There have been chaotic and potentially violent scenes where the public had to be cleared from a council room in Gwynedd (North Wales). It seems that protesting individuals were reacting (over reacting perhaps) to a meeting on sex education in Welsh schools (see here). According to the article on the BBC website, passions had been inflamed by a lurid and graphic leaflet that had been distributed by opponents of the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) plans for Wales. I do not condone violence or threatening behaviour in any form and those who crossed the line from legal protest to threatening or violent process should face prosecution. However, I wonder if some of the parents had legitimate concerns. The BBC article could have given a little more background to the parent’s concerns.
It seems that the protests are being organised by Public Child Protection Wales which is an organisation founded by concerned parents, therapists and assembly members. They want parents to have more of a say in the relationships and sexuality curriculum for Wales. I encourage you to take a look at their website. You could even make a donation – here. There are echoes with protests in parts of the USA against Social and Emotional Learning being used to smuggle contested gender theory into the curriculum – see for example, the New Discourses podcast Social and Emotional Learning Bait and Switch.
I am not opposed to some form of relationship education being part of the curriculum from an early age. Naturally, it should be age specific and taught in a sensitive manner, but it should not be introduced ‘behind the backs’ of parents. My biggest concern, however, is the involvement of Professor Emma Renold of Cardiff University who chaired the Sex and Relationships Education Panel that developed the RSE curriculum. You can find their report here.
Emma Renold is Professor of Childhood Studies at Cardiff University. She describes herself as ‘working with feminist, queer and post-humanist approaches my research explores gendered and sexual subjectivities across diverse institutional sites and public spaces across the young life course‘. Hardly a centered and impartial perspective to chair a panel on sex education in Wales. What was Kirsty Williams, then Minister for Education in Wales, thinking of when she appointed such a divisive figure from the wilder fringes of academia to this position?
Cardiff University has been in the news because of the extreme intolerance shown to a group of lecturers who expressed opinions that dissented from those of Stonewall in the form of an open letter to the Vice Chancellor (see here). They suggested that Cardiff University, in common with other organisations and the recommendation of UK government ministers, should review its membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. For this, they received threats of violence including kneecapping by means of a ‘2X4’ and ‘throat punching.’ Stickers along the lines of the picture to the left began to appear on campus. The University took a very relaxed view of these threats and is, I believe, still a member of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. Emma Renold’s connection with Stonewall is less clear because that organisation keeps affiliation with the Diversity Champions Scheme secret. I am not laying the blame for the threats of violence with Emma Renold, but it seems likely that she contributed to the unhealthy intellectual climate at Cardiff University.
Although she describes her ‘research’ as inclusive and she is a professor of childhood studies, she does not investigate the experience boys at all. They have no identity of their own and only exist as a problem for girls – they are frankly dehumanised.
Professor Renold’s outlandish research methods are also a problem. For example, in her study What More do Bodies Know? Moving with the Gendered Affects of Place – The boys were dismissed from consideration and the thoughts of the girls were supposedly unmasked through the medium of interpretive dance. By watching their movements Emma Renold and her co-workers were able to deduce that –the lack of intentionality in girls’ movements relates to molar forces of patriarchy and in the valleys this is likely to be amplified by the history of masculine corporeal labour valued in mining communities. If believe that, you will believe anything. Emma Renold was projecting her opinions onto the children. I am curious to know whether study this ever received ethical committee approval and what kind of peer reviewing process would allow this kind of material through unchallenged?
Another of her papers published in the journal MAI:Feminism and Visual Culture* is equally bizarre see here. The authors openly acknowledged that they are not concerned with scholarship and learning as it is normally understood. Emma was actually allowed into a school and she writes, To enable discussion of the much under-researched focus on children and young people’s views on representations of transgender, non-binary gender, gender fluidity, genderqueer and agender identities and expressions we introduced a series of images of high profile transgender, non-binary and feminist activists, including media celebrities. Matter-realising Judith Butler’s enduringly germane ‘gender trouble’, this second hour was pivotal in exploring how young people were navigating an increasingly visible ‘gender revolution’ in local peer cultures and day to day lives more widely.
This was pure activism rather than research and and the aim seems to have been to foment a gender revolution. There are worrying echoes with the Groomer Schools accusation that is being chucked around in the USA see here – here and here. All this from the person who chairs the Welsh Sex and Relationships Education panel. Parents have every right to be concerned about Emma’s involvement. We should also be alarmed about her background in queer theory which is not an innocent intellectual discipline. Instead, one of its stated aims is the deconstruction of childhood innocence in order to ‘liberate the potential of children’s identities.’
Has this translated into actual problems with the curriculum for sex education in Wales? While most of the curriculum seems unobjectionable there are some problems if the AGENDA resource document is anything to go by (see here). This ‘resource’ has been rolled out to teachers throughout Wales. The emphasis is heavily feminist and includes the ‘feminist’ word at least 27 times. Including feminist word search, feminist crossword, feminist quilting. There is no mention of mens rights activism inspite of the document proclaiming to be about gender equality and equity.
Although the document proclaims gender equity, the focus is entirely on girls and there are repeated calls for feminist clubs, feminist books and feminist field trips, but nothing that might interest the boys. Are they meant to tag along and eat ‘humble pie’ for the supposed sins of the fathers?
For one brief moment, I thought there might be some material that could interest boys – Sam’s story. Sadly it was not to be. Sam is a girl and wants to play football with the boys.
I fear the misandrist material in AGENDA will drive a sense of aggrieved entitlement among girls, and boys will be pushed towards right wing commentators because that will be the first sympathetic voice they hear. Our best hope for a healthy future is that enough teachers see this document for the toxic and divisive tripe it is and quietly ignore it.
*I was puzzled what the acronym MAI might stand for. I asked around and guesses included My Arse Itches, Minor Attracted Individuals, or Member Appraisal Institute. Turns out that it was the first name of a Swedish actress.