“It starts with us sir.”

On the 14th and 15th of February this year I joined “1 Billion Rising” in observing ‘Black Friday’ to stand against gender violence and discrimination.  Plenty of people did the same, from activists to everyday individuals.  I was most proud to note the number of staff members at my new workspace, Clifton College, who were observing the black dress-code called for by nationwide initiators of this action.

The most gratifying experience however, was in the classroom itself.

The Head of English chose to use the dress-code as an opportunity to spark a discussion amongst a sharp group of Tenth Graders.  The discussion ranged from initial hesitation and uncertainty, a kind of vague sense of the situation permeating most of the comments, to a complete radical shift in thought that has most of the boys answering truthfully, when pressed to come up with a solution to this social ill, “It starts with us sir.”.  What began as another English lesson ended up being a straight-up heart-to-head discussion about the responsibility of their generation in solving and resolving the horrifying challenge of shifting a societal norm that manifests in brutal acts of pure inhumanity.  The boys were able to recognize the objectification of women, even amongst themselves, where they had enough integrity to admit their own complicity.

“She’s so hot!”

“I’d tap that!”

“She’s a banger!”

They started to recount their own actions.  We asked why they might say such things, and they discovered how women were used to make men seem more manly to other men.

“We say it so our friends will think we’re cool sir.”

We asked them to examine the patriarchal notions of women needing to be protected by men by virtue of some archaic notion of women as both physically and emotionally weaker.  When we asked who women might need to be protected from the answer was quick:

“Other men.”.

The realization began to sink in.  We spoke about how protecting women because you consider them weaker is not protecting them at all, as it goes on to perpetuate a skewed perspective that continues to position women as somehow unequal to men.  We talked about protecting women as you would protect any other person, male or female, not because of their gender, but because of a shared sense of humanity.

Someone said once “When one person is teaching, two people are learning.”.  This has been the most tangible realization of that simple truth that I have ever experienced.  Debating this subject with these young minds has resulted in my own continued education.  This was the type of interaction that reminds me once again that if there is any definite space for radical change to be effected in society, it is the classroom.

Respect to all the true educators out there, from the stage to the studio to the study.

Classrooms are everywhere.

[FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY and 1 Billion Rising in uMlazi, Durban]

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