The behaviour of the men who attend boys-only schools, and the cultural practices that are an indelible part of the boys-school experience, clearly highlight the problems of masculinity and male-centric and dominated spaces...
...the broader culture and traditions associated with boys-only schools, provide the greatest evidence of why we need to re-consider masculinity and how we see, educate and love men.
In such male-centric and dominated spaces boys are taught about what it means to be a man and how to behave and live as a man. Beyond promoting a culture of violence and abuse, the effect of institutional culture is to promote discipline, outdated standards of masculinity and heteronormativity, and subservience to the institutional culture.
He is right about some of the effects of attending a boys-only school (I went to one myself). It's true that there tends to be a bit more violence; at the same time, though, they are masculinising environments which do promote loyalty to the school as an institution.
But why would Thorne Godinho oppose discipline, institutional loyalty and masculinity? His argument is based on liberal understandings of individuality and freedom.
There are liberals who believe that identity is always uniquely individual. If this is true, then a collective identity is something that is falsely imposed on the individual, restricting our ability to be who we truly are. Freedom, therefore, means liberation from any collective identity, so that we can be free to be who we truly are.
Godinho is consistent in treating collective identities as restrictions on the self: not only does he want men to challenge their own masculinity, he has also written a post titled "How to challenge your whiteness".
Here is Godinho putting the liberal view:
Instead of allowing young men to discover who they are on their own, a collective culture is forced upon them – one which suits their fathers, teachers and people who cling to gender essentialism.
There is no space, no freedom to live as one truly is. In these schools, individuality dies at the hands of an institutional culture which values collectivism, muscle and toeing the line.
The ethical feminist Drucilla Cornell has developed the concept of the “imaginary domain” – the space in which one can claim one’s sexual and gender identity. In the “imaginary domain” exists the freedom of every person to choose how to live, love and be – away from the stifling gender constructs shoved onto us by society. This freedom is categorically important if we truly believe that people are equal and are ethically and morally allowed to determine the outcome of their own lives.
Unfortunately, this freedom cannot co-exist with the institutional culture prevalent in boys-only schools. And the freedom to be as one chooses certainly cannot exist in a space where violence and abuse is utilised as a weapon to enforce power relations and collective subservience to the institutional culture present.
It all hinges on whether masculinity is simply a social construct or whether it expresses something real ("essentialism"). Godinho is homosexual and therefore not likely to experience masculinity as an essence. But what if developing a masculine identity is natural and healthy for boys? Then the whole liberal edifice falls down: a boy's identity and development of self will be helped, not harmed, by exposure to a masculine environment.
Furthermore, there is an inconsistency in Godinho's account of individuality. He talks at times of young men "discovering who they are on their own" which suggests that there is some unique, given identity there to be uncovered. But he then talks about the importance of a freedom of every person to choose what to be - which suggests that identity is something that has to be self-created rather than something given to us.
So are we self-creating blank slates? Or do we have a uniquely given identity?
There are problems with both views. If we are blank slates who are free to choose whatever identity we like, then identity doesn't mean much. It is a random thing that doesn't connect us to anything. But if there is a given identity, then Godinho has to drop some of the liberal pretence that we are free to choose whatever we want to be.
Finally, it should also be noted that liberals don't really give up on collective identity. They just replace natural forms of human community with political ones. Liberals are adept at forming communities based on the political principles of liberalism (i.e. where you claim membership by various kinds of political markers, e.g. using certain academic terminology, following PC codes etc.)
Godinho finishes by suggesting that girls should be used as a battering ram against boys:
Maybe the best way to ensure difference is to flood the halls of boys-only schools with young women. Maybe we need to start exposing pupils to ideas and ways of thinking which do not restrict them. We can begin to challenge the ideology of masculinity and what it’s doing to South Africa’s men.