CW: Sexual Harassment
We teach boys.
That is the motto of Brighton Grammar School. It was on our signs, bags, and all other pieces of paraphernalia. It was quoted to us in assemblies, and was often coupled with “to be successful men”. It seems stupid now, but I often defended it during my time at BGS, because the ambiguity made me think that “we teach boys” really meant “we teach boys to be whatever they want”.
For every muck-up day, the motto is turned into the witty phrase “we touch boys” – a not-so-subtle dig at our historical incidents of pedophilia. It would be a much harder pill to swallow, however, and certainly not tolerated, if someone were to come along and modify the motto into “we teach boys… as long as it’s not confronting or unpleasant.” That doesn’t roll off the tongue. It doesn’t fit on our signs.
In July of this year it became public knowledge that a group of boys from Brighton Grammar School had created a “young sluts” Instagram account calledys_academy_puspus to share photos of schoolgirls and vote on the “slut of the year”.
I write this article in two minds. First of all is as a student who went to Brighton Grammar, and who both enjoyed and appreciated my time at the school. Secondly, I write as a student who witnessed first-hand the ever-present casual sexism, misogyny, and homophobia that is present in daily life.
As a BGS alumnus, when I saw the school that I had loved and been a part of for 11 years splashed across front pages of prominent newspapers, my initial outrage and shock automatically became defensive. I was defensive when someone tagged me in the article, I was defensive when it was brought up at dinner, and I was defensive when I felt myself starting to blame BGS for what had happened.
Today, I regret the implication that all Brighton Grammar boys think of girls this way and regret the implication that these actions are exclusive to Brighton Grammar alone.
I know boys who spent almost their entire schooling at BGS and were the most genuine people you would ever meet. I knew boys in Year 9 who had the maturity and perspective of men twice their age. I had witnessed from within a school community that can, and would, band together behind anything that struck the heart of the community as a whole. None of these facts, however, counteract the inherent sexism that pervades Brighton Grammar.
The fact is, that while the Instagram account is an extreme cases of sexism in a Secondary School, the major difference between it, and passively accepted casual sexism, is the fact that in this case, there was a digital record.
At BGS we were given Sex Education at two stages; firstly in Year 6, when we were taught the biology of sex; and secondly in Year 9, when we were taught about sexually transmitted infections, puberty, the physical changes that men and women go through, and told that we should always wear a condom.
Technically, I was very well educated about the biology of sex. What was somewhat skimmed over, however, was that sex is an interaction between two human beings.
We were not taught about consent. We were not taught about respectful relationships with women. We definitely weren’t taught about same-sex relationships at all.
We did, however, have compulsory Religious Education each week, assemblies devoted to winning the football premiership, talks about drug use, alcohol consumption and gambling, and even visits from old boys.
There was opportunity after opportunity for someone to have come in and talked about consent. Yet we were never taught or showed anything – not even the tea video.
So, I ask, is Brighton Grammar fulfilling its promise of teaching boys to be “successful men”?
Well, unless a successful man doesn’t know that posting photos of girls as young as 11 and sexualising them young sluts is wrong, then no, Brighton Grammar is not producing successful men.
Brighton Grammar have responded to the issue by expelling the two boys that created the account, punished the others involved and offered counselling to the victims. They have contacted “one of Australia’s leading cyber educators” and plan to review “current programs of educating boys and providing guidance to parents on matters relevant to social media and the online world”. This is simply not enough.
This issue is not limited to the boys’ use of social media. Rather, the issue is the atrocious treatment of women. Brighton Grammar should understand that.
All of this begs the question of whether boys need to be ‘taught’ how to interact with girls. I wish we lived in a world without entrenched sexism, where boys (and men) did not need to be taught how to interact with women.
In the light of recent events, I think that any school – particularly a single-sex boys’ school – that is not educating boys on issues of consent and explicitly informing them that objectifying women is not okay, is not fulfilling its role as an educator.
Photo Credit: Brighton Grammar School