Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rising status does little to stem abuse

My Irish Times That's Men Column published 20th October 2009:

THAT'S MEN: Despite women appearing to be more powerful, domestic abuse is still a huge problem for many, writes PADRAIG O'MORAIN

AFTER I completed High Infants and got sent off to the Christian Brothers in Naas, I never encountered a female teacher up to and including secondary school. Recently I read that almost two-thirds of children in fifth class in primary school are taught by females.

This seems to mean that men are in as much danger of becoming as a rare an event in the classroom in the near future as women were when I was going to school. I wonder what this will mean for males' view of females, especially where the boy is raised by a single mother and taught only by women?

I said at the start, by the way, that I had not encountered a female teacher after High Infants. However, all the teachers in Junior and High Infants were nuns and they didn't really count as females.

They were a higher and more scary order of being. So even before I went to the Christian Brothers, the concept of being taught by a female who wasn't a nun never entered my head.

Of course, there have always been female teachers, especially in the national schools, so my experience may have been unique. Nor were all these women necessarily soft and gentle females.

My grandmother went to a two-teacher school. Both teachers were women. She was lucky – she got the kind teacher. The children in the upstairs classroom got the cruel one, and she recalled hearing them begging for mercy as they were beaten. In a two-teacher school, you were stuck with the same teacher from the day you arrived until the day you left, so life was hard on children who got the harsh teacher.

Boys at that time, though, were living in a male-dominated world. Today, they are more likely to live in a world in which, to their eyes, women are not only the equal of men, but in which there may be no man around or at least not living in the home.

As today's children grow up and go to schools in which male teachers are the odd ones out, how will this mould their view of women and of themselves?

And why did we hear in the past week or so that between 2007 and 2008, the demand for services for women suffering domestic abuse rose by 21 per cent, according to Safe Ireland?

Somehow the increasing status of women in the schools, home and workplace seems to me to be contradicted by this rise in abuse in the home.

This is happening in a world in which women, on the surface, are increasingly more powerful.

An ESRI report a couple of years ago forecast that women would make up the majority of business, financial and legal professionals by 2012. The report forecasts that more than two out of five managers throughout the whole workforce would be women by that time.

Increasingly, men who go to the doctor, an authority figure to most of us, will be seen by a woman (though the lads have now introduced a personality test for entry to medical school, which they blatantly laud as boosting the proportion of men in the profession – how did they get away with that?).

On one level, then, the environment in which boys grow up has shifted dramatically. The concept of never encountering a female teacher from the age of five onwards would be seen strange to the point of being unhealthy.

And a woman is more likely to be the sole authority figure in the home. Most of the students in many third-level courses are female. Many of the colleagues and bosses at work are female.

And yet there is that rise in domestic abuse. Change in the relationship between the sexes, is, it appears, messy and unpredictable. And domestic abuse seems to have increased with the recession as financial troubles bring stresses into relationships.

As women progress in education and the workplace, are the genders lagging behind in how they handle their emotional conflicts? And shouldn't we be teaching boys and girls more about that subject in our schools, regardless of whether the teachers are male or female?

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