By GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST
Rachel* is the mother of two daughters at a co-ed primary school in bayside Melbourne. Her daughters thought little of their friendships with boys in their class, or the boys they played tennis with every week.
But this month, the older of Rachel’s girls came home clutching her school newsletter, pointing to a full-page feature article and asking: “Does that mean I can’t have my friend over to play, mum?”
The feature article was called 15 Ways to Protect Your Marriage, published as part of St James Catholic Primary School newsletter. The intended audience was school mums, who were advised to “protect” their marriages by ridding themselves of male friends and spontaneously checking in on their husbands at work.
Rachel scanned the article, which was positioned on the final page of the Victorian school’s newsletter, and struggled for words before explaining to her daughter: “No, hon… Those are the olden days. This does not happen now. Men and women can be friends.”
Rachel is now seeking an apology from the school’s parish priest for the “sexist and misogynistic” article that was published on August 7.
The controversial article, which originally appeared on iMom Family First and was submitted to the newsletter by the school’s parish priest Father Gerard Johnson, lays out a series of rules. The rules state that women, as “the more communicative half of a marriage,” have a responsibility to guard against external threats to their wedded bliss.
One of the article’s more memorable rules? Its requirement that women know their spouses’ co-workers.
The article implores women to “pop into” their husband’s offices to “take him lunch occasionally… just to be familiar with his world and spot trouble if it arrives.”
The article also bans ‘pornography’ — which it defines to include erotic fiction like the bestselling 50 Shades of Grey — and advocates for an ‘open-phone’ policy, arguing: “Both partners in a marriage should be completely comfortable with having their spouse look at any social media accounts, text messages, or other forms of communication.”
Rachel told Mamamia that the article had “caused an uproar” in the school community.
“The mums emailed separately (to complain) and then realised when we got talking that a lot of us had emailed,” Rachel said.
“Parents already feel let down by the Catholic Church by its inability to keep up with the times, but are now concerned that in 2014 our children are being educated in this sexist and misogynistic environment,” she said.
“Kids in Years One and Two are reading it. It’s just bonkers in our country, in this day and age.”
It’s advice that most parents would find “archaic”, Rachel told us.
“I just think it’s not lending itself to a modern-day relationship, which is about communication and trust. That’s taking us back to the dark ages.”
Rachel adds: “it advises women to… familiarise themselves with the (husband’s) secretaries so they can spot trouble before it arises – which fails to address the necessary ingredient of any relationship – trust! Do any women work? Should their offices be visited too?”
As for the prohibition on opposite-sex friendships which upset Rachel’s daughter in the first place, the article declares: “You can be friends with other couples together but it’s a terrible idea for you to have a close relationship with anyone of the opposite sex outside of that.”
It’s a view that’s not only offensive but exclusionary, according to Rachel.
“I think it’s important to have relationships with members of the opposite sex… I’ve got the mobile number of a few of the dads (from school) and it’s like ‘can you pick the kids up?,” she said. “It’s a community, and men can work as part of that community… and his article militates against that.”
Rachel is calling for an apology, and says the article highlights a need for “open discussion about.. religions keeping up to date, to be contemporary…. The article … has also called into question the role of a Catholic education in our Modern Australian Society.”
“What I would love is for other women in Australia to support us. To get some sisters together and say, ‘this is inappropriate literature’,” Rachel said.
St James’ deputy principal Pat Berlingeri declined to comment to Mamamia. When contacted by the Bayside Leader, he said the school did not control that particular page of the newsletter, and that the parish priest decided what was published there.
But parish priest Father Johnson told the newspaper he “utterly disagreed” that it was sexist. He maintains that the article was fit and proper to publish.
He does admit however that the community appear not to share his view. “While I have had some positive feedback, it is far outweighed by those who have been upset by it,” Fr Johnson told the Bayside Leader.
“It was intended to be helpful, it clearly has not been,” he said.
Do you agree this article has no place in a school newsletter? How would you react if it was sent home by your child’s school?