Dr Liz Gordon: Schooling for misogyny


The Royal Commission into sexual abuse in state care is tackling some thorny issues, but none more so than the ritual abuse suffered by students at so-called ‘top’ boys schools, both public and private.

These schools brought with them the vicious practices of the ‘old country’, copying the uniforms, curriculum and habits of English private (public, as they are known) schools. The aping of cruelty was imported along with a number of other values, some praiseworthy (loyalty, striving), many which would make one cringe.

The revelations about Christ’s College and Christchurch Boys High School (the state school copying the model of the private, in the hope of some of that glitzy status rubbing off) are of practices copied from far-off places. Delightful things like fagging, the torture of new students and attacking young boys with broom handles in their private parts.

Physical and sexual abuse in boys’ schools are a way of asserting power, control and class status. It is something which is done ‘to’ the younger, weaker, less-protected by the older, stronger, higher-status boys, and sometimes by the masters, as they are euphemistically known.

This is what the boys were taught to do to one another, but indeed even the lowest of the low of them were deemed of greater status and importance than the highest woman on the class totem pole. The very forcing of hierarchies of power and pain among men forced women into subordinate roles.

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In these rarefied circles, women were drudges who looked after the domestic and sexual needs of men, playthings to pleasure men and trophies for the best men to catch and show off like animals in a zoo.

And thus grew up a society in Aotearoa where the most valued parts of the education system taught, through what we educators call the informal curriculum, class power, sexism and, of course, racism, for few people of colour were admitted to those circles.

Eugenics, the ‘science’ of racial superiority, was taught in the classroom and lived in the halls of white male privilege.

The Inquiry has made it clear that there are plenty of men alive now who were the victims and perpetrators of such practices. Many had terrible experiences that marked them for life, and have bravely spoken up about it.

The question I want to ask now, though, is not whether the practices are still in place (as I cannot answer that), but whether the values that underpin them have changed. Are boys (some boys, anyway) in high status schools still primed for misogyny?

I am not even going to try to plumb the issues around sexual assault in Aotearoa. Much of it is still hidden in unprosecuted assaults and domestic abuse kept hidden. Occasionally the habits of a ruling class male pierce the mist as we see the battle for name suppression play out in court. Even more rarely, a Brierley or other such bloke is revealed as addicted to sex, even child sex videos.

What we saw in Christchurch last week was something a bit more unusual. Many of the students at one school, Christchurch Girls’ High, attempted to protest the values and culture of sexism at another, Christchurch Boys’.

The girls claim that there is widespread misogyny operating within the public spaces between the school that fosters sexual abuse, assault and rape. From systematic harassment on the streets and buses, to online bullying and name-calling, a gender war has erupted between the two schools.

I am aware of some of the more serious specific allegations, but I am not going to canvass illegal acts against young women in this blog. I know there are many low-level instances that make the female students change their routes to school and social practices. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

But I want to talk about Boys’ High, a school that advertises that it educates ‘fine young men’. While I am sure many of the students were supportive of the girls, hashtags such as #feminismiscancer and #mensrightsactivist are worrying. Is the Incel culture of women-hating active in that school? Are the girls at risk of gender violence?

One of the accusations is that the leadership of Boys’ High fosters the kind of values that lead to misogyny. The late Celia Lashlie did a lot of work with schools on bringing up “gorgeous boys into good men”, as she put it. More recently, Lesley Elliott, whose daughter was murdered by a misogynist narcissist (a very dangerous breed) brought the ‘Loves Me Not’ programme into schools, fostering discussion around the values that underpin sexual violence against women, and how to spot and avoid them.

So there is plenty of good models available to schools on gender relationships and good values. But running counter to that is the sporting culture (which values women, too often, at nil, while lauding the men) of high level competition and winning, and academic competition as well. In short, boys in the rarefied heights of high decile schools are subject to often competing messages. Not to mention the wider society and the role models it provides.

I cannot fault the girls for taking off at lunchtime to visit the Boys’ School and protest.

