Boy zone

15th March 1996 at 00:00
CHALLENGING MACHO VALUES By Jonathan Salisbury and David Jackson Falmer Pounds 13.95

Game on, Kev. Entrenched masculinity is alive and kicking (often literally), smirking beneath its back-to-front baseball cap. Boys continue to monopolise underachievement and physical space in mixed classrooms. One explanation is the common-sense myth that "boys will be boys"; it's hormonal. Forget that. Males aren't violent because of their bodies, but to appear more macho.

This male power is actively forged in schools. One example is the academic curriculum, with its masculine body of knowledge, reinforced by non-collaborative learning and an aggressively competitive ethos. Another is language which validates assumptions of male dominance. Not only through sexist banter in corridors or attention-grabbing classroom ploys, but the same linguistic systems which are practised in staff rooms. Language is a virulent weapon: stand back and listen.

The sexual linguistic swagger, strutting your stuff, homophobia and misogyny, obsessions with genitals and performance, violence and harassment are all admission tickets to the buddy-boy club, discussed here with unremitting honesty. Likewise, the alternative: scorn and ostracism from the pack.

Each chapter exposes the "real lad" culture, in all its manifestations and ramifications, from Gazza to warrior-hero to Stallone. Sport, for example, now demands a crunching physical strength and competitiveness, on field and terrace. Insecure youths pump iron in pursuit of the Terminator's ideal body. Barbarity abounds.

Tragically, the problems arising from destructive "manliness" seem set to intensify, while the equal-opportunities approach to working with boys is inadequate. Its stance is reactive and focused on containment. The authors' first achievement, therefore, is clarifying the urgency of providing an alternative vision of being male. Their second is suggesting ways of pursuing it.

The classroom strategies comprise a third of the book's 300 pages and are testimony to Jackson and Salisbury's expertise and experience in schools and the Nottingham Agenda (an anti-sexist programme that works with abusive and violent men). The guidance covers aims, materials and "what to do" with questionnaires, stories and cartoons, among other things.Take them or adapt, as circumstances require.

Practical advice nourishes each chapter. Some of it is familiar (sex bias in resources, the tone of assemblies and so on), some less so (such as gender perspectives on male health). There are other positive notes. Among them the accounts of pro-active sessions with disruptive boys, when teacher apprehensions are balanced by student smiles of understanding. Elsewhere, simple reminders that "the majority of boys don't bully", or that public pressure against offensive advertising (Hennes lingerie) can triumph.

There is also evidence that more schools are challenging themselves in terms of masculine entitlement at every level (Hackney Downs was one such).It is a complex, painful process, which this important book can help. Not at a single sitting, but in a "more dynamic negotiation" with parts of it as needs arise. 0ne can forgive its repetitiveness. It should be compulsory and compelling reading for anyone working with adolescent boys.

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