The Pixel Project is pleased to welcome a guest “16 For 16” article from our partner MenChallenging, an organisation that challenges men to prevent gender-based violence and support its victims and survivors.
There are more people today than ever before – especially boys and men – that know about gender-based violence and want to do something about it. But things are not changing fast enough. We are not yet at a tipping point, where enough men challenging men’s violence against women make it truly unacceptable.
One way we as men can speed up change and foster accountability around gender-based violence is to be better supporters of boys and young men, including doing better ourselves. Most men have young men in their lives in one way or another – and we all can directly and indirectly create lasting impressions on boys and young men even without realising it. MenChallenging will share 16 ways you can help support boys in challenging violence against women and girls, no matter who or how old you are!
*A note on MenChallenging’s position regarding gender: We believe that when confronting the culture of gender-based violence, it is important to also look critically at the idea of gender itself as binary (e.g. man/woman, boy/girl) and how we reinforce that binary culturally. We need to continue acknowledging and accepting that gender exists on a wide spectrum and more, and pretty much always has. When working to challenge the status quo on something like gender-based violence, we sometimes talk in a relatively binary frame when starting conversations. This list is an example of that – we believe everything here is true regardless of a person’s gender or identity, and yet we also believe it is important to engage men and boys specifically in doing more to challenge gender-based violence while also challenging homophobia, transphobia, racism, and more. We also must acknowledge and centre the fact that often transgender-based and non-gender-based conforming folks (as with folks of colour, folks with disabilities, immigrants, native/indigenous folks, and others) are at higher risk of violent victimisation.
Recommended Action #1: Check yourself, Part 1 – Don’t be violent
It might sound obvious, but it is important to state it. Don’t be violent, abusive, or controlling. Don’t rape, stalk, or harass. Help boys and young men unlearn violence against women by choosing not to commit it. Most men do not commit overt acts of gender-based violence but the majority of these types of violence are committed by men. To change this status quo, we must stop committing violence and hold each other accountable as well. We must model better behaviour for young men and boys around us. There are some resources that can help you or someone you know explore how to stop being violent, as well as resources for men who have experienced violence themselves.
Recommended Action #2: Check yourself, Part 2 – Don’t promote violence, prevent it!
Not committing violence is a critical first step. However, while most men do not commit overt acts of violence, there are many subtle ways that we all promote a culture of gender-based violence. We must develop a critical eye towards ourselves and those around us, and then pass those skills to the next generation of boys and men. So think about:
- The language you use
- The jokes you tell, or laugh at
- The media you consume
- Who you have in your life – friends, family, coworkers – and how they talk about and treat women
- Whether you know men that might be or are violent towards women, and what you can do about it
Recommended Action #3: Own it! (“It” being “Your responsibility to challenge men’s violence against women”)
This is critical, especially around and in front of young folks. Own it for yourself, and help boys and young men own it for themselves as well. Ah, but what the heck does “own it” even mean? It means more than not committing violence – but proactively taking a stance against such violence. Recognise ways that you might be contributing to the problem. How does it make you feel? If what you find makes you uncomfortable, congratulations! That is the first step towards doing something about it. Help a young person in your life do the same – to tell peers when their language or behaviour is not okay, to intervene against sexist or violent jokes, to speak out when necessary, and more. Still not sure where to get started? Check out the MenChallenging website to learn more about what this looks like and to get involved!
Recommended Action #4: Pizza rolls, not gender roles (we embrace feminist dad jokes)
Gender roles are what we as a culture say it means to “be a real man” or to “act like a lady”, whether we agree with them or not. While some roles aren’t inherently negative, they often contribute to a culture that promotes men’s violence, especially against women. And gender roles start early. We are talking BEFORE A CHILD IS BORN, such as “pink is for girls and blue is for boys”. Children are aware of gender roles and the pressure to live up to them way before they can talk about them. So help children understand the many ways there are to be a boy or girl, or any other gender identities. When young boys are struggling with being “too emotional”, not playing sports, liking dolls, and on and on and on, give them space and support to figure out for themselves what kind of boy and man they want to be. Learn more about talking to young folks about gender here!
Recommended Action #5: Stop policing gender
One of the more harmful aspects of gender roles is how rigidly we police or enforce those norms. Very often gender roles are framed as “natural” or “traditional”. However, like all parts of our culture, we create them and can change them as necessary, especially to prevent harm. Boys police each other and adults police gender for them. Keep an eye and ear open for policing language – it’s everywhere and includes references to toys, clothes, sports, showing emotions, and much more. Limiting what a young boy can be limits their humanity and empathy, causing them harm and setting up an environment where gender-based violence is common. Model creating space for boys to be whoever they want to be.
Recommended Action #6: Find stuff to do that doesn’t limit young men and boys in your life!
Yes, harmful gender roles and policing of gender roles come from everywhere in our culture. However, there are also many types of entertainment and learning that promote healthier ways of being a boy or man. Be critical about the books, TV shows, movies, websites, podcasts, video games, etc. that you and boys in your life consume. Ask them questions about what they like and why. Look for and discover alternatives that show a wider range of what gender is and can be, what it means to be a boy/man – and a girl/woman, which is equally important for boys to be exposed to. Here are just a few of many examples to get you started:
- Boy oh Boy: From boys to men, be inspired by 30 coming-of-age stories of sportsmen, artists, politicians, educators and scientists
- Boys Who Dare To Be Different
- Steven Universe (TV Series 2013–2020)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
- When We Free The World
Recommended Action #7: Model consent
Respecting consent for yourself and others is critical to model waaaaaaaay before you start talking about sexuality and whatnot, and you must model it in all aspects of life, not just in relation to violence or gender. Don’t force kids to hug an uncle or kiss an aunt if they don’t want to. Help them understand the concept of consent. Ask them before you hug them, and let them know to do the same with you. Ask about situations and contexts they face – playdates with friends, at school, at home, dating, online, etc. – and how they can set boundaries and respect those of others. Discover and figure out the best ways for you to consistently model consent proactively with young boys in your life. An ounce of prevention in regards to consent is more than worth a pound of cure. “But how the heck do I talk about consent with young people?!” Glad you asked! You can start here.
