Samantha Price, the head teacher of Benenden, who also holds the influential position of President of the Girls’ Schools Association is suggesting that parents – and presumably grandparents too – do not criticize the ‘woke’ attitudes of their young. This sounds to me like yet another limitation on free speech, and this time within the family. I already know several parents and grandparents who say they cannot discuss certain topics with their children or grandchildren and that there is little way of bridging the gap of perspective or understanding between the generations. In effect, they are silenced because the young simply block their views. Yet, surely, these kinds of debates and discussions within the home are an essential training ground for life?
There are always intergenerational disagreements. It is a fact of life that those who are younger will have new ideas, different ideas, and many of those ideas are innovative and much needed. As part of the Baby Boomer generation, our parents disagreed with much of how we dressed, the music we listened to, the way we protested. Yet, as a generation, I think we were pretty woke. We made significant changes in the arena of social justice, opening up equality and better rights for women, gays, ethnic minorities and more, and were concerned for the environment. So, I don’t think we should be perceived as some kind of stuck or blocked old fogies who are not open to new and good ideas. But we are, I think, critical of fundamentalist approaches and intolerance to just debate.
All generations benefit from intergenerational discussions around the dinner table. It fosters analysis, communication, and critical thinking, as well as knowledge about different people’s lives and perspectives. Older people may have started off as radicals and adjusted their views. But it doesn’t mean to say they aren’t open to the ideas of their children and grandchildren. I learn a huge amount from both. But I hope, also, that they will be open to listening to our own experience of having lived long lives, of living through periods of history, as my generation has, with much of Europe under communism or dictatorships, where freedom of speech was very much limited. Of having parents who fought in World War II, of experiencing the Cold War. But, also, of reading history and getting the broad scope of the human condition. We can all learn from one another if we listen.
But where the Head teacher talks of woke being all about ‘kindness’, she is ignoring the fact that what is kind to some, is most definitely not kind to others, and I would put her own pupils within that group. It is girls’ lives, more than any, that are being impacted by the acceptance of some of these woke views. Specifically, the way that the language around girls and women is literally being deleted before our eyes. The 35-year-old daughter of a friend is having a baby this month but is not called a woman or a mother but a ‘birthing person’ on the forms she has had to complete. Girls and women who compete in sports will now be up against men who wish to live as women but have all the advantages of a male body – strength of skeleton and muscles, larger lungs etc. This is kind to the trans women but distinctly unkind and unfair to the girls or women competitors.
Similarly, girls or women who need to take refuge from violent partners may now end up in a refuge where men also reside, living as women, but not being women. This can remove the security that women have felt in these homes. Then there is the question of prisons where women prisoners have been sexually attacked by men who identify as women who have been allowed to be housed in female areas. We can go on to talk about hospitals, toilets, changing spaces. All these impact girls and women and, in my view, their private spaces need to be protected. If we can’t rely on head teachers of girls’ schools to understand how the rights that our generation have fought so hard for are being eroded by the woke agenda then who will stand up for our daughters and granddaughters?
I don’t believe that being ‘woke’ is this kind fluffy thing that Samantha Price seems to suggest. It is incredibly intolerant. People are losing their jobs, their livelihoods, their reputations and their mental wellbeing as a result of young people pointing their intolerant and accusatory fingers at those who have different views to them. This isn’t kind. It is positively cruel.
Look at the students who ousted Professor Kathleen Stock from her role at Sussex University. They weren’t even courageous enough to stand up for their own views. They chose to disguise themselves in masks and paint, covering their faces.
And Professor Stock was talking biological fact. She simply says that a trans woman can choose to live as a woman, can have hormone treatment or surgery, but will never be a biological woman in terms of chromosomes. They can live as a woman but they are not a woman. How will these schools teach the facts of life and biology if the truth is to be cancelled? Will they teach false science just to pacify this group of children? Surely that is not kind as one day they will have to ‘wake up’ to reality?
One thing I am glad about is that she says we must not demonise boys. Certainly not. We all have fathers, sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles of whom we are fond and we know that the majority of men are kind and respectful. Most of the men I speak to are equally worried that the words that identify women, and the spaces that protect women, are being eradicated by the woke brigade. But there are men who aren’t, and it can help, I believe, to teach boys about the effect that testosterone has on their bodies – that raised testosterone can cause them to take risks that they would not take at other times, both sexually and with physical aggression. This is helpful information for all boys and men.
Just as girls and women can also behave badly and have to understand the chemistry of their own bodies through oestrogen, periods, pregnancies, menopause. Knowledge of the biology helps us manage the behavioural effects of the chemistry that lies within us. But this knowledge won’t be taught if we have to pretend the chemistry doesn’t exist and is just part of a chosen gender identity.
It is a tiny minority of aggressive lobbying groups who are influencing these movements, and teachers should educate their pupils as to who is behind these lobbying groups and what their political or other agendas are, not pander to them.
Social justice comes in many guises, and it seems to me that those who follow this strict woke agenda are only thinking in narrow terms. They are not looking at the serious consequences of their policies to others, especially girls and women who have, to be honest, suffered, and still suffer, hugely in terms of equality of opportunity. Less so in the West, but just look how quickly things are turning around in Afghanistan, as they have in other parts of the world previously in history where women’s rights are often the first to go.
So please, teachers, stop and reflect before you tell the older generation not to challenge the ideas of their offspring for this only encourages the already intolerant attitudes of those young people to shut us up. I, for one, shall continue to question and challenge perspectives with which I do not agree. And would expect others to challenge me too. Surely that is the whole point of living in a liberal democracy where free speech is a part of our lives. But we should never take that freedom of speech for granted. It can be gone in a second if we don’t fight to protect it.