We mustn’t make boys feel bad about being male

Do we really want little boys left feeling bad about themselves?

  PHOTO: Do we really want little boys left feeling bad about being male? (Elizabeth Jackson)

Our public schools should not portray domestic violence as a battleground of boys versus girls. We must ensure we don’t send children the wrong message, writes Elizabeth Jackson.

Remember this. I like girls. I am one.

I also like boys; I gave life to three of them. The eldest is nearly a man, almost 17.

Last Monday was White Ribbon Day at the local public primary school. The children were encouraged to write poems reflecting upon the theme. Some of them were read out during school assembly.

“How was White Ribbon Day, boys?” I asked as they ambled towards me, basketballs bouncing, white T-shirts smudged to a grey brown.

“It was really anti-boy,” came the unexpected response.

I know boys get a bad rap these days, and believe me I understand why. Their physicality alone can be overwhelming.

“Stop bouncing balls inside”, “don’t touch one another”, “think your own thoughts inside your own head”, “you’re not in a competition”.

This is the chorus of my life.

But boys can be brave. I’ve seen it. Stoic two-year-old, blue eyes brimming with tears as he says, “It’s OK Mumma, you go to work, I’ll be OK.”

They can be funny:

“What’s a dictator?”

“Someone who takes control and doesn’t let anyone else have a say.”

“Like you?”

Boys seem to almost burst with enthusiasm. Their scabby knees and bruised legs a testament to the way they gulp at life.

And they can be tender, instinctive protectors of brothers, sisters and mothers.

But this was not the message on White Ribbon Day, according to one of my boys: “Men are just people who drink too much and discriminate women.” (sic)

I asked about the poetry. Girls said things like, “Stop hurting us.” One teacher said, “Girls are just as good as boys, if not better.”

So negative, so counter-productive. Good intentions executed so poorly.

Of course boys need to be educated not to hit women and girls need to know it’s not OK to be hit. But do we really want little boys left feeling bad about being male after White Ribbon Day?

What about the positive male role models? Why didn’t they get a look in? Educators are taught to ignore bad behaviour and focus on the positive.

There was no mention of Ashley Banjo, dancer extraordinaire and campaigner for women’s rights:

Controlling your partner in any way is unhealthy. I’ve been with my girlfriend for five years and it’s important to me that she feels relaxed and free.

Or actor Ricky Whittle:

We can all do something to help end domestic violence. A real man would never abuse his partner or children.

And what about those little boys who will themselves become the victims of domestic violence?

Our public schools should not portray domestic violence as a battleground of boys versus girls. Men need to respect women and vice versa.

Girls are great, it’s true, but so too are boys.

Elizabeth Jackson produces and presents Saturday AM and Correspondents Report. View her full profilehere.

Topics: menwomendomestic-violence

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Comments (25)

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·        Jack Tar:

03 Dec 2014 4:14:09pm

Thanks for writing this Elizabeth.

I don’t see how alienating another generation of boys will lead to less violence.

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o   Maxx:

03 Dec 2014 4:41:09pm

The “education” system has been alienating boys for the last 30+ years.

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§  Jack Tar:

03 Dec 2014 4:58:12pm

It’s been 47 years since I first noticed it.

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·        Paul:

03 Dec 2014 4:31:50pm

“Violence against men, Australia says NOTHING.”

In Australia, violence against men is silently condoned, despite the statistics released by the ABS clearly showing that men are victims of violence more often than women. Go on, look it up.


Domestic violence is just a subset of the problem. When we say violence against women is wrong, but we say nothing about violence against men, we imply that violence against men is acceptable. Violence is not acceptable, whether it is directed at men, women, children or animals.

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o   anon:

03 Dec 2014 5:17:40pm

My male partner was a victim of DV from his first wife for ten years. Luckily, as he was physically bigger and stronger he was never badly (physically) hurt. He has never told anyone but me this, not even his parents. The point is many men still are unwilling to talk about their personal issues in public. A woman will say she is ‘afraid of being raped by a stranger’, I haven’t heard a man say he is ‘afraid of being killed by a one-punch attack’. We see marches against violence against women, but none against violence against men. I agree this is an issue.