Neither can I fault the principal and police, worried about the girls’ safety, getting them back into school. It is tough stuff. It should not be up to the girls to fix this problem.

The onus lies with boys’ schools to ensure that in whatever state the boys arrive at the school, and no matter what the social influences, that at every level of the school the policies and practices of a fair, just and equal society are modelled. I have no doubt that many of them have a long way to go in that respect, but a few have achieved it. Erasing misogyny through excellent school practices is important work to achieve good lives in the twenty first century.

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. So, Liz, your ‘article’ is essentially based on your opinions regarding someone else’s gossip about a high school? Why, Liz, has “misogyny” (and “racism” and “homophobia,” you name it) and all of those other phenomena so apt to have a buzz-word applied to them, all become, so we are told, much worse in correlation to women having taken more of a role (relative to the declining role of men) in boys’ lives – solo mothers, the teachers etc.? (i.e. in general terms, the feminisation of society)

  2. I can’t say I am ever comfortable with racism, you know, judging someone negatively for the colour of their skin, ethnicity, religion and saying based on those criteria you of that group are all that same negative stereotype. And yet the author of this piece praises the girls of this protest for assuming that the occupants of that school are all predators and rapists based on their gender. The warped logic is inescapable.

    The piece starts off accurately to highlight the very dark underlying philosophies of the English Public School system but then subtlely morphs this into the present and by association suggests to the reader in a very big call that Christchurch Boys High is probably still that English Public School. ” Physical and sexual abuse in boys’ schools are a way of asserting power, control and class status. It is something which is done ‘to’ the younger, weaker, less-protected by the older, stronger, higher-status boys, and sometimes by the masters, as they are euphemistically known”. “Are” and “is” are present text.

    You may think that guessing wildly that Christchurch Boys High is a den of sexual violence and misogyny is proof beyond any doubt let alone reasonable doubt but the only stereotyping I saw for real, proof of it, was a bunch of girls, encouraged by who knows, to protest outside that school telling the world that the occupants within that school are predators and rapists or in the very least very good candidates for that because of their common gender. Their crime was clear cut, they were males.

    Don’t know about you but if I were a lawyer and my client was accused of an offence he hasn’t committed simply based on his gender and his vague potential sometimes maybe if ever in the future he may commit that offence and therefore guilty of it, I would be outraged. But clearly for you, guilty until the accused proves otherwise is a good enough law of the land for you to work from.

    • X-ray -Those young girls had the right to protest, but it could have been a little bit naive on their part, and possibly more likely to titillate teenage boys, rather than chasten them.

      The top private ChCh boys’ schools : St Andrews ( Presbyterian) Christ’s College( Anglican) and St Bede’s (Catholic), were established by church communities at a time when these were all part of ordinary everyday life.

      They performed a useful role by keeping state schools on their toes back when School Certificate and University pass rates were published in the daily papers, and comparisons were made. Liz may err in thinking them “glitzy”, when it was the private schools’ high academic standards which actually attracted parents to them; Christchurch has always been a conservative city, and “glitzy” is trashy, non-u, and irrelevant. Likewise, the English public school system has nurtured some brilliant people, and blaming them for badly behaved contemporary Kiwis is nuts – and let’s our lot off the hook far too easily.

      • 1877 NZ passed a law stating that education would be compulsory, free and secular, all three provision having sound foundations and thrashed out for months before being agreed to by mainly church lay people.
        New Zealand has led the world in this aspect which has been fundamental in kids from all walks growing up together and better understanding each other.

        Having religion tacked onto institution dealing with minors just makes it harder for minors to report harm as shown in many testimonies given in more recent times.

        The psychological abuse and grooming with fear of the devil being used to attempt to hide the perversion, broke many young peoples trust in themselves and the world around the leading to life long negative consequences.

        A good read about the stages and changes in education and schooling in NZ from early times through may shed a bit more light on the elitism that still continues today. Evidence of it shows in some parts of blogs above.

        It has taken a long time for some colleges to accept the rainbow students and welcome them into all parts of college life without compromise.

        Education is not about winners and loosers nor exam results.

