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Why We Need To Start Teaching Our Boys About Gender Equality Early On

And what you need to know about its link with domestic violence.

20/09/2016 8:34 PM AEST | Updated September 21, 2016 21:10
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Gender stereotyping begins at about two.

On Monday night's Q&A program, rock star Jimmy Barnes said Aussie boys need to be educated about domestic violence and gender equality before their teen years are upon them.

The ultimate Working Class Man said cultural attitudes are already well ingrained by the time high school rolls around, and programs educating young boys about treating women respectfully should be implemented sooner.

"I've heard people say, with domestic violence, 'take men when they're 17 to a camp and teach them about how important women's rights are and how to be right to each other'," Barnes said on Monday.

"You have to do that at two years old. It doesn't start at 17. By then it's way too late."

The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Dr Peter Streker, who has worked with thousands of men who have committed domestic violence, to find out whether Barnes is right to push for an earlier start.

Streker, who runs Community Stars, now helps implement cultural change programs into schools, workplaces and sporting groups including AFL clubs.

"We typically see that cultures with more gender inequality also have higher rates of violence against women, so this seems to be an important factor that we need to address," Streker said.

The psychologist said it all begins with gender stereotyping and it's going to take a couple of generations to eradicate.

Awareness is an important first step, so let's start.

When do gender stereotypes begin to develop for children or teens?

"We know that gender stereotypes start forming at around two," Streker said.

"Young people at that age and upwards start to understand that men and women -- or boys and girls -- are supposed to do different things and wear different clothes, play with different interests."

These are of course stereotypes children shouldn't have to buy into, but they are still prevalent nevertheless.

Young children can pick up on who is being handed a doll or a truck, who is allowed to grow their hair long, and who is rewarded for playing roughly.

Kids also pick up the behaviour of their parents and family members, whether it's a demeaning joke or who is doing a larger share of unpaid work.

Australian women collectively still do significantly more housework and have more caretaking responsibilities and this all plays into children's views of the world, and their gender's role in it.

"You see this with young boys and their mothers -- they'll put their mothers down using sexist jokes and sexist comments," Streker said, such as telling them to go back to the kitchen.

"You see boys treat their mothers in a way that they wouldn't treat their fathers," Streker said.

This can extend to commenting on their mother's appearance in a way they wouldn't address their father.

So how is gender stereotyping and gender inequality linked to domestic violence?

Streker said this comes down to two main traits men can develop; male privilege and male entitlement.

Male privilege is driven from the inherent advantages men have as a collective, purely because of their gender.

"Men and boys have advantages across multiple fronts in society and I think those power differentials are important in explaining the gender biases across the community," Streker said.

For example men rarely need to take extra precautions walking around late at night to avoid sexual assaults, men collectively do less unpaid work and men are more likely to earn a higher salary.

"Often men and boys are more likely to use violence in domestic situations to get their way and to try and control those power differentials," Streker said.

Male entitlement is a deeply internalised belief that a man is inherently owed something simply because he is a man.

"You often see it with a sense of entitlement where men think they deserve to be treated in a particular way by women and often these attitudes are unconscious," Streker said.

"Many men and boys believe that they are superior to girls and women and they will use violence and intimidation and abuse to try to maintain that advantage over women.

"We don't see that as frequently for men who believe in genuine gender equality."

Streker said many men refuse to admit they have male entitlement (however, it is important to note not all men do have it), but evidence trickles through their behaviour, whether it is a sexist joke or talking over a woman.

"It's certainly been a really dominant factor in the thousands of men that I've seen who have committed violence against their partners and their children," Streker said.

"There's a really strong sense of entitlement and that will come through in ways like dismissing women's opinions or talking over women or thinking they know better than women.

"This is often not conscious. As a group, men have been socialised to expect certain entitlements from women."

How can organisations and communities implement cultural change?

Streker discusses both male privilege and male entitlement with boys and men in cultural change programs to help them become aware it exists.

"The first thing we need to do is get them to understand the real harm that happens," Streker said.

"It's not just a joke, it actually has a serious impact on people because as long as people think there's no impact or harm for their behaviour there's no motivation to change those behaviours. So that's why we want to look at cultural change."

The most important part in creating cultural change is ensuring the whole community is supporting the change, Streker said. If leaders aren't on board and the message isn't united then intervention is unlikely to be successful.

This comes down to leading by example too, so leaders have to become conscious of their own behaviours and stereotyping.

"It's important that people feel confident enough to speak up and challenge sexist behaviour when it happens or sexist jokes or sexual harassment," Streker said.

"It often takes a lot of skill and courage to do that but the more people who are willing to do that, the more likely the culture is to change -- and the more isolated those behaviours come."

Do we need to relieve men of their own stereotypes too to help change the culture?

"The pressures on men to control situations and be dominant and exert power and influence also leads to them thinking violence is a more feasible option when it comes to sorting out differences and dominating spaces," Streker said.

"So men will use violence against each other as well as against women, and also against themselves as suicide rates in men are much higher than women."

Streker said it's important to challenge the norms in spaces or organisation where aggression is most prevalent in societies. In fact, it is the most important place to start.

"We have to start with looking at cultures that really condone violence against women and try to eradicate that as quickly as possible.

"We have to try to teach young people in society about the benefits of gender equality, because men benefit from equality as much as women do."

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