It's no question that the definition of 'a man' has changed dramatically over the last century. Key aspects associated with masculinity during the 20th century included traditional patriarchal values, dominance, strength, emotional restraint and being the breadwinner.
Nowadays however, with the rise of more gender equitable attitudes, and more progressive thinking in regards to sexuality and mental health, this definition has needed to evolve to embrace greater gender equality, and more modern ideas of men’s place in the world.
Boys and young men today are rightly being encouraged to reflect on traditional ideas of masculinity. We now know that traditional ideas of manhood are harmful to both men and those around them, contributing to a number of social issues, including homophobia, street violence, violence against women and girls, poor educational attainment for men and boys, and poor mental health.
However, despite this, male violence against women and girls is getting worse, three times as many men as women are dying by suicide, and sexual harrassment and sexual violence within schools settings is increasing.
When speaking about the solution to these gender-related issues, author of 'Boys Do Cry' Matt Pinkett said "When talking to teenage boys [...], admonishment and condemnation – rather than polite and courteous and informed discussion – only serves to reinforce [misogynistic] narrative[s]"
Pinkett is referring to the boys and young men influenced by former kickboxer Andrew Tate, who is notoriously known for his misogynistic ideologies, and the way conversations intended to encourage these boys and men to reject these ideologies are had.
The word 'toxic' is constantly used in language surrounding masculinity; boys and young men often don’t have the time or space to fully understand what this really means, or why traditional ideas of masculinity are harmful.
As a result, many boys feel lost and confused, or that being a boy is “wrong”, or they become defensive and disengaged from discussions about gender and masculinity. This, coupled with the rise of unhealthy masculinity being promoted on social media (by people like Andrew Tate) has led some boys to adopt harmful ideas of masculinity and gender that play into the issues mentioned above. This can, and often does, manifest as:
an increase in misogynistic attitudes and behaviours (towards women in their lives).
an increase in endorsing traditional gender roles that promote gender inequality (e.g. that women should serve as domestic caregivers).
an increase in poor mental health, due to traditional ideas of not asking for help, and mental stress as weakness,
an increase in unhealthy behaviours in relationships, controlling behaviours, dominating behaviours.
There is a vital need for work that brings young people into conversations about healthy masculinity in an engaging and compassionate way so that they themselves can effectively challenge the harm that traditional masculine ideas cause.
What's the solution?
That's where we come in. We're Voicebox. We help young people understand why traditional ideas of masculinity can be harmful to everybody: men, women, gender non-conforming people and children.
We provide open, balanced, and empathetic discussions around manhood that bring all young people into conversations about gender and health, and create the space for young people to explore what healthy masculinity looks like for them, and how this will help them live happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives.
How exactly does Voicebox do this?
We facilitate active and engaging drama workshops and assemblies in primary schools, secondary schools and colleges in line with the PSHE national curriculum which allow participants to engage creatively and productively with this important conversation on masculinity.
Our workshops begin with a fun game to introduce participants to critical thinking about gender and the role it plays in our everyday lives.
We'll then dive deeper into ge
nder-based stereotypes and how these can inform the roles we play, discussing the impact (both negative and positive) these stereotypes can have.
Finally, participants will get the chance to practically explore scenarios on gender-related issues which are relevant to them. These scenarios vary from workshop to workshop, but previously they've included:
Someone being rejected by their crush.
A friend isolating themselves from their social group after bad news.
Witnessing sexual harassment in school.
Witnessing homophobia in school.
Who's leading these workshops?
Our highly-skilled Facilitation team specialise in drama facilitation and discussing masculinity with young people. We recruit workshop leaders who can talk with and listen to young people, making them feel at ease and safe in these conversations around difficult topics.
Are they for both boys and girls?
Yes! The role of masculinity in gender-based issues affects everyone. We believe by not exclusively targeting boys and young men with these discussions, we can further encourage an openness about these topics. We want our participants to feel heard, to be proactive in the conversation, and to learn from each other. Everyone can play a part in challenging traditional ideas of masculinity, and promoting healthy masculinity.
We take a balanced approach, creating open and judgement-free spaces for all to explore the pros and cons and to offer diverse viewpoints.
Do the facilitators tell the students off?
As mentioned above, we avoid using terms like 'toxic' as we find describing masculinity as 'unhealthy' or 'healthy' engages participants more effectively, particularly boys and young men. We don't want anyone to feel singled out, uncomfortable, ashamed or villainized.
Our role is not to berate, tell off or shame, but rather to understand, listen, and encourage.
What do the young people get out of it?
We've worked with over 6,000 young people in schools across the UK. 83% of these participants who took part in our Healthy Relationships workshop said they now have a better understanding of how gender stereotypes can impact relationships. 82% said they'd like us to come back to deliver something different.
How important is it that young people talk about masculinity?
Very! Discussing masculinity empowers young people to challenge harmful norms, prioritise mental health, build healthier relationships, and contribute to a more just and compassionate culture inside their schools, social lives, relationships and futures.
These dialogues aid self-discovery, nurture empathy, and prepare young leaders to promote positive change in a more inclusive and equitable world for everyone.