Sacked Eton teacher: I stand by my patriarchy lecture

January 21, 2021
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When teacher Will Knowland was sacked by Eton for refusing to take down a lecture from his YouTube account “Knowland Knows”, his departure sparked furious debate. The provocative lecture, ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’, argued that the idea of a repressive patriarchy throughout history is a myth, that men have had it harder than women, and that traditional gender roles are not social constructions but the inevitable result of innate biological differences.

To its critics, the video was deemed offensive and sexist for espousing such a retrograde view of masculinity. But to Knowland and his supporters, whether the content was offensive or not was secondary to the video’s broader purpose: that these ideas, however provocative they may be, are fair game for discussion and debate.

That this incident occurred at the world’s most prestigious school — educator of over 20 British Prime Ministers (including the current one) and princes William and Harry — only served to give the controversy more attention.

It’s an intriguing case study of the interplay between elite institutions, competing visions of masculine virtue and the limits of acceptable ideas. Knowland argues that he was upholding Eton’s traditions, which he sees as being under threat:

I felt that my duty to uphold Eton’s very long rich tradition of encouraging independent critical thoughts and having broad based debate was being called into question. Why should we stop boys from watching this even in their own time? People should be allowed to make up their own minds about it.
- Will Knowland, LockdownTV

He positions his lecture in the spirit of a liberal education, in which a full range of ideas should be discussed:

I think, watching the way in which debate had been narrowed over the last five years or so, particularly on this topic at an all boys school struck me as slightly strange. And if you’re an all boys school, and you can’t have a rigorous open discussion of masculinity, as informed by anthropology, and psychology, I think something is going wrong. And if the reason for that is that it might upset a member of staff, then you’re heading in the safespace direction. And I think that if Eton can’t resist that, which is a threat, that is, I think it’s fair to say permeating the wider culture, if Eton, can’t resist that then I think very few places have got a chance of doing so.
- Will Knowland, LockdownTV

But was sacrificing a job that he held for nine years, to defend such a deliberately provocative and one-sided treatise, worth it?

Well, I knew I was taking a risk making a stand on a point of principle. But as far as I see it, it’s a point of principle that is essential to the identity of the college, and also essential to what a liberal education is all about. So there’s a sense in which, if I’d allowed that, my job already wouldn’t have been as valuable to me. I mean, there are people who might say, you stay in it just for the money, but any teacher who’s in teaching for the money is very easily bought. And I think that there are more important things than that. And there’s a sense in which I’d lost my job even before I was sacked.
- Will Knowland, LockdownTV

As ever, we’ll leave you to decide whether is a point of principle you would defend. Many thanks to Will for his time.


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