Dialogue for Change

By the Bedales Pastoral Team

Following the publication of testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website, harrowing reports in the media and student action in the Spring Term, Bedales students and staff began working on a process called ‘Dialogue for Change’.
As a school that prides itself on equality and on a strong student voice, it is so important that we ensure the many different opinions within the conversation of sexual violence and harassment are heard in a safe and honest space.
‘Dialogue for Change’ is our community response to the campaign. However, to ensure we move forward as a community with a clear direction – where all our voices are represented – we recognise that a slow, deliberate process of dialogue is required. Working on reconciliation and peace building, facilitating discussions of challenging and emotional topics, and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak takes time, patience and bravery.
The process has been divided into four phases. We are currently in Phase 1, of sharing and listening to differing points of view with mutual acknowledgement. ‘Dialogue for Change’ has been discussed in assembly, students have received a questionnaire, with half of all students responding, and there have been opportunities for safe conversations in different groups and forums throughout this half of the term. Next week, students in Blocks 3 and 4 will have extended tutor times to explore two key topics – ‘just a joke’ and ‘the bystander effect’ – with similar sessions for Block 5 and 6.1 before half term.
This will lead us into Phase 2, where we will reflect on each other’s experience, and set up a working party to respond to the issues raised next academic year. In Phase 3, to be completed by the end of the Summer Term, we will consider what common goals and values we share and what immediate changes can be made. Finally, in Phase 4, we will work on building the confidence of each party so all feel they are being heard. This will be an exploratory phase of trying new things and building projects, ideas and solutions, and establishing how we take this forward into the next academic year.
We believe this is a unique opportunity for us to help facilitate genuine, open and honest dialogue amongst students, for them to find their voices and engage with such an important topic, and to help drive it forward into real positive change.

“Not all men”

By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing & PSHE

As Head of Wellbeing I’ve watched and listened with interest to our students’ responses in the aftermath of the Sarah Everard’s killing. I’m so very proud of Block 5 student Bella Cutts who organised the wearing of red for the day to highlight sexual violence experienced by women. Savvy use of social media meant Bella was able to spread the action and schools such as Marlborough, Beneden and Teddies took up the red wearing baton later in the week. Contributions to an art exhibition in the Quad this week were moving, articulate, harrowing and rightly laced with fury. The women of Bedales are formidable.

The voices of our boys and men are vital to social change within the Bedales community and society. It is these voices we now need to advocate, intervene and upstand in support of women. The Wellbeing curriculum challenges the normative binary dialogue surrounding consent, rape culture, pornification and sexism.

The need to do more to reduce violence against women is now widely agreed. But for progress to be made, one of the central issues has to be about men, male attitudes and actions, and what men need to do.

What should men do in these circumstances? “Man’s silence around issues of sexist language and behaviours is of concern,” says Graham Goulden, former policeman and trainer in violence prevention. “Whilst many men as individuals possess healthy views of women, their views on what their friends think is often skewed. Men often misperceive that friends support sexist views which leads to them either joining in or saying nothing. This leads to a perfect storm of non-abusive men doing nothing, and abusive men acting with impunity.”

One fundamental is that men – whether they think of themselves as liberal, progressive or enlightened – need to stop being defensive and making excuses. Educator, filmmaker and author Jackson Katz has worked on gender-based violence and wider inequalities and stresses that men (as well as women) saying “not all men” in debates on male violence are not being constructive. “I keep hearing people saying: ‘Not all men!’ To which I would say: if you have the impulse to say ‘not all men’, don’t. It’s silly, and it’s not a good look.”

This is not just about semantics: “Because, yes, although men are more likely to die violently than women, and yes, not all men are violent, there’s no doubt that the overwhelming majority of violence that happens between the genders happens by men against women. And the vast majority of violence that men suffer is at the hands of other men.”

Men have to recognise and call out sexism in other men. This became – in the work of Katz – known as the ‘bystander principle’, whereby men take responsibility and challenge the problem behaviour of other men; not leaving it to women or leaving it in silence, thinking it can always be passed off as somebody else’s problem.

Men need to think about how to challenge other men, whether it is the jokes that nearly everyone laughs at, and what is called ‘locker room banter’. The first thing that individuals can do is to stop separating the likes of rape and ‘sexist banter’, states Katz. “They are connected and addressing the banter will help reduce the violence we read about in the media. Abusive men often think their attitudes are supported. That needs to change. Men should speak to women in their lives.”

There has to be an understanding that male entitlement and resentment towards women are two sides of the same thing, and that hate, sexism and misogyny are learned behaviour. In the words of Katz, these are reinforced and reproduced by “media culture, sports culture, peer culture and porn culture” until it becomes mainstream and part of the norm of what it is to be a man.

Violence and problematic male behaviour is not just about the individual, but about societal norms and hence it is the responsibility of all of us, and in particular, all men. Silence is not an option but is in reality collusion, it is complicit consent. Women and men need men to have the courage to speak up, to listen to women, and to challenge other men.

Dr Jackson Katz discusses why all men need to be part of ending violence against women, and what they can do to help, listen to the podcast here.