Teaching boys to respect girls



Hopefully students and families around the country are discussing the media reports about the online behaviours of adolescents, especially those that disrespect girls.

Adolescent boy and girl share headphonesThere is a police investigation into a message chat forum in which students loaded and swapped nude photos of other students. There are serious legal issues with the collection and distribution of such images. Such behaviour is unacceptable. The accounts of the online student behaviour raise issues about power and consent.

Young people flirt and explore sexuality but this should always involve trust, respect and consent. Relationships are built on empathy and a sense of intimacy. Right relationships rely on trust, and the more sensitive something is then the greater the responsibility we have to protect people's dignity. 

It is concerning that some young men presume to exercise power so callously. They make girls public property without their agreement. In objectifying others and treating sex as a commodity, they betray the fundamental aspects of good relationships. Young women are not sexual commodities and young men are not entitled to request and circulate these kinds of intimate images.

Some girls feel unfairly pestered and harassed to the point they do not exercise proper volition. Some photos have been taken with consent but are later used without assent. Others were seemingly taken without consent. This is not fun, it is not harmless. It is degrading and humiliating. It is made worse when a victim has sought to have images removed only to be further demeaned. The consequences for young people are substantial.

When we realise someone may be harmed we should take steps to prevent the harmful action from occurring. When we know someone has been harmed, we should try to repair the harm insofar as we can. Some may have followed the Amanda Todd story several years ago. After photos were put on the internet, she sought help only to be further abused. She eventually took her life.

We all need to understand the experience of what it means to be targeted and abused in these ways. Children should stop requesting and forwarding nude shots. Boys and girls need help in how to respond to unwanted requests.

Some young people become disinhibited online. Such is the optimism of youth that some feel invincible. Some make poor choices. Some are pathological. Some young men need to develop empathy; the capacity to feel with another. Some need help to understand better what consent involves and to grow in the virtue of respect.


"It is perhaps more important that students talk with each other. They can discuss together the standards they will accept, how to resist peer pressure, and how not to give into urges that harm others."


We must challenge messages that women are less than men, and the normalisation of pornography that desensitises people to demeaning sex. Attitudes like it's only a bit of fun or It takes two to tango, which are so often part of the boy code, lead to messages among girls such as I shouldn't get upset when he insults me. And they allow boys to think I can get away with this. They create poor culture. There are Australian surveys that suggest one in four boys think it is okay to hit a girl. And 80 women are murdered by intimate partners each year.

Adults of good judgement — including teachers and parents — can start conversations with young people about the risks, rights and responsibilities with using technology, about right behaviour and digital citizenship. Students usually have good perspectives when they are asked to give their opinions and we take the time to listen to their responses. Parents might consider the media coverage of this investigation as an opportunity to initiate a conversation with their sons and daughters with questions such as What do you think of this behaviour? How do you think this would make the girls feel? Is it right to talk about someone like that? What are some ways you might talk about these things with your friends?

It is perhaps more important that students talk with each other because they often understand things better from a peer. They can discuss together the standards they will accept, how to resist peer pressure, and how not to give into urges that harm others. We want our boys to be leaders in developing group cultures that value respect for others; that say I'm not going to relate to women in bad ways. We hope they will challenge the cone of silence that allows people to be disrespected.


Peter HoskingFr Peter Hosking SJ has been Rector of St Aloysius' College, Milsons Point, NSW, since 2011. This is an edited version of an article that appears in this week's edition of the college newsletter, The Gonzagan.