Recommended Action #8: Model relationships with other men
One of the ways rigid gender roles harm boys and men is in limiting our relationships with each other. Research shows how early boys begin to distance themselves from their friends in a variety of ways, and the harm it can do. What are your relationships with other men like? Are they open and honest? What do you talk about with your male friends? Do you joke about/put down women and girls, make light of violence? A critical eye to relationships will help you live a fuller life and get you ready to support boys in your life with the same. Check out one powerful book about this issue from Niobe Way – Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection
Recommended Action #9: Do the dishes
In addition to modeling consent and healthy relationships with other men, do the dishes! Modeling fair and equitable treatment and work at home can go a long way toward showing boys and young men equity and respect for women and girls. This challenges rigid gender roles and a devaluation of women, and is tied to challenging violence as well. Figure out if your home/family life mirrors most others with women and girls doing the majority of unpaid work and chores at home, and how everyone can do more to do their share. To learn more, read this.
Recommended Action #10: Cultivate Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Part of the lessons that we so often learn and teach is that in order to be “real” men, we need to suppress our own emotions, our humanity. We equate emotionality with weakness, being “girly”. Any wonder we have such a problem with mens’ violence against women? Often the only emotion that as men we allow and are allowed to express is anger, regardless of how we feel. As with gender roles, this starts very early and can similarly be challenged from childhood. There are many ways to support boys in developing a higher EQ (the fancy way of saying emotional intelligence), and the bonus? EQ will help you and those around you in a myriad of ways, including helping to challenge gender-based-based violence. Start with this article on EQ and children – Emotional Intelligence will Take Kids Further in Life.
Recommended Action #11: Talk it out!
You are not in this alone. Many more men and boys are aware of the limits of traditional gender-based roles and norms, and of the epidemic of gender-based violence. And while we are not at a tipping point yet you are NOT in this alone. Talk to men in your life – family, friends, coworkers. Ask how they deal with some of this stuff. Be ready for any kind of response, including positive ones. You can also seek out men in similar positions wanting to explore this all more. There are networks of men and dads online and off that are dealing with all the same stuff we are discussing here. No need to reinvent the wheel, and there is power in numbers! Check out MenChallenging or FatheringTogether to get started!
Recommended Action #12: Sports and boys
Sports is one of the most influential positive cultural forces in the U.S. They are also a space where gender is taught and rigidly enforced, and violence against women is often minimised and denied, whether at the youth, high school, college, or professional levels. There are numerous resources and role models in the world of sports challenging gender-based violence and harmful gender-based norms for boys and men. So make sure that young folks are aware of them! Check out:
- Don McPherson’s You Throw Like A Girl
- Joe Ehrmann’s Inside Out Coaching
- The powerful documentary Roll Red Roll
Recommended Action #13: A word about school
Another context rife with gender issues is school. There is often a lot of pressure to conform to gender roles from peers and even staff and faculty. If you know a young person in school do your homework to find out what resources are available for students wanting to learn more about gender roles. Ask questions of the student’s teachers. Bring it up with other parents. Try to find out what potential risks and resources exist there. For older students (high school or college) ideally there are also resources specific to gender-based violence as well, addressing such issues as healthy relationships and sexuality and consent.
Help the school connect to resources! Check out:
Recommended Action #14: Get fatherhood right
There are a lot of traditional gender roles relating to being a father – ranging from more healthy to less so. Think about anyone who was a father figure to you – what lessons did they teach you about what it means to be a man? Looking back as an adult, which lessons have served you, which have not? One of the most important roles you can play as a father to a boy is to help them define for themselves what their gender means to them, support them as they figure it out. And if you want some help along the way, check out organisations and networks that can help!
Recommended Action #15: Listen to boys and young men
Young people these days know more about gender than we, ahem, earlier generations. So as we share our wisdom and experience with younger folks we must also listen and learn from and with them. We must always be willing to look at things from a new perspective and be critical about our beliefs. We must respect young men and boys and what they know, their experiences. We must hold ourselves accountable to them as well as them being accountable to us. Be aware of how you talk with and to boys in your life. Make sure to listen. If something makes you uncomfortable, or you don’t understand it, ask them. This will deepen the relationship and respect for each other that you both have.
Recommended Action #16: Do! Something! More!
There are many ways that you as an individual or as a group with others can take concrete action to inspire, support, and work with boys to help end gender-based-based violence. And we need you to step up and take action. Many of the organisations listed during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence have ways to get involved, and you can always support and reach out to Pixel Project and MenChallenging to do more. But also use what you’ve got. Are you a musician? Contractor? Teacher? Actor? Politician? Lawyer? Civil servant? Between jobs? We all bring something unique – a skill, a passion, a connection, experience – that can be used to better support young folks to build a better and less violent future for us all.
All pictures used are Creative Commons images (from top to bottom):