Schools Investigating the growing culture of misogyny in Australian schools

In their ongoing study, DR STEPHANIE WESCOTT and PROFESSOR STEVEN ROBERTS are finding that an increase in misogynistic views among some teenage boys is making an unacceptable number of women and girls feel unsafe in our schools.

An increasing number of female teachers are reporting persistent sexism, sexual harassment, disrespect, and misogyny from their male students – behaviour that is making many women unsafe in their workplace and disrupting girls’ education. These findings come from our ongoing study on women teachers’ experiences of misogyny in Australian schools, which has received significant interest since we called for participants in early April this year. 

“Teachers are describing an escalating culture of misogyny.”

While sexual harassment in schools isn’t a new problem – and has been widely documented in both research and the media – teachers are now describing something different: an escalating culture not only of sexual harassment, but of language and behaviours expressing a belief in male superiority and other misogynistic views among boys. Our research shows that this culture is currently under-recognised by school communities and is contributing to some women teachers’ decisions to leave the profession.

Findings from our first round of interviews are troubling. These teachers are observing increased levels of hostility from boys; harassment of teachers and girls; dog-whistling; and other offensive statements or gestures. Attitudes to School surveys are also providing a concerning insight into girls’ experiences in this current environment, with many teachers disclosing that female students are reporting feeling unsafe and unhappy at school.

Our study pays particular attention to the influence of Andrew Tate, a former kickboxer turned social media influencer, infamous for his denigration of women and promotion of toxic masculinity, whose content is particularly targeted toward teenage audiences. Teachers participating in this research have noticed a discernible shift in boys’ behaviour towards women in the past 12 to 18 months, a timeline that coincides with both a return to face-to-face schooling and the rise of Tate’s popularity.

In December 2022, Tate was arrested in Romania on suspicion of organised crime and human trafficking. Teachers indicated that their students’ views were unchanged by this news, with some boys believing that the charges were part of a conspiratorial “fake news” plot designed to punish him.

Although banned from TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for misogynistic content, interviews with Tate and reposts of his content are still widely available. Investigations have shown that these posts are reaching the social media feeds of teenage boys, even if they haven’t actively sought them out. We are hearing reports of boys baiting teachers with ideas and quotes attributable to Tate – for example, expressing views about girls and women’s inherent inferiority.

Our study invites teachers’ ideas on how to address concerning attitudes toward women and girls among some teenage boys. Their suggestions have included: targeted programs; the expansion of the Respectful Relationships curriculum so it has a greater presence in classrooms; and initiatives to improve students’ digital and media literacy, so they might better understand how algorithms exploit their attention and potentially recruit them into dangerous and anti-social ideologies.

Another issue repeatedly raised by the teachers in our study is the lack of recognition in schools of the problem of misogyny, and the avoidance of specific, accurate language around its symptoms and behaviours. They believe school communities avoid the term ‘misogyny’ to describe boys’ behaviour, and fail to record incidences of sexual harassment, dog-whistling or baiting and gaslighting on school management platforms, contributing to a lack of data on the scope of the problem, and an unsatisfactory response to the ongoing sexual harassment, violence and mistreatment of female teachers and students.

We hope that this research will contribute to an increased awareness of the current climate and policy action towards creating safer workplaces and classrooms. If you would like to contribute to this Monash University study, please contact [email protected]. Your privacy will be protected, and your involvement will remain anonymous.

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