Teachers have raised concerns about the influence of “incel” subculture on teenage boys, as a survey revealed that seven in 10 female teachers have been victims of misogyny in school.
The poll by the NASUWT teachers’ union confirmed a significant culture of sexual harassment and misogyny in classrooms, with almost 60% of those who participated saying they had experienced misogyny from pupils.
The union, which has 300,000 UK members, says it is “deeply concerned” about the level of misogyny that is faced by women, trans and non-binary members, and students, on a regular basis.
It is also worried about a lack of government initiatives to tackle the subculture of “involuntary celibates” (“incels”), warning that teenage boys are finding themselves drawn into their views because of a lack of support from other, more appropriate, sources.
The term incel is used for men who define themselves as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner and express online hostility and resentment towards those who are sexually active, particularly women. Discussions in such internet forums are often hate-filled and deeply misogynistic.
According to recent reports, Jake Davison, who gunned down seven people, killing five, in a rampage in Plymouth in 2021 has been lionised by the online incel community, and data has shown the number of visits to forums has increased by almost sixfold in nine months.
Delegates taking part in the NASUWT annual conference in Birmingham over the Easter weekend will debate the issue, after a survey of more than 1,500 female members showed 72% had been a victim of misogyny in their school and more than half (53%) said their school was not doing enough to tackle the problem.
The motion up for debate calls on the national executive to lobby government for misogyny to be recognised as a hate crime. It also says the incel community should be considered an extremist group, based on its links to “alt-right” viewpoints and hatred of women, and calls for further research into the effect incel communities have on young boys within schools and colleges, which will report back to conference next year.
The motion also calls on the union to lobby for fully funded mental health and wellbeing programmes aimed at boys, stressing the need for early intervention from mental health services.
Kathryn Downs, a secondary school teacher from Leeds who proposed the motion, said: “A study in October 2021 suggested that there was a 6.3% chance of being suggested an incel-related video by YouTube within five ‘hops’ of a non-incel related video. Given the amount of time our young people spend on social media, this is 6.3% too much. Clearly this shows the dangers of failing to support and improve the mental wellbeing of boys within schools.”
According to the NASUWT poll, misogyny emanated from across the school community – 58% experienced misogyny from pupils, 45% from the senior leadership team, 42% from other teachers, 30% from their headteacher and 27% from parents.
The majority of respondents complained of intimidatory, undermining or unprofessional behaviour (76%), comments about ability (51%), intellect (33%), body (32%), teaching style (30%) and clothing (29%), while 3% of cases cited sexual and physical violence.
One in 20 said the misogyny had been posted on social media including Facebook, WhatsApp and TikTok. Of those respondents who reported misogyny to their school, 45% said no action was taken and one in five teachers said they were not believed or their claims were dismissed. Two in five said misogyny had affected promotional opportunities and more than a quarter (27%) said it affected pay.
Participants in the survey provided a long list of examples of the kind of misogyny they faced. One said: “Children regularly make sexist comments about women’s roles in the home and in the workplace. Children making comments about feminism being a terrible thing and explaining it as man hating, or even the wish to kill men.”
Another teacher wrote: “Students exposed themselves during a lesson, sexual gestures, sex noises made during the lesson to intimidate.”
Another contribution said: “Year 9 boys asking in class if I’d had breast implants. I have had my backside grabbed in corridor by pupils.” Another said: “My mentor when I was teacher training said he was going to ‘tie me up and rape me’.”
On misogyny from colleagues, one said: “WhatsApp group which included only male members of staff. A member of SLT commented that I was hot and several teachers agreed.” Another reported: “Senior leaders being dismissive and undermining of female teachers in front of male pupils. Male pupils ignoring instructions from female teachers.”
Dr Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, said: “It is outrageous that so many women teachers continue to suffer this kind of appalling abuse in their workplaces. Our schools and colleges must be safe places for all staff and no woman should ever feel harassed, scared or intimidated just by going to work.”
A government spokesperson said: “In no circumstances should teachers be subjected to abuse simply for doing their jobs. Any report of sexual violence or sexual harassment to school leadership teams should be taken seriously.
“Staff working in education should also receive regular safeguarding training to support them to spot and handle instances of abuse and harassment among pupils or staff.”