“Boys’ rites of passage” my arse

Back in July I received an email promoting this course:

Boys Rites of Passage

Wednesday 31st July – Sunday 4th August

A 5 day camp for teenager boys aged 13 plus. A personal journey of adventure, discovery and self awareness using deep nature connection and bush craft skills. Fostering a healthy transition on the journey to being an adult man. Participants will then have the opportunity to challenge themselves with an overnight survival quest.

Our expert staff team of young and older men have worked extensively within the field of initiation and wilderness programs. This is the perfect opportunity for participants to gain purpose in who they are in life and what they uniquely have to bring into the world, their families and communities. Using a mentoring relationship, team building and leadership development young men will be inspired, build self respect and confidence.

A fullly catered camp – £375

This camp experience will be followed in 2014 by a year long Rites of Passage program.

So I emailed the organisers:

…Although I greatly enjoyed the survival course [that I’d done previously], I was very disappointed to see that you offer a course which discriminates on the basis of gender. I’m not sure this is even legal.

This is exactly the sort of course I would have enjoyed as a teenage girl.

Marketing it as just for boys and as a passage into manhood directly contributes to gender based stereotypes, which drive sexism in our society.

I do hope you reconsider who this course is for.

Six weeks later I got the following reply, which made me too angry for words, so I haven’t replied:

Hello Beth,

My apologies not to get back sooner. This is the height of my season and I am hardly in the office. I wanted to offer as much of a clear response to your email as possible.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

I’m very glad you enjoyed our day together at Stanmer. Also, I am sorry you find the Boys Rites camp offensive.

This is certainly not my intention.

Simply put, men can only initiate boys into manhood, and women can only initiate girls into womanhood. There is a huge amount of research and data available that shows this.

Currently the figures for boys educational performance, crime and violence I find shocking. This is a multi-faceted problem, but two key factors emerge, firstly that boys’ needs are different, their brain patterning develops in a different way to girls, and so they need different teaching methods to meet the way their neural pathways are being laid down, and how their bodies need to develop. Our standard educational methodology does not cater for this, so boys fall behind, have reduced esteem and self respect and can more likely to get into trouble.

Secondly, a predominant causal factor is the absence of a healthy father figure in their growing up.

This is not to say that the opposite gender does not have a part to play in a young persons’ maturing process, it is also crucial. However the information being sought by a young person when witnessing an adult in the world is very different for each gender.

I regularly meet and talk with single parent mothers, who are struggling to find a way to connect with or understand their teenage boys, in particular, and if they can actively seek other men in their communities to have interface or exposure to healthy masculine energy. We have in our language the word SNAG, sensitive new age guy, a description of one type of masculinity that seems to be formulated by only having had input about male gender intelligence from a mother’s feminine perspective.

On the contrary, I believe it is necessary to separate gender. This is not based on any hierarchy or sexism. By this I mean, the gender is fundamentally different in biology and psychology. The world, values and perceptual reality of male and female contrast each other, as much in the physical and meta physical reality, light-dark, soft-hard, outward-inward, hot-cold, night-day, yin-yang.

We experience a dualistic reality, confirmed by our mainstream scientific, cultural and social viewpoints and consensus. This is not, however, the only perspective; cutting edge science and ancient wisdom teachings, such as Taoism and Buddhism, are coming to the same conclusion. Effectively that all reality exists in field from which all our experience is manifested. So we really are ‘all one’! It was only some hundred years ago that thinkers were being hung drawn and quartered for saying the Earth was not the centre of the universe!

One of the objectives of this Rites project is for those taking part to reach an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life and all people, regardless of gender or race or belief. And how we each continually effect the other.

Also, that in this dualistic view point, although it may seem that the yin yang are opposite, they are effectively the same thing in a different polarity. For example, it could be more accurate to say instead of dark light, that there is the absence or presence of light, or instead of love – fear, the presence or absence of love.

Each aspect holds the seed of the other, such as in the yin yang symbol. And that there is a constant flow between these two principles. As such each man and woman I believe holds both masculine and feminine energies. Also, that it is not black and white, but a spectrum. As such, for me it is not about being masculine or feminine or whatever the social cultural model is, but understanding your own gender and as such sexuality, which also is on a spectrum.

