In a move that seems nearly impossible to accomplish in the United States, given its current political climate, one state in Australia has added a mandatory “respectful relationship” curriculum to its school system. All schools in Victoria must now teach students about social inequality, gender-based violence, sexual orientation, and yes, male privilege, hopefully jumpstarting a conversation that often happens to girls in private, and to boys never.
I exaggerate, but speaking from my own experience, I would’ve had a much easier go of puberty and then womanhood if I’d enforced my own autonomy, but also if many of the men I’d interacted with acknowledged it too. Just as college activists have reworked larger understandings of consent and justice, and activists years before defined marital rape for the first time, so much work is in just the naming of something. Introducing children to these notions, particularly when they reach the age where they begin to consciously divide between genders, is crucial.
At the same time, the legislation cannot be the only source of this kind of information for kids. This isn’t a ding at its aims, though they also include lessons about anger management, and the “dangers of pornography,” but rather at the necessity for kids to have these conversations with other authority figures in their lives, namely their parents and other family members.
Interestingly, the first run of the program was criticized for painting all men broadly as “bad,” and all women broadly as “victims.” That kind of language isn’t helpful, and beyond that, it ignores other intersections of marginalization, particularly race-based ones. But as far as introducing these ideas as things that kids not only should learn, but have to learn, is a tricky tightrope, but one that very few organizations still even dare to attempt. We’re curious as to which, if any other, Australian states attempt the same program; and beyond that, where else in the world.
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