Engaging boys in gender activism: issues of discomfort and emotion

Year: 2021

Author: Keddie, Amanda

Type of paper: Symposium

The complexities and affordances of the contemporary moment for pursuing gender justice are unprecedented. New collective engagements with feminism have been catalysed in response to key public events and discourses with global effects. Coinciding with the rise of these feminist activisms, there has been an increase and proliferation of anti-feminist movements. Virulent forms of reactionary and backlash politics that cast men and boys as the real victims of the current focus on gender justice have surfaced. As microcosms of the broader social world, schools are grappling with these contentions. This paper examines activist spaces for gender justice within two elite independent schools situated in an affluent part of the USA. Drawing on student interview data gathered as part of a broader study that sought to identify new educative approaches to addressing gendered violence, the paper explores attempts at these schools to engage boys in such spaces. With reference to two activist stories, the paper highlights the driving concern for including boys in discussions of gender justice (and, in particular, sexual misconduct and assault) as about ensuring their comfort. This concern is critically examined in light of the necessity of discomfort as central to gender transformative work. Activist spaces for gender justice can be highly generative and productive in challenging gender injustice. However, they will always be fraught given they must bear the weight of difficult and painful knowledge – ‘pedagogic discomfort’ is a necessary part of such spaces given their focus on challenging and unsettling taken-for-granted and deeply embedded ways of feeling, knowing and being. Engaging with the complexities and intensities of emotion associated with this discomfort is central to gender transformative workThe paper examines how the emotional intensities of this work can both close down and open up conversations about gender justice and argues the significance of finding ways to support boys to critically explore these intensities towards engaging them in gender activism.