Topic tags: Peter Hosking, consent



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Existing comments

Aside from 'counselling' and important conversations with the young on such issues,it is decisive [in these days of moral anarchy] to provide Catholic Students with clear moral guidelines on pornography and associate moral issues versus mere psychodynamic reductionism that typified much catechesis of the post-gone-sillier 1960s. Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church[CCC] and Compendium furnish many apposite points of reference on moral and chaste behaviour v. rehashes of Dr Sickmind Fraud; hyperpermissive client centered Rogerianism and ilk,[all superceded now by no humbug scientific behaviourism] e.g.CCC: "2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials."
Father John George | 27 August 2016

This is a very fine article addressed to school students, and their parents or carers. It invites reflection and deep conversation. Young people are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure and the need to belong, often accompanied by testing the authority of parents and teachers. From my experience with students, I very much agree that "students usually have good perspectives when they are asked to give their opinions". So, not talking down to them but relying on their wisdom is a good start for adults.
Pam | 28 August 2016

I suppose, in a Catholic school (or even a non-Catholic Christian one), the place to start is with an empirical and a biblical truth. The empirical truth is that males are, in general, physically stronger than females. The biblical truth in Genesis 3:16 points towards a psychological disposition in the female and its consequence: "....Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." Nothing is said of a similar feeling (which seems to be a kind of co-dependency) in the male. So, the male has strength and the female has a vulnerability arising out of a kind of lopsided trust in her actual or putative mate, results of the sin that occurred in the Garden. From his starting point here, parents and teachers have to show the boy how to move on.
Roy Chen Yee | 28 August 2016

This pornographic abuse of girls could be described as another form of bullying. The out workings of this article which should take effect in school curricula would seem to be superior to the so-called Safe Schools Program and to address a "real" issue in our schools without being a vehicle for ideological propaganda. I fully support an anti-bullying program, but it must address all forms of bullying, including LGBiTQ bullying. Your statement that "students should talk to each other, discuss the standards they will accept, how to resist peer pressure and how not to give into urges that harm others" is a perfect base from which to pursue an anti bullying (in all its forms) program.
Jim | 29 August 2016

Delighted to see E/S propagating Fr Hosking's desire to get adults of good judgement .. to start conversations with young people about the risks, rights and responsibilities with using IT, about right behaviour and digital citizenship. I would like such adults to have that conversation with me and I'm eighty years old. I'm not referring just to the abuses of IT such as pornography and trolling. Masters and Johnson in their book Human Sexual Response (London 1966) made the obvious point of departure for discussing sexual problems/dysfunction/abuses was that sex tends to happen between two people. This led to couples counselling as distinct from individual counselling as satirised in Philip Roth's novel Portnoy's Complaint. What IT has done in so many areas is to by-pass person to person communication and replace it with person to device or app or keyboard or image. It lets our fingers (and our eyes) do the talking at a distance. So what can we do to stop this becoming dysfunctional? it all gets back to the parents. All my loving devout catholic father could do in the 1950s was give me a Catholic Truth Society pamphlet on Chastity. Now my grandchildren have too much information.
Uncle Pat | 29 August 2016

Both posts today show up a failure of Religions-in-general to bring home to people the necessity for responsible behaviour in their own lives and in attitudes towards others. Instead , too much energy is invested in trying to promote ‘our’ religion, ( whichever one it happens to be), as the be-all and end-all of our response to God. All religions are only individual interpretations of God’s Constant and Universal spiritual call. They are shaped by the limited cultural dispositions and experiences of the communities involved. Only when they can all mature and harmonise will the people be disposed to live and work together for a better future for all.
Robert Liddy | 29 August 2016

I suspect the cat is out of the bag and I'm far from sure how we get it back in. Many boys are only reproducing behaviour toward girls that they've observed in society as a whole. Footballers, radio identities, pub patrons and in many groups one attends......the attitudes to women are sickening and passed off as funny. The philosiphical stances I read in these comments are farcical.
Gaj | 29 August 2016

" too much energy is invested in trying to promote ‘our’ religion, ( whichever one it happens to be), as the be-all and end-all of our response to God. All religions are only individual interpretations of God’s Constant and Universal spiritual call. They are shaped by the limited cultural dispositions and experiences of the communities involved. Only when they can all mature and harmonise ...." This might be true but we'd need scientific evidence that God exists. Religions are sectional and exclusive because there is no scientific evidence that God exists. Hence, like a prudent shopper looking for the best deal, rational spiritual seekers look for the religion that best convinces them that it is more true than the others. There is no intelligible way to adopt the approach of the wise outsider who can assess all religions for what they are, at least not as an earth-bound homo sapiens. We assess other religions from within our own.
Roy Chen Yee | 30 August 2016

