Shame Is Never The Answer
Written by Martina Hughes
I feel outraged writing this, I feel so deeply sad and impassioned.
When did it become okay to shame boys at their school assembly? I feel so sorry on behalf of those boys and can only imagine the fury of the parents.
There have been two instances of shaming teenage boys in Victoria schools in recent months.
In the first instance the female facilitator, who was presenting a Diversity and Inclusion Program, asked the Year 11 students to stand up if they were white, male, and Christian. Once the teenage boys were standing, she said “straight, white, Christian males are oppressors and they hold all the power and privilege in society”.
What has to happen in someone’s mind to think it is okay to say and do that? My heart hurts, for all the men and boys who have unjustly been treated as oppressors and predators.
NOT all men and boys are oppressors or predators. FACT.
Having worked closely with men over the last 16 years, and having the privilege of hearing men’s stories I have seen the pain and discomfort that so many men carry, particularly about being sexual beings.
There is so much shaming of men in our cultural dialogue that is unconscious and goes under the radar of a large portion of the population’s awareness. This continually presents men as oppressors, perpetuating the problem, and does not support healthy growth and change.
In the second instance, at another Victorian school, during a discussion about sexual harassment and assault with students aged 12 to 14, the boys were asked to stand “as a symbolic gesture of apology for the behaviours of their gender, that have hurt or offended girls and women”. It’s astounding to me that anyone thinks this is okay!
The teenage years are already confusing for boys. The surging hormones, the changing voice, the fluctuating extremes in emotions and not to mention how to navigate friendships, bullying, social media and girls. All at the same time.
For boys, it is extremely challenging learning to live with a penis that responds unexpectedly and often in the most inconvenient moments.
It’s worth noting too the impact of testosterone, which among many influences can also cause boys to lose their communication skills during these years, which only adds to their confusion.
This is a lot to deal with - and we have no cultural structure to support boys becoming men.
Currently on display is shaming them and hoping they behave differently. In your own experience, has being shamed ever been the catalyst for great change in a person?
There are certainly more supportive and effective ways to guide and lead a boy to become a man.
On the flip side, boys are also incredibly sensitive and deeply feeling in their nature, which is often not acknowledged or even realised. Their inability to communicate their feelings does not mean they don’t have feelings, simply that they haven’t had the same kind of permission, encouragement and male role modelling of expressing their emotions.
None of this makes them predators. However, treating them like predators, judging them, shaming them and reinforcing a cultural dialogue that has never worked will only create more predators.
In these tender teenage years, boys need guidance, role-modelling and encouragement to be comfortable in their body, permission to have the sometimes-excruciating conversations about their vulnerability, emotions and feelings, space to know that it’s okay to have sexual feelings and to understand that a penis can bring much pleasure and it can also be challenging with its high level of responsiveness during the teenage years.
Masturbating as a teenage boy is often hidden away, secretive and made wrong. Boys will often use it as a way to discharge the heightened energies they feel in their body, relieve pressure and tension in the body, and will overlook any sense of real pleasure and connection.
Imagine how different it would be if boys understood that it wasn’t wrong, that they can learn to connect with their bodies and with others in a healthy, loving and respectful way. That their bodies have the capacity to embrace, love and create intimate connections and relationships rather than being driven to hide away shamefully, figure it out on their own and discharge feelings.
Imagine having conversations with boys where they are not demonised for their sexuality or gender?
We would create more loving, sensitive and aware young men.
Letting boys know that there will be moments when their sexual desires feel all consuming, and that they can learn to feel those energies in their body without being driven to act on those desires.
This alone will change their relationship to their sexuality, to girls and consent. Shame will only create more pain, distrust, confusion and conflict in our society.
If we learn to validate and give permission and space for boys to relax into their bodies, to develop self-respect and honour their own feelings, the result will be embodied compassion for others.
A boy who knows how to listen to his own body and feelings is self-aware and has great capacity for listening to the feelings and responses of others. A perfect foundation for understanding consent.
With Love, Martina
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