Published in Catalogue, 2016
Earlier this year the Victorian state government launched a mandatory curriculum for all primary and high schools to take hold in 2017 that aims to break the Australian epidemic of domestic violence by addressing equality and respect from a young age. The “respectful relationship” curriculum will explore issues surrounding gendered inequality, gender-based violence and also – rather impressively – male privilege, and how daily social experiences differ between the genders.
From primary school age, Victorian children will be exposed to material that asserts the acceptability of women to be fire fighters or men to do household chores and work as receptionists but will also include statements disbanding traditionalist notions of masculinity and femininity such as, “Girls can play football, can be doctors, can be strong” and “Boys can cry when they are hurt, can be gentle, can be nurses and can mind babies”.
As for Victorian high school students, the “respectful relationship” curriculum will involve concepts of sexuality (including education surrounding terms such as pansexual, asexual, cisgender and transsexual) as well as the concept of male privilege, “Being born a male you have advantages – such as being overly represented in the public sphere – and this will be true whether you personally approve or think you are entitled to this privilege”. Older students will also be educated on notions of hegemonic masculinity and exposed to statements surrounding the topic such as the requirement for “boys and men to be heterosexual, tough, athletic and emotionless” and how this “encourages the control and dominance of men over women”.
The curriculum is set to cost the Victorian government $21.8 million over the course of two years but the state Minister for Education, James Merlino, has continued to assert its value with the evidence from a Royal Commission into Family Violence positing education as “the key to ending the vicious cycle of family violence” and the fundamental basis of the program to teach “kids to treat everyone with respect and dignity so we can start the cultural change we need in our society to end the scourge of family violence”. With intimate partner violence the leading cause of death, disability or illness in Australian women aged 15-44 and the epidemic proportions of homicides as a result of domestic violence, it is seriously admirable to see a state government taking such a proactive stance to change the culture surrounding the issue.