A headmaster of a leading boys’ secondary school has called on politicians to lead by example, suggesting that their behaviour reinforces ‘toxic masculinity’.
After the Prime Minister dismissed concerns over inflammatory language as “humbug” and called the Leader of the Opposition a “big girl’s blouse”, Duncan Byrne, headmaster of Loughborough Grammar School, says that political leaders are not modelling healthy behaviours for young people.
Explaining the impact of politicians’ behaviour in Parliament, Duncan said: “Recent examples of macho posturing and shouting-down of opponents are not isolated incidents in the House of Commons and the media. This clashes directly with efforts across the education sector to ensure children become rounded members of society, capable of treating others with respect and tolerance.”
With research from Samaritans showing that, in the UK, men are three times as likely to die by suicide than women, the school has recently launched an initiative designed to overcome toxic masculinity and encourage boys to talk more, develop greater emotional intelligence and mental resilience.
As part of the ‘Great Men’ initiative, Loughborough Grammar School staff and boys have embarked on an exercise exploring masculinity.
“There has been a good deal of debate on this question in recent times, notably since the dawn of the #metoo movement, and we welcome the breaking down of male stereotypes, which have placed an intolerable burden on generations of young men. Peer pressure can force them to conform to models of macho behaviour against their judgement and desires.
“The expectation that men must suppress their emotions does not make them happy. With male suicide three times that of women it is important that we start to understand much better what makes for good mental health. Importantly boys must acquire the confidence to be their unique selves and to talk openly about their identity, as well as their hopes and fears.”
As part of his efforts to encourage stronger emotional intelligence, Duncan has banned ‘banter’ as a ‘catch-all excuse’ to excuse offensive behaviour, bullying or discrimination.
He added: “‘It was only banter’ is a refrain heard to defend behaviour by schoolboys, politicians and also from those seeking to mitigate horrific misogynistic online abuse. Banter is acceptable only if both sides find it funny, but too often it is used as a catch-all to excuse bullying and discrimination.
“It serves to perpetuate the stereotypes that trap young men in a toxic masculinity that undermines sexual equality and stunts their own emotional development. We want to teach our pupils how to talk and understand how banter imposes limitations on their ability to express themselves.”