Much has been written of late about an all-boy school culture, and it is with great gentleness that I write about some of the challenges boys and young men encounter. I do so, without any sense of
self-righteousness - there but the grace of God go us all – but to promote the conversation about the type of man our boys choose to be.

The St Kevin’s tram incident demonstrated how individuals can be swept up in the mob and become involved in behaviour that they, as individuals in the cold, hard light of day, would see as unacceptable. Such is the power of the need for acceptance by the group. Young people are very attuned to social dynamics and, from an early age, learn to be socially strategic. Sadly, along the way, they often learn to hide their voice, their emotions or only show them to certain people. Most of what we often ascribe as ‘boy’ behaviour is not natural or authentic to boys, but is something they learn to perform. ‘Boys’ are not stoic or aggressive or hierarchical; they are not poor at forming relationships or unable to express themselves. They learn these traits of ‘masculinity’, tragically, by adapting to a culture that expects and demands that they do so.

We only ever hear the excuse ‘boys will be boys’ when they are being rowdy or behaving poorly as a mob, but never hear this label when they are sensitive, smart or insightful. I am watchful for these kinds of stereotypes or gender roles, because, in the end, you find what you look for. One of the most important tasks we perform at Marist is to show our boys there are many pathways to be a good man. This is done in partnership with families.

Without doubt, there is a need for many, positive older male role models in the lives of our young men. This cannot be accidental. Remaining hopeful that just being present is enough and that positive messages of masculinity are absorbed by osmosis is clearly failing many. Role models must be proactive and not leave our young men to fend for themselves, allowing boys to put themselves together from spare parts. We men need to actively demonstrate the expression of our human qualities; love, compassion and vulnerability.  These human qualities are our strength.

We do not have to adhere to a script that has been written from a bygone era. 

I have had the privilege of working in boys’ schools for over 30 years and many boys are cheeky, restless, and adventurous. Many are also gentle, sensitive and thoughtful and none are exclusively one or the other. At the end of the day, the accepted qualities for masculinity have to fit comfortably with each young man’s own personal beliefs and values. As a community that values inclusiveness and a Catholic school that centres its Mission on the life of Jesus and chooses to follow in the footsteps of Marcellin, we will continue to work with our young men in developing a masculinity that celebrates the best in themselves.

Matthew Hutchison