Many blame nasty feminists, and some extreme feminists do paint all men as potential ‘baddies’. But I think it’s a wider societal problem. Even White Ribbon is about men, in a way, being strong and ‘protecting’ women. Men need to raise their voices (with womens support) and start talking about their own experiences and fears. I think this is still a very hard thing for most of them to do.

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o   ScottBE:

03 Dec 2014 5:28:34pm

Violence takes many forms. Psychological violence versus physical violence with arguments springing up everywhere. We men tend to respond to frustration by lashing out – it is our more physical nature. While women generally tend to use reasoning as a weapon against us – it is their inherent difference that we see as promoting conflict. 

There is no one side who is right in domestic disputes but the very nature of the masculine response and recourse to violence is a highly destructive force. This allows women to say (and rightly so) that men are violent and so inherently it is we who should contain our urges.

We must learn to respect women regardless of how we ourselves see the “unfairness” of this. There is no such thing as fairness however – there is merely our lack of respect.

Don’t try to find a reason to blame women Paul. It achieves nothing because you are in the wrong. Learn to appreciate and respect women as different creatures but equal with yourself.

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·        Los Pablos:

03 Dec 2014 4:36:07pm

My father always taught us that a man who hit women was the lowest form of life and a coward. We do need to balance our messages or they become skewed and meaningless. A good piece.

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·        The Thinker:

03 Dec 2014 4:39:00pm

You are on the right track here Elizabeth. Nevertheless, those positive manly qualities that you cite should enable your sons to brush off any feelings of being made to feel guilty for something they haven’t done.

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o   Jack Tar:

03 Dec 2014 5:04:36pm

They’re made to feel shame not guilt. Shame for what you are, not guilt for what you’ve done. Not everyone brushes of the shame so easily.

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·        Sleepykarly:

03 Dec 2014 4:43:30pm

Ricky Whittle says “A real man would never abuse his partner or children.”


In fact, a Real Man will put his own life between a child any anything that threatens that child. A Real Man gives all he can, and often all he is. 

Ancient societies that permitted males to take whatever they wanted are the societies that quickly destroyed themselves. Even the most brutal of patriarchies (you can nominate your own in that blank space; I will content myself with Ancient Rome rather than getting too topical) regarded a man as less than a Real Man if he wouldn’t defend at least his immediate family, thereby giving women and children at least a small measure of protection. 

The further this masculine duty to protect is recognised and encouraged and even extended to all vulnerable persons (e.g., refugees?), and sooner the anti-type of arrogant chest-beating Strong Man model is spurned, the better even the men will be! 

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o   ScottBE:

03 Dec 2014 5:34:38pm

Well said Karly… In the 80s came the development of the SNAG (the Sensitive New Age Guy) who at last recognised the rights of women and came to respect and develop a new equalist relationship could be had which encouraged mutual growth, security and assurance of benevolence in conflict – our arguments became respectful and evolved to mutual good.

Our PM is a great representative of the reversal of this prototype but I don’t give up hope that Real Men will one day join with women in a more productive society founded on mutual respect.

Wait for us to catch up Karly… we may be thick and slow in our thinking but we ill get there.

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·        Peter of Melbourne:

03 Dec 2014 4:45:40pm

i dont know elizabeth

you are bucking the trend here!

the nutcase greens and rest of the loopy fringe left now demand we all become genderless, automatons who blindly follow whatever egotistical little crusade they are currently bent upon… and wooo behold those who disagree with them, let alone speak out against them.

my boys play minecraft incessantly, they have superhero toys and more toy guns than i can destroy by stepping on as they are left on the floor around the house.

one day they will like girls and i will fully encourage them in that pursuit as well rather than following the other loopy left policy of turning all kids into transgender oddities and telling them “its ok” when it is clearly not or else our whole society would be doing it.

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o   ScottBE:

03 Dec 2014 5:40:44pm

Peter you keep harping on and on about “loopy lefties” and misunderstanding what is being promoted here.

I for one don’t consider myself left or right as I appreciate and respect both sides of the argument. This is the central tenet of the male/female conflict here described.

There needs to be respect for women among men before we can make real progress. 

If you are raising your boys with weapons in their hands and seeing women as something to “get” then you are espousing an old perception of women as lesser than men and that a violent approach is the best that a man can do to respond.

