Teaching men and boys in the age of #MeToo

2017-11-12 06:04
Women march in June against the violence against women and children. Picture: Siphosihle Dyonase

Women march in June against the violence against women and children. Picture: Siphosihle Dyonase

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Most men weren’t taught about positive gender roles, but this can change, writes Sandee LaMotte.

As scores of women continue to share their stories of sexual abuse and harassment in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, men from all walks of life have responded.

Using hashtags such as #IHearYou, #IWillSpeakUp and #HowIWillChange, they are pledging to treat women with respect and challenge other men when they don’t.

If men need help keeping their pledge, the good news is that there are many established organisations with proven track records of helping erase men’s ingrained attitudes towards women. The bad news is, many of them have been providing resources to men for decades. So why haven’t more men used them for self-reflection and change?

“Many men haven’t felt this is their problem because they don’t see themselves as the bad guy,” said Ted Bunch, who co-founded A Call to Men, a men’s violence prevention and socialisation organisation. “But what they don’t understand is that, even though most of us are not abusive, we are silent. And that makes us a bad guy.”

Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, said: “It’s always been men’s responsibility to prevent gender-based violence. But you have to see something as a problem before you can gain the skills to impact that problem in a positive way.”

To create a lasting shift in how men treat women, experts say, prevention is key.

“The way we’ve always responded is through intervention after the fact,” Bunch said. “Someone has to be harmed; someone has to go to the hospital; someone has to go to the shelter; someone has to go to human resources. We want to go upstream and prevent it so that it doesn’t happen in the first place.”

The "man box"

In A Call to Men’s approach, trainers lead group conversations with men; they also offer a nine-week programme for schools called LiveRespect. Much of the conversation in these groups is focused on what A Call to Men chief executive and co-founder Tony Porter calls the “man box” – definitions of manhood that box men in and limit how they think and feel.

Harvard Medical School psychologist William Pollack calls it the “boy code”. In his book Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, he writes: “The ‘boy code’ puts boys and men into a gender straitjacket that constrains not only them but everyone else, reducing us all as human beings.”

The strict, defining rules of the man box start at an early age for boys, Porter says – much younger than you might imagine. “The moment you tell a boy to stop crying – and for some of us, that’s about three years old – you’re teaching him to stop feeling,” said Porter. “Boys are taught to have no fear; to be daring. Asking for help is also viewed as a sign of weakness, and that is also taught to our boys early on. We tell them to ‘go figure it out on your own’. The only emotion young boys have permission to express is anger.”

Justin Coulson, an Australian family psychologist who runs workshops with adolescent boys on sexuality and the effect of pornography, agreed: “It starts in those first few years. Studies show that, even though mum is working today, she still does most of the housework and parenting. Many young boys grow up watching and internalising this.”

Gender stereotypes are all too often reinforced at school.

“By primary school, the message of what it means to be a man really takes hold,” Porter said. “In pre-primary school, you can still tell boys to grab each others’ hands, and they will do it, but primary school is when society’s messages begin to really set in.”

By the time a boy hits puberty, when studies show he will experience a decrease in empathy, he’s probably been exposed to pornography that “illustrates women as objects to be abused and treated appallingly”, Coulson said.

The fight against gender stereotypes starts at birth, Coulson said, with men setting a good example.

“It’s not just dads,” he said. “Grandfathers and uncles – all the men who are in these boys’ lives – have to be respectful and give women a voice. In my family, my wife and I work as a team. I’m not the final decision maker; we are the decision makers. Little kids pick up on that.”

“If it’s too late, then start where you are"

Of course, mums play a role in the socialisation of men.

“We hear women say, ‘I tell my son to man up, to stop crying, to toughen up’. Those mums are concerned that their boys will be seen as weak and less than a man,” Bunch said.

“These rules that are in place are set up by men, and women are socialised by those rules. When men start saying things differently, women also will. Men set the tone.”

By preschool, experts say, it’s time to monitor children’s media intake, which is packed with prescribed messages on how a boy and a girl should look, feel and behave.

Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer at the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, said: “We live in a culture that is saturated with disrespectful words and behaviours between men and women, and we need to put our effort into replacing those.

“If you are watching TV, playing video games or listening to the radio with your children, you have constant opportunities to pull out a lyric or discuss a theme and ask them: ‘Does this happen in your school? What do the kids say about it? What would you do if this happened to your friend?’”

Start talking about sex early, Coulson says. Most children know how babies are made by the age of eight.

“Get in there and pre-arm them so that, by the time they are in primary school, they understand kindness and consent and respect. Teach them that ‘yes’ has to be an enthusiastic yes, and just because they said yes once doesn’t mean they will say yes again. You need a yes for each intimate interaction.”

Most men today did not grow up in that optimal gender-neutral environment. Does that mean that it’s too late for lasting change?

“If it’s too late, then start where you are,” Coulson said. “So if you’ve got a 15-year-old and you’ve haven’t started, start today.”

Porter said: “How do we engage boys and men? With what we call developing a voice. Men are on remote control, steeped in tradition, just doing what we’ve always done and blind to what is around us. So A Call to Men has various tools that can create an aha moment for men.”

LaMotte is the executive producer of video for WebMD, based in Atlanta. This article was published by CNN


Are we teaching young men and boys to respect women enough?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword BOY and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    sexual abuse

Inside News24

Lockdown For
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.