“Rank your ideal girl”.
This was essentially the directive of teachers at St Luke’s Grammar School in Sydney’s Northern Beaches to Year 10 boys; 25 points assigned to “allocate qualities that [they] would look for” in a girl. What transpired was a stark insight into toxic masculinity, sex-shame and the significant work that still needs to be done to reach gender equality.
The qualities were listed and ranked from one to six points. 6 points were attributed to “qualities” of ‘virginity’, ‘popularity’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘good Christian values’ compared to two points afforded to being ‘brave’, ‘socially competent’ and the ‘right height’. ‘Generosity’ and ‘caring for the world plummeted to the bottom, allocated just one point.
The boys then reportedly laughed about the lesson, with one describing it as a “build a bitch” exercise.
Meanwhile, in a separate classroom, Year 10 girls at the school were assigned articles to read on the importance of remaining a virgin until marriage and “how Satan provides opportunities for fleeting sexual encounters”.
The Principal of St Luke’s reportedly apologised to parents and the students, describing the incident as, “… a good example of how the very best intentions can go terribly wrong”. But it’s hard to see where the good intentions of this parochial sexism lie.
It’s also difficult to fathom how such a lesson was intended to address “the complex issues of consent and toxic masculinity”- unless to simply reenforce the latter.
Reading the article made my blood boil. I struggle to see how this could be an innocent mistake when the boys and girls were given such drastically different exercises.
It is glaringly obvious that the exercise assigned to boys would result in the objectification of girls. However it’s the message sent to young women at the school which, in my mind, is even more sinister.
Making girls believe that the burden falls on them to protect themselves from men, by remaining virginal is sickening. It reenforces the notion that if a girl has sex before marriage and later becomes a victim of sexual assault, it must be her fault for being “promiscuous” in the first place.
This is the very antithesis of the way in which consent and toxic masculinity should be discussed.
If we keep demonising sex, girls will continue being victims of sexual assault and suffering the harrowing consequences of victim blaming.
Time is up on placing the burden on girls to watch how they dress and how they act. Schools are one of the core places where this narrative needs to start, and educators and systems must work tirelessly to squash the idea that women exist to please men and wait patiently to start their life serving their husbands once they have been lucky enough to be picked for marriage.
There is value in teaching children about aspirational qualities in a relationship. The weight that is given to certain values is important too.
However, placing qualities like virginity, trustworthiness, attractiveness and popularity as more valuable qualities than being brave or caring for the world and placing the latter in the same group as “right height” and “favourite hair colour” is indefensible.
This lesson backfired as it should have. The boys laughed at creating their perfect partner. Why? Because at sixteen you aren’t looking for a long term life partner. The lesson was entirely out of touch with its target and it highlights that there is still so much work to do around this topic. Not to mention that encouraging young men to view and rank women in a formal exercise like this, permits them to do it in real life. It suggests that men exist on a different, superior playing field to women.
When you are 15 and 16 years old, you are impressionable. It is a teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the right message is being sent, especially around areas of consent and toxic masculinity.
If the boys walked out joking about their efforts to “build a bitch”, it begs the question: was there ever a discussion during the lesson about the point of the exercise? Once again, we are left with girls feeling “disgusted and offended” and boys laughing at their expense.