Remember that you are wanting your boys to live in happiness. So teach them to respect women and to respect their own self-discipline so that they don’t automatically reach for their guns in an argument.

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·        A pocketful of wry:

03 Dec 2014 4:52:25pm

If there’s a Caput mortuum (you may need to Google it) Ribbon Day where people who are tired of complex issues being reduced to inanity and all of the crass bottom-feeding that accompanies it can express their solidarity, then I’m prepared to overturn the habits of a lifetime in regard to pinning things on myself and happily jump on board.

Specifically concerning the article, I thank Elizabeth Jackson on behalf of all the males who agree with her sentiments but who can’t be bothered to run the gauntlet of the gender amateur mind police to express them. Well done.

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·        St Mary Whitehouse:

03 Dec 2014 4:53:39pm

The fact is that Women in groups have a tendency to release their inner bully and are quite happy to indulge in mindless hurt. It is something women do and most people have experienced it. Its not that they aim at men especially its just a genetic trait. It why most domestic abuse is attributed to women in the statistics. They think that being nasty is the way to behave without thought about the victim or balance. 

Yes it is absurdly anti-male. I doubt it has much serious lasting effect since it is by nature utterly nonsensical, nevertheless it may affect some youngsters long term. Usually these things end up snookering themselves and turning into self parody in a few years though. 

I do wish we could have serious feminists who might see that teaching women to be directly assertive and self responsible when faced with aggressive men might solve more problems than the silly aggressive tokenism that now passes for action.

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·        Patrick OS:

03 Dec 2014 4:56:22pm

Excellent article. Violence is violence so we should not pit gender against gender.

Peace to all

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·        Adman:

03 Dec 2014 5:01:34pm

Not to forget most DV perpetrated against children is committed by women. What does it say to boys and girls who suffer abuse at the hands of their mothers if it is simply ignored by only focusing on DV perpetrated by men?

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·        my alter ego:

03 Dec 2014 5:03:04pm

At school we were simply taught that violence against anyone was unacceptable.

I admit, I don?t have children of my own to draw any wisdom from.

I don?t wish to deny the opportunity for a child to be inquisitive about adult life but I sometimes fret when I see education programs rolled out for young children about problems in adulthood. Generally speaking, I think to presume to fit such a complex issue into a young child?s head in only a week when really they may lack the life experience to understand the nuances rife in adulthood risks a misguided understanding to take hold which will take longer to be rid of.

That doesn?t mean we should pretend the dark dynamics involved in domestic violence don?t exist or ignore the statistics when it comes to perpetrators. But I think the message on violence would need to be simpler in the first years of school. And, for those children that, sadly, already know domestic violence firsthand, they need more than a week-long school campaign.

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·        the yank:

03 Dec 2014 5:05:37pm

“But do we really want little boys left feeling bad about being male after White Ribbon Day?” … no of course not.

The message should be that violence against another is wrong but when we read every week how another woman has been killed by her male partner it is hard to ignore, men tend to be violent.

As well it might help if the Minister for Women actually showed some respect for the fairer sex for starters. 

Then if we had as much interest as stopping violence against women as we do against teenage terrorist we might actually put in place resources needed to help the situation, like places of refuge.

Or those that head our religious groups. They could come out and first off fess up and make appropriate reparations for the sins of their priest and then open up their doors of power so that women can also head their faiths. 

Corporations could stop talking about it and start opening up their halls of power and hire more women to top CEO positions.

All of these approaches and others would help lift the position of women in society and be a step towards respect on equal terms.


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o   Adman:

03 Dec 2014 5:27:09pm

“The message should be that violence against another is wrong but when we read every week how another woman has been killed by her male partner it is hard to ignore, men tend to be violent.”

Some men, not men. You might have issues with being violent, but do not try and paint all of us with the same brush.

“Then if we had as much interest as stopping violence against women as we do against teenage terrorist we might actually put in place resources needed to help the situation, like places of refuge.”

If we had as much interest in stopping all violence as we do against teenage terrorists we might actually put in place resources needed to help the situation.

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·        Big Al:

03 Dec 2014 5:10:35pm

This is a thought-provoking piece of writing, but contains no surprises. I agree with some of the comments here. The education system is run largely by females and promotes a female bias. Things are generally done in a female way. It is no wonder the boys brought home the view they did.

