As a feminist — especially one who works in a high school — it seems like a constant uphill battle to teach teenage boys about feminism. What I hear most often are the same, old, tired gender norms repeated time and time again. The young men want their girlfriends to look and act a certain way; they want someone who knows they eventually want children, and they certainly don’t want a future wife to out-earn them in the workplace. I certainly hope that they will eventually change their minds as they grow and mature and encounter more feminist role models.
Usually, it is the girls who express frustration with their male peers. It’s not uncommon for me to have conversations with girls about how to deal with sexism and discrimination. However, even though conversations such as these are rare with boys, I’m starting to see a turn for the better. More and more, boys are opening their minds to the idea of sexism, and realizing that the world is not fair for young girls. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.
One group of male student athletes from the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts has taken a huge step in furthering male feminism in their school, especially when it comes to sports and sports culture. Twenty-two of these male athletes — all graduating seniors — co-signed and published a letter in their school newspaper on May 30 of last year denouncing the sexism present in high school sports. The letter said, in part:
[Male athletes'] collective character has been tainted by the objectification and sexism that pervade athlete culture. This culture may not be our fault, but it is our problem to fix . . . It is time for Andover’s athletes to find new, constructive ways to bond and develop team camaraderie that aren’t based on conquering [at] dances and competitively targeting females; not by prodding teammates to “hook up” and teasing those who don’t. The definition of “cool” doesn’t have to be a traditionally masculine figure who objectifies [his] sexual partners or who climbs [his] respective social ladders through hook-ups.
In a world where cases like the one in Steubenville, Ohio, where teammates raped a girl at a party and were defended by their coaches and other members of the team, and countless other similar cases in high schools and colleges around the country, it’s refreshing to see male student athletes take a stand against this kind of behavior. It’s no surprise, then, that the letter — which was co-signed by the captains of the football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, track, cross-country, golf, volleyball, water polo and squash teams — is gaining traction. It has been widely circulated across many gender justice and pro-feminist men’s websites, and is becoming a sort of mantra for male student athletes who are ready to stand for something better, both for their female peers and for themselves.
That this letter was written, signed, published and well-received is a breath of fresh air, but possibly not surprising from the same Phillips Academy that introduced the Brace Center for Gender Studies in 1996. The Brace Center is billed as “a welcoming resource center where students and faculty meet to discuss gender issues.” It’s no wonder that these young men aren’t afraid to take a stand for gender justice in a place where they are exposed to and educated about these issues in the first place. This is a ringing endorsement for gender studies programs at the high school level everywhere.
But, until we can establish such programs in our nation’s schools, it’s important that we stand with the Phillips Academy 22, and you can do that by signing the petition below.
Photo Credit: Phillips Academy Archives and Special Collections