So, by understanding and appreciating that there are differences between gender, fosters a greater respect for your own gender intelligence and a clearer appreciation and respect for the opposite gender. So my hope and intention for this work is to actually bring attention to the barriers which create separation between genders, others and the natural world. This means to actually change the neural pathways of our programming to a new and expanded awareness.

There is certainly a place for a mixed gender camp, and this is part of the project that is still developing. I am planning, with female colleagues of mine, a similar camp for young women.

I have had many responses to the camp event, many wishing they had had it as a young woman as well. There is very little out there for young women, and I would wish it to be for my daughter’s sake, which is one of the reasons in developing this work.

I have received several emails …, so I imagine there could be some interesting discussions and conversations going on, and hence I will copy the body of this email to all those who asked similar questions. This is an interest close to my heart and I feel very needed by many young people I meet, regardless of gender.

I hope this goes toward answering the response I have received, and would also be interested in your reflections on this, and if there is evidence base for the stereotyping you refer to in relation to this type of work.

Many thanks

Now I find out they’re promoting a camp just for men and boys, about being men:

Our primary aim is connect professionals and volunteers who are actively engaged in improving men and boy’s lives in areas like health, mental, fatherhood, criminal justice, crime prevention, social justice, housing and homelessness, youth work, social work, social cafe, education, therapeutic services, men’s work, mentoring, rites of passage, men’s groups, men’s rights and so on.

If you are committed to improving the lives of men and boys and your needs aren’t met by this programme then we’d love to hear from you. There is a limit to how many different key activities our core team can manage and we are open to supporting other groups who would like to put on events during this conference.

In my opinion if people want to become better men (or better people in fact), and learn about masculinity and femininity, the best thing they could do would be to come to various feminist conferences and workshops, and learn about the damage that gender norms does to all genders. So, how can the feminist community respond to this? Should we offer to run a bunch of feminist workshops at the conference? Or respond in anger at the promotion of gender norms such as those promoted by Wild Nature’s ‘rites of passage’ nonsense?

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2 thoughts on ““Boys’ rites of passage” my arse

  1. What an epic tosser. Conflating sex and gender, using religious gumf and false dichotomies to justify himself with unreferenced allusions to ‘brain patterning’ and ‘cutting edge science and ancient wisdom teaching’, just, urgh! Dude needs to take a gender studies course pronto…

    His comments about ‘interconnectedness’ masquerade as being about diversity when actually it’s quite clearly masking a deeply conservative understanding of gender (and, it would follow, race, sexuality, etc) as biologically deterministic. I’d be deeply concerned that any boys attending this would be taught lessons about white-cis-het-male entitlement with a smattering of evasive justifications that will arm them for a lifetime of getting away with oppressing just about everyone.

    That conference doesn’t appear to be connected to any academic institutions and has no academic or high profile keynotes – I have a strong suspicion it will be another hefty chunk of unexamined male privilege dressed up in pseudo-science and new age hocum.

    Anyone wanting to read further into the actual evidence base and contemporary academic discourse into masculinity should check out this report from a 2007 conference on the subject (taster quote below) – http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/Masculinities.pdf

    ‘The language of male supremacy has also helped to reach the parts that other terms (‘patriarchy’) no longer succeed in reaching, in part because they have atrophied in to cliché and in part because of the success of the conservative politics of much of the masculinities discourse, which rather than highlighting and exploring issues of structural/institutional power and injustice has tended to obfuscate them with an emphasis on men’s personal gender trouble (the world would be a better place if we had a different masculinity for men).’

    In short – the response you received is shameful and worrying. I don’t think legitimising a conference of this nature by offering to attend would be useful, but perhaps finding a (male, sigh) academic who researches critical masculinities to offer to attend and speak some sense to some potentially vulnerable and about to be misguided men would be a good thing, plus perhaps a picket giving out sound scientific evidence on masculinities?

    Good luck either way, it’s worrying that MRAs have found a mask of acceptability to hide behind, well done for raising this so we can all be prepared, aware and ready to mobilise.

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