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On sex. Talk to men, not about them. (The Age)

Byline: Hunter Johnson

The continual revelations of alleged rape, sexual assault, and inappropriate behaviour against women in recent weeks has been confronting and shocking.

Unsurprisingly, it's been a topic that has dominated media coverage, dinner party conversations, and workplace watercoolers.

Australians are rightly outraged by the stories being shared; even more so by the volume.

However, the lens through which we view sexual assault remains trained on the victim-perpetrator paradigm.

We must be conscious that just blaming men will not keep women safe.

While well intentioned, the recent example of a school in regional Victoria that forced all of its male students to stand up in assembly to apologise to their female counterparts was grossly inappropriate.

Stunts like these will only backfire against the important message we as a community want - and need - to convey to our young men.

We need to stop having conversations about young men. We need to be having conversations with them.

With their identity attacked, anger will be bottled, shame will gnaw. In silencing and condemning young men, we risk them becoming enraged and reclusive.

If we are serious about evolving masculine culture, it begins with listening to and understanding the culture we are trying to change.

In seeking to understand what is happening, and to ensure young women are protected from these experiences, we need to speak with young men.

This means leaning into the awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes politically incorrect conversations, as that is the only way we will ever fundamentally address this challenge.

The fact is - most young men agree there needs to be change.

The Man Cave has surveyed over 500 boys in schools over the past few weeks to hear their views on the issue of consent: 95 per cent said they didn't think enough was being done to educate teenage boys about consent.

When asked where they learnt about consent, "home" and "school" were the predominant responses, along with the internet, female friends, and media sources.

We urgently need to create a safe space for boys and men to enter the discussion, and to be part of the solution.

Because when we shut out young men as a part of the solution, young men will shut themselves off from the problem.

At The Man Cave, when we speak with young men, we often hear about the pressure they feel to project strength, to never be seen as vulnerable, to "man up". We discover that entire worlds are built on boys one-upping each other, with stories from the weekend used as social capital in the school yard, playing out a culture of performed masculinity.

Every day, we hear the painful confusion in young men living by the masculine stereotype society has set for them, only for everyone around them to shame them for doing so.

Words create worlds. We hear from young men that phrases like "toxic masculinity" and "#allmen" make it difficult for them to find safe entry into this highly nuanced and emotionally charged conversation.

For young men growing up, if they are continually told they are "less than", invisible, or toxic, just for being male, how do we expect them to find it within themselves to empower positive action and to champion equality?

The solution lies in giving young men the safe space and opportunity to stop talking themselves up, and start talking themselves in.

We need to change this conversation and accelerate gender equality for all.

Hunter Johnson is chief executive officer of The Man Cave, a not-for-profit organisation that works with young men, aged 12 to 16, to foster healthy masculinity and positive mental health.

Teaching consent scenarios (The Age)

It is a warm night at an 18th birthday party and "Fiona" in her "short summery dress" has caught the attention of a boy from another school. They talk and drink and he leads her outside. They begin kissing and he tries to reach down her underpants.

Fiona pushes his hand away but he won't be swayed.

"Don't tell me you are not asking for it," he says. Fiona replies she does not even know his name. "Baby, I don't need to know your name," he says, and pushes her to the ground.

Fiona and "Chris" are not real. But this scenario would be recognisable to year 11 and 12 students doing consent education, who form classroom groups to discuss it. What is Chris's attitude towards women? What effect might it have on Fiona? What can she and others do?

The scenario is one of many contained in the Education Department's voluminous Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships senior student lesson material covering everything from managing study time to sexual consent.

But delivery of the material is inconsistent across the state, according to Education Minister James Merlino.

Schools pick and choose what they cover and how, meaning some students may not be well-versed in specifics about consent.

Amid a national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment, Mr Merlino last month announced lessons expressly addressing consent would be mandatory in every public school from term two, which begins on April 19.

But how might it look?

While each school will be different, mandated training in early primary school years may include discussions about good and bad touching or respectful playtime. One scenario available for classroom discussion is a boy demanding to use a swing and yelling, "girls have to get off or I will push them off".

Older students will receive more "age appropriate" lessons.

At Hume Central Secondary College, considered by the department to be a good template, years 7 to 9 receive a 75-minute lesson from the Respectful Relationships material each fortnight.

Professor Helen Cahill, who began working with the school to develop its content about seven years ago, said the college was distinctive because it had found a way to build its lessons into the timetable.

"The biggest problem is that while we have curriculum that points us this way, we don't necessarily have enough time [to teach it]," she said.

Students repeatedly work through the same eight topics as they move through their schooling. This includes emotional literacy, problem solving and stress management, and concludes with more sensitive topics of gender identity and positive gender relations.

The subject material in each topic becomes more advanced as students mature. Years 7 and 8 students may not talk specifically about sex, for example, but instead explore behaviour-shaping scenarios more likely to apply to them.

One discussion scenario involves a girl being teased by other students after returning from summer holidays with bigger breasts.

Another involves a male student in full make-up and costume for school production rehearsal getting wolf-whistled and called gay by other students outside the canteen.

"The whole thing is designed so it's not just a teacher standing there and delivering," Hume Central Secondary College principal Jeff Mulcahy said. "It's about getting students to think."

School co-captain Paris Halls said: "In year 9, we were taught how to treat people respectfully, either in a friendship or boyfriend-girlfriend relation.

"We learned the signs of a good relationship, the values of a good relationship, characteristics of a good relationship. In year 10, it was an extension of that. We were taught about consent. We were taught the negative signs of a relationship and how to remove yourself, too."

Fellow co-captain Folesi Tuiletufuga said role-playing and discussing multiple points of view had been an important part of the learning. But no schoolyard, including hers, was perfect. "There's a lot of boys who treat us respectfully, but there are also some boys who still have a lot to learn," she said.

Students in year 10 to 12 at the Broadmeadows school get their lessons as part of weekly "mentor classes". Content here is skewed towards achieving goals, but the term two program put together by senior school assistant principal Parris Sloan includes six Respectful Relationships lessons spread across 10 weeks.

This is where students discuss content such as the Fiona and Chris case study. Another scenario available for discussion involves a female student posting on Facebook that a male student who had refused to have sex with her was impotent and "a big disappointment".

Schools will receive a new Sexuality Education Policy, updated to reflect the mandatory teaching of consent, this week. They will also receive a guide directing them to specific and age-appropriate learning material addressing consent. All the material is already available to schools.


CREDIT: Zach Hope

Word count: 797

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