OPINION: The tradition of toxic masculinity in all-boys-schools

Featured image by Jose Diego E. Roxas

The thoughts, views, and opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, views, and opinions of the When in Manila community as a whole.

In recent years, a number of all-boys-schools in Metro Manila have become co-ed. La Salle Greenhills recently made this same decision for their senior high school, meeting a lot of initial resistance. When the news came out, many students and alumni decried the decision, questioning the administration, and talking about how they wanted the same for their sons in the future. Many were quick to reason that it was unfair, saying that they wanted to keep the environment the same for future generations.

A lot of the complaints had something to do with “protecting tradition” or “retaining the culture”–but when you ask these men what tradition or culture exactly, many of them can’t answer. What traditions are these men trying to safeguard and protect?

“I saw a lot of outraged reactions. I think a lot of LSGH alumni viewed it as a personal attack because they thrived in or enjoyed the old-school LSGH education,” one alumnus stated, wishing to remain anonymous. “[T]hese alumni grew up in this exclusive environment that enabled close-minded perspectives on diversity and inclusivity. There’s a lot of mention of ‘tradition’ and how the all-boys set-up allowed for that,” said another alumnus, Alfonso Sevidal.

A big question many of us face is what kind of environments are a lot of these men growing up in?

It’s really growing up in a locker room environment, where the language and attitudes are crude and insensitive. Objectification and sexualization of women is a norm; because you don’t want to be singled out or alienated, you just laugh along or ride with the joke. I’m guilty of this and the all-boys environment is not an excuse; I shouldn’t have let the ignorance persist.

But because of this detachment from the other sex (as well as the LGBTQI sector), untoward habits and attitudes persist. Some I’d like to think are in the level of the subconscious.

– Alfonso Sevidal

The oft-quoted “boys will be boys” always comes to mind when we’re told stories of boys roughhousing, making sexist comments, or getting caught committing micro-aggressions towards women or the LGBT. “Boys will be boys” is a sentiment that, more often than not, allows men a free pass for problematic behavior that may seem small at first glance, but grows exponentially the more they can get away with it. Many coddle men because of this “boys will be boys” narrative when men are finally being confronted for their wrongdoings when these actions should be condemned at the root rather than brushed off to let them potentially grow into even worse behavior.



Because of this attitude, a lot of boys tend towards being affirmed for their behavior, for treating women like objects, for tending towards aggression and shunning vulnerability. There’s some sort of sick tradition that I have personally encountered that treats women’s bodies as commodities that they can trade in disgusting group chats and google drives, sexualizing women as inside “jokes” because they don’t have to encounter them on their day to day, and encouraging aggression while looking down on the very “feminine” action of expressing emotions (including those who don’t identify as heterosexual). They act this way in their boys-only clubs, as if the real world outside their institution’s walls has them segregated the same way. The world is co-ed, and even has the often-alienated presence of the members of the LGBT that are usually ostracized even in institutions like this.

“The rest of the world is co-ed. The world/country is too heterogeneous and even too queer of a space in a way that an all-boys school does not completely prepare you for,” says our anonymous alumnus.

As someone who has encountered this behavior from boys who come from all-boys schools (I have siblings and have met friends), it’s sick that they have to be reminded that women they may not directly care about are people who have dignity, too. It’s tiring to have to say “what if this happened to your sister?” for them to open their eyes to how disgusting this behavior is. Because it shouldn’t just have to happen to your sister for it to matter, all women have dignity, not just the ones that you think are important. This is not to say that only boys from all-boys-schools do this, but the likelihood of them doing it, because they’re surrounded by boys who may think and act the same way, makes it a bigger possibility.

“The world does not have an on-off switch for engaging other people; students cannot have one attitude inside an exclusive campus then shift to a “gentler’ one when they step out. Having a campus that is inclusive, as opposed to exclusive, facilitates better awareness and nuance,” says Sevidal.

And this is precisely it. How can men, in one breath, sexualize women in their all-boys circles and then come home to their mothers and sisters in the next breath as if having to flip a switch every time? The same goes for those who alienate any of their queer peers and still use the word “bakla” or “bading” as an insult–as if being feminine to any degree is somehow degrading.

Because they’re in this boys-only space and don’t have to face the people they’re objectifying, their behavior is only positively reinforced because people rarely want to counter these behaviors as it becomes the status quo. It’s as if they’re in some echo chamber that says, yeah, that’s fine, keep doing that. And even if some of these boys don’t actively participate in these misogynist group actions, many of them just brush it off and allow it to happen. These men who don’t speak out against the inherently degrading acts that many of their peers are carrying out are complicit in these acts of gender-based violence. And what happens in a male-dominated space that prizes aggression and machismo above all else? Those who are subordinate are complicit, those who refuse will be ridiculed or ostracized, especially in a space that encourages intimidation as something “manly.”

The fact that some of these men, upon graduating from these institutions, have had to “unlearn so much” speaks volumes about what they normalized in these spaces. Upon encountering women in college or at work, they’ve suddenly had to face the fact that what they were doing and saying isn’t acceptable in real life. Unfortunately, not everyone grows out of it.

The reasoning also that I’ve heard from some is pure finger-pointing to other all-boys institutions, saying “we’re not the only ones! They have problematic boys, too!” But the point that I’m making isn’t that all all-boys-schools have boys who are problematic or bad apples or, in a very loose, often-used term, “gago.” The point is that none of them should be, regardless of the school–women and the LGBT exist in outside spaces, and for people to cling onto this all-boys space where only a certain percentage of them thrive for being macho and heteronormative alienates those who do not act like them, allowing many of them to continue to objectify those who don’t resemble them.

In an interview with Brother Edmundo Fernandez, President of La Salle Greenhills, he detailed that some alumni complained heavily of the decision, saying, “Our homecoming has a reputation for being a bit raunchy.” Which sort of begs the question: Why would you want to protect these reunions from women in the first place unless that “raunchy” quality has something that would upset women?

In a statement about the change, President Fernandez mentions that the girls being there will help with the holistic formation of the boy. Which, to me, is insulting. No, women are not there to teach boys how to behave. Women who register as students are there to learn. Women are not rehabilitation centers for men. The women who enroll in that school expect to learn and not to be the people who teach men to behave. And with this statement, does the administration admit that, because they want their gentlemen to become more gentle, that their students are, in some way, tending towards this toxic masculinity?

The entire point of this change should be that this would become a chance for equal opportunity in terms of education, and not for women to have to take on a double role of teaching men to behave when they’re there to learn. It angers me that many of these girls will be expected to teach their male classmates the manners that should’ve been taught to them years before, even without their presence there.

“I think the primary consideration here is equitable opportunity; that is the main thing we need to talk about. This is the right move, not because it will help all-boys schools or male students, but rather because it extends educational opportunities to students who are no less deserving but were previously discriminated because of their sex,” says Sevidal.

See, the idea I’m trying to get at is that these men are supposed to be “Christian gentlemen” all the time, not just when other people are watching.