the supposed “feminisation” of education be viewed as a turnoff and a bad thing?

    • steph says:

      Yes, there has been a bit of that over here too. It doesn’t even really make sense; what does it mean, being “feminised”? Does that just mean more female teachers? Or does it mean that now everything gets written on pink paper with glitter pens and unicorn stickers? It’s such an evasive term.

      • Julie says:

        It’s particularly galling when you consider why there are many more women teaching than men in the younger age groups:
        1. Status of teachers lowers as the age of the child lowers (which is just crap and closely linked to the perception that it is “mere women’s work” and largely without skill – you try working with someone who can’t speak or read for a day and see how it goes)
        2. Pay generally low and hours generally high (boo!)
        3. Some people still look on men who want to be around children as a threat (also just crap)

        Those who rail against the “feminisation” of education seem to come from a place that puts down teachers (those who can do, those who can’t teach – more crap!), moans about them as a bunch of commie Marxists if they seek better pay and conditions, and gets all homophobic about men in the profession (see the original article that started this off!)

        • Amanda says:

          Re: number 3 Julie, I remember with sadness many men in my peer/age group attempting to go into ECE or primary education not long after the Ellis moral panic had died down…and they felt shamed out of the industry. Here were wonderful men, willing to dedicate their lives to teaching, and they were made too scared to hug a child if they fell over and skinned a knee.

          20 years on, there is now a generation questioning this “feminisation” (gahhh!) and simply blaming women for it, and not even looking at historical consequences of the 80s gay panic.

  5. Julie says:

    I tend to never bother with the EduVac (Education Weekly) as almost all the content seemed to me to be regurgitated media statements. Perhaps things have changed since I stopped reading it! That column sounds awful, I wonder if they got any complaints?

    Hope you read Education Aotearoa though, that’s excellent 🙂

    • steph says:

      I probably have; I tend to read any Education stuff lying around when I’m at schools, and luckily nothing until the Eduvac column has been anything but excellent.