Topsy Turvy Sexuality?

Australians are now part of the world of topsy-turvy sexuality; gender is fluid and yet the alphabet of carefully defined sexual orientations grows longer. Our children are now taught in school that gender is not bound by biology and yet the same programs encourage boys and girls to be separated for classes dealing with sex.

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Rabbit or Duck Sculpture

The clarion call of 2016 is that there is no normal when it comes to gender and sexuality, indeed believing so is heresy, and yet when it comes to the teacher’s manual for Respectful Relationships, the Education Department of Victoria strongly suggest ‘single-sex groups’, and ‘male educators’.

Why? According to the Department there are inherent differences between males and females, not only biological and physical differences, but emotional and social differences, such that it ought to influence the way we talk about domestic violence in the classroom.

For example, while mixed gender groups are not dismissed,  multiple reasons are offered as to why single-sex groups may be preferred:

“Both males and females may be more comfortable and expressive in single-sex groups. In sexuality education, for example, there is evidence that young people can be uncomfortable when asked to discuss sexual matters in front of members of the other sex and reluctant to fully participate in sessions held in a mixed-sex environment.

– Mixed-sex discussions can become polarised.

– Working in single-sex groups can minimise the harmful, gendered forms of interaction that are common in mixed-sex groups.

• Girls and women with prior histories of sexual assault may experience mixed-gender workshops as revictimisation, while potential male perpetrators may misuse information on how girls and women can reduce their risk of assault.

• There is some evidence that female and male participants prefer single-sex workshops. Research on violence prevention education among men in particular tends to emphasise the need for male-only groups, for example because:

• men are more comfortable, less defensive and more honest in all male groups

• men are less likely to talk openly in the presence of women

– single-sex groups reveal a diversity of opinions among men that may not be expressed when women are present

• men may be more prepared to reveal, and thus reflect critically, on sexist and abusive histories in all-male settings

• men’s attitudes and behaviour are shaped in powerful ways by their male peers, and male–male influence can be harnessed for positive ends in all-male groups

• there may be greater opportunity to discuss and craft roles for males in ending sexism and violence.

At the same time, there are clear benefits for mixed-sex groups. In particular, they:

• create opportunities for dialogue between females and males regarding gender, sexuality, violence and relationships, fostering cross-gender understanding and alliance

• create opportunities for males to listen to females regarding these issues”

This recognition of male and female differences also affects the question of who should facilitate these Respectful Relationships classes:

“Gender of teaching staff?

Most violence prevention educators in Australia are female, reflecting women’s much higher levels of participation and employment in services, agencies and community efforts addressing men’s violence against women. However, as engaging boys in violence prevention has become more prominent and as men’s roles have received increasing emphasis, there has also been some emphasis on the need for work with boys and young men to be conducted by male facilitators in particular. Arguments for using male facilitators and peer educators when working with all-male audiences include the following:

• Given the benefits of all-male groups or classes (see the discussion under ‘Curriculum structure’ above); male educators or facilitators are a necessary complement to this.

• Male educators and participants can act as role-models for other men.

• Male educators possess an insider’s knowledge of the workings of masculinity and can use this to critical advantage with male audiences.

• Male educators tend to be perceived as more credible and more persuasive by male participants.

• The use of male educators embodies the recognition that men must take responsibility for helping to end men’s violence against women. However, female facilitators can work very effectively with boys and men, and there are benefits to women and men working together.

Such partnerships demonstrate to participants a model of egalitarian working relationships across gender; they model women’s and men’s shared interest in non-violence and gender justice; they give men opportunities to hear of women’s experiences and concerns and to further mobilise their care for the women and girls in their own lives; and they enhance accountability to women and women’s services.

The argument that work with girls and young women should be conducted by female facilitators in particular has been made less often, perhaps as this is the norm anyway, given women’s overrepresentation in the violence prevention field. Nevertheless, it is supported by similar arguments to those above and by earlier arguments for single-sex groups per se.

Simplistic assumptions about ‘matching’ educators and participants, for example by sex, may not address the complex interactions and negotiations that take place regarding a range of forms of social difference, from age and ethnicity to class and sexuality. Indeed, sharing a biological sex is no guarantee of individuals’ compatibility, given males’ and females’ diverse gender identities and relations. In any case, there may be practical constraints on ‘matching’ educators, particularly when it comes to working with boys and young men.

Therefore, while there are valuable arguments for matching the sex of the educator(s) and their students in violence prevention and respectful relationships classes, this report suggests that programs have clear rationales for, or at least a critical understanding of, their use of female or male staff.”

The document is revealing because it presents a teaching methodology that contradicts the teaching material. The authors acknowledge there are real differences between males and females which extend beyond biology and which are not necessarily social constructs.  Indeed, one could say, it is normal. In fact, the authors are left, almost having to justify exceptions to this pattern, saying, ‘here’s what works, but we understand you may want to try things differently’.

No matter how hard sexual deconstructionists try to bend or even remove the parameters of the two genders, we inevitably return to them like fish to water.  I am not saying that there aren’t people who have genuine struggles and even dysphoria, but if gender is as fluid as some are arguing, why did these education experts think it pertinent to provide such specific guidelines, taking into account marked differences between boys and girls? Are they simply reinforcing archaic stereotypes? Or is it the case, that despite pressures to conform to the current mood on sexual thinking, it is impossible to altogether abandon what we know to be true, that boys are boys, and girls are girls:  both are equal and yet different.

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