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Blog post

Hate males: Boys as the victims of patriarchy in contemporary education

Paige Caldwell, Student at Littlehampton Academy College

In her seminal work on the relationship between men and patriarchy, bell hooks famously noted:

‘The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence towards women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation.’ (hooks, 2004, p.66)

By this, hooks was arguing that young men should be framed as victims of patriarchy rather than simply reproductive agents. How, then, do we decrease the reproduction of patriarchal culture within education without first decreasing our preconceived stereotypical biases, and without loving boys?

In contemporary education – a field dominated by discourses around the negative impact of patriarchal culture and behaviours on girls (Ofsted, 2021) – boys are also suffering. This, in turn, is leading to a feminisation of education and contributes towards boys’ underachievement (Majzub & Rais, 2010), which is a persistent and pervasive trend (DfE, 2023).

In this blog post, I argue that patriarchal narratives are not simply ideas that exist within and between boys in education. Teachers themselves play a significant role in the reproduction of the patriarchal narrative, with Skelton & Francis (cited in Skipper & Fox, 2020) arguing that teachers’ views of boys in classrooms frame them as more difficult to teach than girls. As much as patriarchy is considered a bottom-up issue within schools, therefore, so too is there evidence of a top-down reproduction of patriarchal narratives.

‘Teachers themselves play a significant role in the reproduction of the patriarchal narrative … [as] teachers’ views of boys in classrooms frame them as more difficult to teach than girls.’

Alongside teachers’ (often) unconscious attitudes towards boys, evidence suggests that a system of symbolic violence (Archer, 2011) – such as schools diminishing the symbols of working-class identity (for instance urbanised clothing and restrictive language codes) – is also at play, with education not valuing traditional male routes and (perceived) social roles; in particular, vocational work and, contemporarily, entrepreneurialism (Morace-Court, 2023). It is of little wonder, then, that many young men disengage from formal education, seeking instead the relative status and validation that comes with forming and engaging with counter-school subcultures.

Further, many boys come into education and are viewed as potential threats. Christina Hoff Sommers (2001) furthers this idea in The War Against Boys, noting that boys come into education and immediately must question who they are, what they stand for, and rapidly develop an awareness of their actions and attitudes towards the female population, with little guidance on notions of masculinity from those charged with supporting their development.

Here, I am not looking to homogenise the experience of maleness in secondary education, nor is this article aimed at disregarding women and girls victimised by patriarchal cultures in schools. Rather, my intent is to foreground the argument put forward by hooks (2004, p. 11), who argued: ‘To create loving men, we must love males.’

As noted by Messerschmidt (2018), young men – as a result of societal norms communicated and embedded through key agents of socialisation – must live up to the preconceived stereotypes of modern masculinity, consisting of characteristics such as hyper-heterosexuality, stoicism and aggression, that many men are expected to embody. This phenomenon harms boys’ educational opportunities as they are bombarded with constant reminders that intellect and masculinity are antithetical. As such, masculine status can be achieved through confronting authoritative figures, disengaging from formal education and repudiating the (gendered and classed) habitus (Bourdieu, 1984) of the education system.

How, then, do we reduce patriarchy in schools without loving boys? The simple answer is, we can’t.


Archer, L. (2011). Constructing minority ethnic middle-class identity: An exploratory study with parents, pupils and young professionals. Sociology, 45(1), 134–151.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Harvard University Press.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2023). GCSE English and Maths results 2023.  

hooks, b. (2004). The Will to change: Men, casculinity, and love. Atria Books.

Majzub, R. M., & Rais, M. M. (2010). Boys’ underachievement: Causes and strategies. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 3160–3164.

Messerschmidt, J. W. (2018). Hegemonic masculinity: Formulation, reformulation, and amplification. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Morace-Court, D. (2023, January 25–27) Constructing the cult of self: On white, working class males and the neoliberalisation of identities. World Conference on Qualitative Research, Faro, Portugal.

Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted]. (2021). Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges.  

Skipper, Y., & Fox, C. (2022). Boys will be boys: Young people’s perceptions and experiences of gender within education, Pastoral Care in Education, 40(4), 391–409. 

Sommers, C. H. (2001). The war against boys: How misguided feminism is harming our young men. Simon & Schuster.