    • Xray you are obviously to my eye, fairly stirred up about this article.
      “for assuming that the occupants of that school are all predators and rapists based on their gender. The warped logic is inescapable.”

      Yes the logic may be warped if it existed in the article.

      As far as educational standards go a much wider measure is needed than a list of exam results which are often manipulated.
      The achievement of student often reflects their intelligence in an academic sense and the home support.
      Many poorer families don’t have their kids attending the private or now semi private integrated colleges where parental contributions are often heavy and can buy favour for their child.

      I wont even begin to relate horror stories about cultures and cruelty in boys boarding schools where I was called on to give witness to physical and psychological harm that appeared to be inter generational.

  3. These are good points, and you don’t need to know the answers to your specific questions to know that certain values and certain approaches end a certain way. So who do we have in your corner? The Greens, who think arresting people without question is a great way to begin cultural change. God help us. Cultural change will happen when we go right back to basics and replace all the known paths to nastiness with known paths to at least some sort of neutral mind state. The culture of cowardice has long been a path to nastiness, yet we see it played around us everyday, even in the current housing conflict. Power is gained only to crush the weak. Opporession is opposed not becasue we know what it really is, but becasue we’d rather not be oppressed. the problem with that is without knwing why, we gain power only to oppress others. Our brains think in either or, security or vulnerability. It’s not that we’re opposed to oppression, it’s that we’d prefer to be the ones that oppress. Sounds like cowardice to me. I knew the deal 30 years ago. What’s the excuse of older people who’ve known it longer? Does anyone even know why more than two people exist in the world? Becasue our current culture is oriented toward the belief that only one is required. Does anyone know why a man or a woman exists? Extend that to include all genders. Anyone? At base, why? No? Does anyone know why we make a distinction between what is good and what is bad? Anyone? No? Does anyone know why some people are weaker than others and what opportuntites are offered by that arrangement? Anyone? No? Yes you in the back, you have a answer? To crush them more easily? No. Wrong. And does anyone know how to incorporate these ideas into activites and balabced roles in a school, or a workplace, or a political body, and not just ram them down someone’s throat as part of an indoctrination program? Ok then well I guess we all go back to banking and mathematics and reading and all that shit that’ll set us up to crush the weak with cowardice.

  4. Liz, I just skimmed this, because I think you generalise. I have, but I don’t have time to reread, info re the setting up of the first secondary school in Christchurch, from memory, by Fitzgerald, another tireless pioneer who simply wanted to provide education. I suggest you read Jennifer Roberts bio, “ Fitz The Colonial Adventures of James Edward Fitzgerald”. OU Press 2014. Try not to impugn motives that were not there.

    I have more than once recommended Jock Phillips revised edition of, “ A Man’s Country? “ “ The Image of the Pakeha Male- A History.” Penguin 1996.

    Phillips is a highly regarded histororian, ex VUW academic and chief historian of the Historical Branch of the Dept of Internal Affairs, who traces how the stereotypical Kiwi male developed; it is much more closely connected to the harsh reality involved in the settling a wild undeveloped geographically-isolated country, than simplistic hang- ups about English elites. Phillips should not be dismissed because some see his ex-wife as a stroppy feminist.

    Those colonialists now disparaged by the woke, were my tipuna, not yours.

    I ask that you treat my tipuna with more circumspection, and respect, rather than stoke the identity politics weaponising of the New Zealand social community which is so destructive, even if oh so politically correct.

    One of my relatives wrote one of the seminal works on justice and the Maori, now used as a university and high school text. Another set up the first dairy co-op in Canterbury – and selflessly saw three sons off to fight in WW2. We colonials, rationed ourselves did you know, until well after WW2, to feed the people of Britain.

    My poor old mother baked fruit cakes in tins and posted them off to God knows where, but England was grateful to we, the people of New Zealand, and established two residential colleges for commonwealth post-grad students in Mecklenberg Square, Bloomsbury, and I sojourned in one – thanks to mum, and my dead uncles, and all our dead and maimed whanau and friends, fighting other people’s wars. Please stop trashing our men.

