The program has attracted the support of Greens MP Adam Bandt. Picture: Jerad Williams
Schoolyard “feminist collectives” are springing up across the country as young women are presented with a grim picture of gender equality by a new wave of education programs that place “white, male privilege” and “hegemonic masculinity” at the root of family violence.
Northcote High School, Brunswick Secondary College, Suzanne Cory High, St Helena Secondary College and the independent Korowa Anglican Girls School in Melbourne have followed Fitzroy High School in establishing feminist collectives or clubs in recent times. South Australia’s Glenunga International High School also runs a feminism club that is offered to students as a co-curricular activity.
Meanwhile, schools throughout Victoria and the ACT and internationally in Argentina, Brazil and Berlin have taken up the Fitzroy High School Feminist Collective’s teaching resource, Fightback, despite concerns it simplifies the issue of violence in the community and potentially alienates boys and men.
As The Australian reported on Wednesday, teachers are being encouraged to develop feminist collectives as part of the Victorian Labor government’s $21 million Respectful Relationships program to tackle family violence, which promotes Fightback as a classroom resource for students from Year 9 upwards.
While heavily criticised by Victoria’s opposition, as well as several education experts, the program has attracted the support of Greens MP Adam Bandt and federal Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, who said yesterday that “getting students talking about respectful relationships, including from a feminist perspective, is a great thing”.
Mr Bandt said he was proud that young women in his electorate were behind the program. “Instead of trying to restart old battles, culture war conservatives would do well to remember that even Malcolm Turnbull calls himself a feminist now,” he said.
Designed to educate students about “negative attitudes … that contribute to high rates of sexism and discrimination, and ultimately, violence against women”, Fightback paints a worrying picture of inequality in Australia.
In one activity, students are told there are “common perceptions” about equality, including that women are already equal, that we are in a post-feminist era or that men suffer inequality too.
Students are shown statistics on the pay gap between the sexes and women’s representation in politics, business, sport and film and are asked: “So, are we equal?”
A recurring theme throughout the program, as with Respectful Relationships, is the notion of “privilege”: that some groups have advantages over others because of their birth identity.
“Being born white in Australia, you have advantages,” the guide says. “By being born male, you have advantages … that you may not approve of or think you are entitled to, but that you gain anyway because of your status as male.”
The Fitzroy High School Feminist Collective started in 2013 as a lunchtime book club that, according to its website, “revealed a sense of anger and frustration about gender inequality”.
Education Minister James Merlino praised the program. “I always encourage students to pursue interests they are passionate about and to lead student projects and organisations,” he said.
Opposition education spokesman Nick Wakeling said he had reservations about such programs and they would be scrapped by a Coalition state government.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said “the No 1 focus of our classrooms” should be on core skills, starting with literacy and numeracy.
By Rebecca Urban