Six tips for tackling misogyny in schools

Two male pupils pointing fingers at a young girl

The recent rise in popularity of online figures and subcultures that promote misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, domestic violence, and other problematic ideas present a very real threat to the safeguarding of young people. These influencers appeal most to teenage boys and men, with students up and down the UK celebrating them as role models. The risk posed by this process of idolisation should not be understated, however, it is important for us to understand how these figures capture the minds of young people and exploit their vulnerabilities.

Six tips for tackling misogyny in schools:

  1. Providing young people with role models: problematic figures often fill a void for young people who may feel they don’t have identifiable role models who represent them. Weaving positive role models into curriculums and school culture can help to prevent the instillation of role models with negative influence. These role models should be diverse and reflective of the school community and young people should be empowered to engage with their public presence wherever possible. Some suggestions might be
    • Akala: a British rapper, journalist, author, poet and activist from Kentish Town, London.
    • Malala Yousafzai: a Pakistani activist and the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Yousafzai has become a worldwide public advocate for women’s education following.
    • Toni Morrison: a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and poet, the first Black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
    • Tsai Ing-wen: First woman to be elected as President of Taiwan and the first president of aboriginal descent. Ing-wen supports LGBTQIA+ communities, same-sex marriage, disadvantaged women, and those in poverty.
    • Gloria Steinem: American journalist and leader in the women’s rights movement between 1960-80. Steinem advocated for Reproductive Choice in the US and went on to focus on issues of sex equality, race equality and child abuse.
    • Shelina Zahra Janmohamed: a British writer. She is the author of Love in a Headscarf, a memoir of growing up as a British Muslim woman.
    • Laverne Cox: a trans woman of colour and queer activist. She’s the first transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy Award and the first transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME magazine.

2. Build a culture where conversations around injustice are not taboo: have very open and frank conversations about equality and ongoing civil rights movements. Have uncomfortable discussions about the Me Too movement, the fight for queer liberation, issues surrounding men’s mental health in the UK, and ongoing feminist discourse. Sources concerning these topics can be woven into English Language lessons, History, PSHE and assemblies. Allow young people to have a voice in these discussions by setting up a safe space where all can be included.

3. Build on existing Wellbeing provisions: create a space where the mental health of young people, particularly boys and men is taken seriously. Ask if they are provided with sufficient opportunity to access support, creative or healthy outlets and safe spaces in school. Include them in this process.

4. Dedicate time for in depth discussions around consent and sexual health: spend time reflecting on the importance of consent, healthy relationships and sexual health. Invite guest speakers or ensure staff are adequately equipped to have these conversations within a safe space. Don’t fear the discomfort these conversations can generate, in that discomfort lies the possibility for reflection and learning.

5. Educate young people on the danger of misinformation and online algorithms: take time to explore real life examples of the impacts of misinformation. Spend time talking with young people about their online presence, the media they consume and the ways in which social media algorithms can very easily create echo chambers, fertile ground for the cementing of radical views. Emphasise the need for critical thinking skills and a diversity of sources of information.

6. Implement robust safeguarding procedures: Ensure that policies/procedures are clear and effective in dealing with sexist incidents and sexual harassment within school, whether peer-on-peer or from pupils to staff. Make sure that these are articulated to all members of staff and that staff are adequately trained and supported torecognise and respond to these incidents effectively. All incidents should be recorded and appropriate interventions put in place for both target and perpetrator.

These undertakings require planning and commitment, but they are important in addressing this ongoing threat.

Further guidance on this topic is available as part of EqualiTeach Empowered: an online subscription service for schools providing tools, guidance and resources on all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion.

Further support

If you or your school would like support in implementing these strategies, you’re welcome to speak with EqualiTeach. We provide staff training on promoting gender equality and preventing and tackling sexism and have a number of workshops created for young people on topics of gender, sexual orientation, critical thinking skills, creating positive change and the dangers of misinformation. We also offer consultancy services, online resources, and accreditation. Find out more here.

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