    Many of my whanau had life-long involvement in education, here, and overseas, at school and University level.
    Among other things , I, as the first female teacher among males, taught at Cathedral College, a boys’ secondary school located on the wrong side of Christchurch, because it was a Catholic school, and Catholic meant Irish, and the Irish were discriminated against, but the stories of the scholarly pioneering French priests, and Irish clergy, are stories of hard grind under often very challenging physical conditions, and nothing to do with misogyny – and often not necessarily religion obsessed either, many were explorers and scientists, and men pushing boundaries.

    I also, unlike you, taught at a boys’ comprehensive secondary school in north London, now the Ashmole Academy, but then, the second choice for kids who had missed out on grammar schools, and historically, it is an enormously complex scenario, but were I to write, “ Education for Dummies,”. I would point out schools derived from the teaching of scholars in convents and monasteries, which paved the way for the development of the universities and academia and schools of today, and possibly – in the backward western world – lead the way in science. Have you visited the Apothecaries’ Musem in Heidelberg ? It’s worth it, even if just to catapult one back into an entirely different sort of cerebral world.

    In an Hons research essay, I explored how patriarchal Christianity hindered women from lives which they can call their own, and I won’t accept blaming top Brit schools and, incredibly, uniforms , for violent Kiwi males. That seems like surface -skimming to me. We are a young country, we are still evolving, we are still closer to the hardship and deprivations of our pioneering roots than you may appreciate.

    Many of our non-indigenous settlers arrived damaged, quite likely genetically damaged, from families with tragic histories which are still a challenge to read of, and which may still be being worked through. These things take time. We did not all derive from established working class or upper class Brits.

    Uniforms ? Spare me. My children went to a mixture of private and state schools, all with uniforms, both in the Uk and here. As a mum, I found it much easier with uniforms, especially with girls, although boys, and even pre-schoolers, now have label-snobbery with over-priced made in China crap. I made one daughter’s school uniform here, and it was better made than the shop-bought one, because, once upon a time in New Zealand, little girls were taught to sew. Sexist ? There’s a guy down Glenorchy now, who I watched “ redesigning” his shirt at a campsite in Chamonix – he was a post-grad at Pembroke College at the time, no sissy.

    Ever had a man try to kill you ? I have. And I don’t know whether my damaged ear was done by blows from my father or my husband, but if you want to attribute this country’s problem with male violence to misogyny, then I would be interested to see some empirical evidence for this. Nothing is that simple.

    I long ago decided that a chunk of my estate would go to then then Sophie Elliot Foundation, set up by Sophie’s mother, to help young people how to recognise the signs of a controlling person. The issue is control, not misogyny, and it is certainly not necessarily a gender issue, however the woke may try to frame it.

    Do you really think that men have never tried to control other men ?

    • Snow White. In reading your blog , ignoring the name dropping and personal references I find it hard to take solace from your comments as you have reportedly been a part of the systems the article is about.
      : The issue is control, not misogyny, and it is certainly not necessarily a gender issue,”
      The quote above stands out to me as the issues are not mutually exclusive nor what many would see as the underlying issues to unhappiness in NZ.
      Many of our adult values are shaped by college years.
      Elitism is a dangerous lens to see the world through.

      Them and us stuff.

      I decline from commenting on wars unless its a fuller discussion on who they were for.

      • Think as you will, but I suggest that there is an insanity abroad when people, and especially children, are being judged on the basis of their gender, or race, or ethnicity,
        and then being attributed with negative anti-social qualities because of these, and once again, dead men of history, being blamed.

        I’ll do some judging now too, and say that a school full of Australian boys being told to stand in assembly, and to apologise for being boys, is disgraceful. Unlike Sir Bill, who led the disparaging of our young New Zealand males, I’m on the boys’ side. Always was.

  5. There is something of a mismatch between my deliberately mild and non-accusatory language and some of these comments, which seem to paint me as some kind of anti-male campaigning monster (lol), which I am not. I think people are reading all sorts of things into my blog that just aren’t there. Which, as Bomber pointed out to me, seems to be common in response to me as compared to the other bloggers. I think this is also a gendered discourse. At least you lot are not sending death threats, that some of my friends get when they are in the public sphere.