A very sane, balanced and helpful article. Its original target was the young men at that fine academy in Milsons Point and their parents. I think it would have done a power of good. Sex is one of those things - possibly the thing - which hits young men at puberty. If handled properly it can lead to the development of a strong, caring young man. Traditionally the main arena where you learnt how to deal equitably with the opposite sex was your family. These days, with both parents working full time to pay the fees at St Aloysius (or Cranbrook), there is less family time and interaction. This makes it harder. I am a wee bit sceptical of the gender based violence theory and intervention recently touted by some writers. Violence towards women has always been around and there are also violent women who make things very difficult for their families. Alcohol, poverty, ignorance and drugs play a big part as far as violence towards women (and men) go. Anti-bullying and anti-violence programs can be good and they can be implemented well. People putting them into action in their lives is another thing.
Edward Fido | 30 August 2016

Peter , I totally support your observations. As a now retired teacher in secondary schools for close to three decades, a good part of that time at an all boys secondary school, I can affirm your observations. Sadly at least one of the male teachers on staff, a PE teacher and Rugby fanatic was well known for his blasé attitude to respecting females .Sadly it rubbed off on the boys; particularly the seniors in the Rugby Squads. Education of boys should start in the home and be reinforced in the schools by the staff. Girls should be told that they have a right to be respected by boys-end story!
Gavin | 31 August 2016

I do not want to diminish the importance of what Fr Peter says on this issue but I am mindful of another dimension. There is the respect for human dignity and the ideal of right relationships, and then there is the daily reality of continuing inequality that means women are on average paid less than men, promoted less and still fail to occupy senior positions at government and Board level (and in school leadership). It's hard to argue with boys that women are due respect when the evidence is all around them that women are NOT worth as much as men.
Catherine | 02 September 2016

Again, we read of the necessity of males respecting females. However , men need to respect their own sexuality. Those who do not are also victims as well as perpetrators.Both sexes should see their own body as "a temple of the Holy Spirit "and save nudity for a loving committed relationship.Sadly there seems to be a pervading noxious influence of pornography in society today. This is not liberating /empowering and can damage future relationships. I recommend Steve Biddulph's book "Manhood" which deals with some of these issues
Mary Samara-Wickrama | 02 September 2016

A great article. But is there a need to address the structural disrespect for girls and women? There is a need to get many parents to accept that their values may be a cause of the problem.Entitlement, disrespect and violence towards women is rampant in the adult world. Women are not truly accepted in the churches. The latter maybe described as institutional or part of the structural disrespect for women. Bullying is a systemic problem on a continuum from primary school to parliament . Education as suggested is very helpful, but it must not be the sole responsibility of children of committed parents. Men should be seen take some leadership here.
anne e | 02 September 2016

A great article Peter. I don't understand why we aren't making respect for self and others a priority in our teaching and accepting nothing less. After all it was what Jesus did. Parents, teachers and the church. It applies to both female and male. Remember many young men are good strong role models. However, the Church needs to demand more from males by stating this loudly and firmly. It's time.
Cate | 02 September 2016

I agree with all Peter Hosking has said, but as the parent and grandparent of both boys and girls, I think girls should be taught not to disrespect and humiliate boys. I have long been amazed at the lack of understanding of what 'rape' entails, and have counselled teenage boys who were stunned to find that setting up a situation where a girl would be afraid to say 'no' leads to rape regardless of 'yes' or 'no'. Similarly with girls who 'egg on' boys and humiliate girls who say 'no'. I have been stunned at the lack of conversation and counselling from most parents. And my own family are not easy to pin down. Takes effort.
Audrey Winther | 14 September 2016

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