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·        Greg Andresen:

03 Dec 2014 5:16:12pm

Thank you Elizabeth for this wonderful article. Your anecdotes are backed up by other large-scale data.

The most recent Australian population survey on young people and domestic violence is ?Young people and domestic violence ? national research on young people?s attitudes to and experiences of domestic violence?. This 2001 research involved a quantitative survey of 5000 young Australians aged between 12 and 20 and is the largest sample of young people ever surveyed about their experience of and attitudes towards domestic violence in Australia.

The survey found that:

? young people were more likely to say a woman is right to, or has good reason to, respond to a situation by hitting (68%), than a man in the same situation (49%) (page 79)

? while males hitting females was seen, by virtually all young people surveyed, to be unacceptable, it appeared to be quite acceptable for a girl to hit a boy (page 29). 25 per cent of young people agreed with the statement ?When girl hits a guy, it?s really not a big deal??.

? Female to male violence was not only viewed light-heartedly, it was also seen as (virtually) acceptable. On reflection, both genders agreed that this constituted a double standard, and that it was not acceptable ? really. But there was no censure, and a good deal of hilarity generated by discussion of the topic in the female groups. In the male groups, acceptability was implied through their beliefs that there was no need to retaliate to female violence in any way (page 36)

? ?there was no spontaneous recognition that verbal abuse or a female hitting her boyfriend could also constitute dating violence… However… these were among the prevalent forms of ?violence? occurring?. ?Acts by females of slapping, pushing or kicking their boyfriends were widespread. However, this was not described or seen as ?violence? by the majority of male or female participants.?

? With dating violence, ?punching? or ?slapping? your boyfriend to ?get him in order? was not seen as constituting violence. Neither males nor females indicated that males were likely to retaliate, suggesting that both groups viewed this kind of ?violence? as a bit of a joke. It was not something to be taken seriously.

It’s high time our schools implemented respectful relationships education that encouraged our young people to respect each other regardless of their gender or sexuality. The White Ribbon campaign’s demonisation of males can only cause damage to our boys and girls.

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·        ScottBE:

03 Dec 2014 5:20:33pm

At last I find an area of agreement with Mr Abbott. “Let boys be boys and girls be girls”. His simplistic wisdom is reflexive but there is a truth that is often overlooked.

Our society has always been adversarial. Feudal lords reigned over serfs and forever declaimed the poor as lazy and grafting while the serfs saw their lords as exploitative and living off the earnings of the poor. Sound familiar?

Boys and girls have similarly been forever in competition. Boys particularly like to be “the best” while girls value systems are less overtly competitive and more social and empathetic they still consider their values to be “better”.

There is no right or wrong here – it just is. But perhaps we need to encourage a shift away from competition and recognise that both sides have equal value. Men need to recognise that women are right too just as women need to recognise the different way of thinking that typifies men. This is the foundation of respect.

It is through respect for the other that we can find peace. Not through one side being better than the other. We are equals – not competitors. We are one people (internationally) and women and men live cheek by jowl to find balance and harmony in their lives. But only through respect for our selves and for each other can this be a successful resolution of difference.

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·        Another bloke:

03 Dec 2014 5:34:45pm

Thank you for writing this. It is something that cannot be written by a male as we all misogynists and do not understand. 

My 14yo son comes home from high school and quotes some of the misandry that is espoused in the classroom. He “gets it” that if the genders were reversed and a male teacher made some of the comments about females that come out of one or two of his female teachers, the male teacher would be sitting in a Centrelink office within days. There is hope for the younger ones they understand the discrimination, just not why.

As a male “victim” of domestic violence I can assure the world it is not the sole domain of women. This is another subject that is rarely broached.

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·        spacey101:

03 Dec 2014 5:39:59pm

Great read Elizabeth, and I have to agree. I believe that feminism in some cases has simply gone too far. It seems that being ‘equal’ to men is now no longer the aim, the aim now seems to be to be better than, stronger than, more powerful than men. I read of one who goes by ‘The Femitheist’ who has cultivated an almost cult like following who believes that males should be culled by about 90% of the population and the remaining men kept for breeding purposes only. Obviously these views are on the fringes of the movement but they exist. Can you imagine a man proposing such a thing?