    • “I think people are reading all sorts of things into my blog that just aren’t there.”
      Yep, they are.
      But then the society we’ve created for ourselves, it’s not surprising.
      Thankfully I managed to escape Christs by the skin of my teeth (I’d even been kitted out with the uniform – including boate)r, so I can only speak for an abused, misogynist, permanently drug addled sibling for whom relationships were compulsory, and women were conquests. Much as I loved him.
      But I do also remember vividly his friends – one of whom liked his roots “fat and cudly” (I even remember the name). Those I used to keep in contact with seemed to be part of a common theme. Marriage; 2.5 kuds and a mortgage; nasty played out divorce with a war over the chattels and kuds (often the same thing); and a load of other needless shit.
      And I remember my sibling’s first experiences into the land of escapism as a boarder – which involved excursions to meet Los Americanos from Operation Deep Freeze, and opium and smack and pot – none of which left him till the day he died.
      So it’s quite amusing to see the above comments – particularly from the likes of Sir Fucknuckle Forbes-Montague (above), but also those that follow. They’re all thoroughly gorgeous. Personal responsibilities, social contracts et al aside. I doubt the concept of ‘duty-of-care’ had even been thought of back then – even though it might apply to a fifteen or sixteen year old.
      Yes @Liz. It still exists. And of course Christs, and High, and Shirley Girls have produced some of the best load of wankers that profess to “lead” us today – from ponytail pullers to “titans” of industry, gummint and commerce.
      I think we probably need to just let it all play out. From what I see, the arseholes are increasingly becoming a little frightened. So be it, and the sooner the better

      • That’s an impressive response, OWT, describing a very damaged community that aspires to nothing more than to rule the country in their own image. It appears that some young women are not prepared to let it be, taking it to the blokes on their own times. This is potentially heartening and may lead to change, because what do these blokes do when their parents chuck them out and they can’t get a trophy wife?

    • Don’t give up, Dr Liz, you’re on point, something all your commentators that I read so far seem to have missed.

    • Here I was having read the comments above & wondering if you had edited the article sometime between those people commenting & my reading of your article? I thought you were fair in your thoughts & were more concerned that young females felt the need to change their journey so they could avoid unnecessary
      disturbance in their travel. Maybe the exclusive schools had more publicity to inappropriate student behaviour but my experience from the mid-’60s to mid-’70s across private & public schools was that some controlling students were everywhere, most students were easy to get along with but there was usually someone wanting to be top dog. Nothing I experienced has had an ongoing effect on my life which I presume is the experience of most students although I don’t see this as a reason to ignore what are serious disputes between genders.

    • Liz some of what you are trying to put into discussion is a difficult undertaking and shows respect and concern for growing teenagers.
      But some of what you have commented on may well be outside of some readers comprehension. They may have never profited from a secular co-educational nurture.
      Reading the titles in some secondary school song books causes a shudder at the indoctrination by song en masse. Insidious stuff.

    • Hi Liz,

      I really enjoy your blog posts, thank you.

      The logical fallacies that litter your comments should be justification enough that you are on the right track.

      Unfortunately a lot of men and women fail to see the sheer imbalance of power, opportunity, and entitlement of those with testicles over those without, that has been right in front of their very eyes for so long.

      One only has to compare the number of male Prime Ministers, Presidents, CEOs, Partners, General Managers, Scientists, Athletes, Authors, Artists, Composers – and even Headmasters, throughout history, compared to the number of females recognised in these fields to see the sheer inter-generational imbalance at play i.e. Inequality.

      Keep ’em coming Liz!

      • yes, and where are the girl mechanics, auto-electricians, plumbers, shearers, engineers, who could earn the good money and technical knowledge on the ground. Simply a closed shop from trade school application & interview to mta members final accounts .

  6. all they have to do is read the article in the christchurch press to know Liz is right on point .

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