Children writing misogynistic essays and harassing teachers seeing online influencers, union says

‘Hearing sexist comments in the corridor has become commonplace’

Eleanor Busby
Wednesday 05 April 2023 08:14 BST
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Pupils are submitting misogynistic essays, using coded language and hand gestures they have seen online and primary school teachers are facing sexual harassment, a union conference has been told.

The National Education Union’s (NEU) annual conference heard that sexist comments in the corridor have become “commonplace” – and some primary school teachers are having to deal with sexual harassment.

A motion passed at the conference in Harrogate said educators have noticed “a rise in the influence of misogynist influencers on social media aimed at students” which normalises violence towards women.

Delegates voted for the executive to create resources on teaching about sexism, sexual harassment and violence, and to develop resources to support students in identifying online misogyny.

Louise Regan, from Nottingham, who proposed the motion, said: “Andrew Tate’s misogynistic views have spread both globally and into our schools.”

Andrew Tate, the divisive online influencer, was previously banned from various social media platforms for expressing misogynistic views and hate speech.

Empowering schools to take steps to challenge misogyny towards women is essential

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU

Ms Regan added: “We now need actions, not words. We need all schools and settings to be tackling this.”

During the debate, Stephanie Reed, from Hackney, said teachers need to be able to respond to the “unprecedented new challenge” that staff are facing.

She said: “In my school, English teachers have been marking essays where students say that the portrayal of Curley’s wife in Of Mice And Men proves that women are dangerous and they belong in the kitchen.

“I haven’t read it for a while but I don’t remember that being my interpretation of it. I don’t think my colleagues are teaching that as an interpretation either.

“If students are saying this in essays to be handed in to their teachers, this just shows how little they understand the problems with what they’re saying.”

Ms Reed added: “At the anti-sexism fringe meeting today, I was hearing about coded language, dog whistles, even hand gestures that students are using to reference online misogynists.

Teachers won’t be able to recognise them without proper information and training. We need to be able to decode such messages and we need to confront them head on with our own message of equality.”

Hearing sexist comments in the corridor has become commonplace

Caroline Gorczak, NEU member from Redbridge

Jennifer Bhambri-Lyte, a primary school teacher from North Somerset, warned: “The rot starts early and even the thin end of this appalling wedge is not okay so we need to begin the education now.”

During the debate, Ms Bhambri-Lyte said she had dealt with sexual harassment in her primary school –  “a bit of smacking bottoms” and some “body shaming comments”.

But she added: “There will be primary colleagues in our workplaces and in this room who have dealt with far worse.”

Caroline Gorczak, from Redbridge, told the conference: “In my nine years of teaching I’ve seen a worrying shift in some young people’s misogynistic views. Hearing sexist comments in the corridor has become commonplace.”

On Andrew Tate’s comments on women, she said: “I’m sure that you have overheard this discussed in playgrounds or in your own classrooms. This is deeply worrying.

“How have we got to a place where toxic masculinity and misogyny has come to take over the minds of young people, in particular boys and young men?

“It looks to me that we have gone backwards in this matter.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Empowering schools to take steps to challenge misogyny towards women is essential.

“It is a necessary response to the climate of fear generated by the latest scandals about Metropolitan Police officers and the Child Q case, which have left women and girls, especially black women and girls, feeling unprotected and unsafe.

“As educators we want schools and colleges to be safe spaces, free from sexual harassment, sexual violence and misogyny – which is why we are saying ‘it’s not OK’.”

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