Ask anyone who has navigated a happy, healthy long-term relationship what the key to success is, and chances are the word respect will feature near the top of the list.
It’s central to relationships, the crux of trust, the hinge of good communication and quiet code for honesty.
The Respectful Relationships program, which is run in many schools, is meant to assist young adults as they begin to navigate their relationship journey. It was developed for Prep to Year 12 students, and specifically to help teenagers who are working out who they are, how they fit into the world and how to relate to other people.
It’s pitched as being an important part of emotional and social development.
It’s supposed to help to develop skills, positive attitudes and cultivate understanding.
It’s also pegged as being a primary prevention initiative to reduce family violence.
So, why is this all one-way? To approach respectful relationships through a gendered lens is, I would suggest, utterly misguided. It’s also as flawed as approaching the issue of domestic violence in such a way; because ultimately, we are all human beings first.
Why is this societal conditioning all aimed at teaching boys how to treat girls? Why is the focus solely on how men should treat women?
And, why is there no urgent need for educational programs aimed at the flip side, informing women about how to treat men?
That doesn’t sound very much like real equality to me.
Why is society relentlessly screeching at boys and men, telling them how they ought to behave, while banging on about so-called ‘toxic masculinity’, but there’s no equality of discussion on the other side?
Where are the conversations about ‘toxic femininity’?
Where is the equality of accountability?
Where is the discussion about respectful relationships being equally important, regardless of gender?
Equality is not a one-way street where women are given the right of way, right to park wherever they fancy, drive as fast as they like and make up their own rules as they go along.
Even blind Freddie can see that’s not going to work.
Respect is never about supremacy, special rules or bespoke preferential treatment.
Like it or not, respect is earned; neither men nor women are born with it
In a respectful relationship, it is equally important for women to be good listeners as men.
It’s equally important for women to understand a man’s point of view as the other way round.
And, it’s equally important for men to be able to express their needs as women.
All the acknowledgement, appreciation and compromise can’t just go round in a one-way, selfish, gendered loop.
Intimacy requires a fifty-fifty approach, ditto equality.
I don’t care what colour your skin is, or what’s between your legs, I was brought up by the mantra that I will treat you as you treat me.
What you give out, you receive. As you give to the world, the world will give to you.
We’ve lost sight of the fact that respect can be filled with hope and aspiration rather than coming from a place of entitlement, grievance or power seeking. It’s not a competition.
Like it or not, respect is earned; neither men nor women are born with it.
It is based on the depth and quality of your character and is the reward (or lack thereof) for the way you choose to treat others.
I was brought up to believe in the basic rule for life: ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you’.
And, crucially, this approach doesn’t see gender.
If you approach others as equals, with respect, you stand a chance at having that care and appreciation reciprocated.
Surely, it is only if we see other human beings all as equals, regardless of their gender, that we can hope to achieve respectful relationships?
And, I would suggest, that if it’s all of our responsibility, equally, to aim for a more respectful, harmonious world, we should leave gender out of this.