The damage caused by toxic masculinity | BBC Ideas

I’m David Brockway. I’m the manager
of the Great Men Project. We deliver workshops
on gender equality to teenage boys in schools
across London and the South East. Our topics include sexual harassment,
homophobia, pornography and consent. But especially, we talk about
masculinity, feminism and what it really means to be a man. Adult men don’t really talk about
these issues very much. We want to get
that conversation normalised starting at an early age. We use participatory activities,
such as word association games. These allow the boys
to explore stereotypes that might be in their heads. We’ll ask them to talk about the
first word that comes into their head when they think of a certain topic. For instance, when they’re
asked to think about men they may come up
with brave, strong or daring. For women, they may come up
with gentle, kind and caring. So then we ask how and why? What causes these stereotypes? Where do the boys get ideas like it’s weak for men to cry,
or men are strong, women are weak. Most of the boys have never
had conversations like this before. Our most powerful moments
are when we have lightbulb moments. When boys have the opportunity,
through talking to each other, to realise that some of these ideas
that they think they know are actually a result of conditioning
and the world around them. Toxic masculinity is talked
about a lot these days. We would define it as.. On top of the litany
of negative consequences that these behaviours
have for women and girls, there are also many negative
consequences for men and boys. At the top of this list would be
mental ill health and suicide. Suicide rates in this country are currently much higher
for men than they are for women. In our workshops we find
that boys have a lot of difficulty expressing their emotions,
accepting emotional vulnerability and admitting to any
form of weakness. Our workshops encourage boys
to critique phrases such as, “Man up” and “Take it like a man.” Which are really saying
boys don’t cry, and boys don’t ask for help
when they’re feeling down. The phrase “Man up”
is particularly important for us. It’s two words that, put together,
mean absolutely nothing, but any man can tell you that,
when told to do so, they know exactly what
was expected of them at that time. For years, the responsibility
of dealing with these problems has been on women. Grappling with sexism, sexual
harassment and harassment at work. We feel that solving these issues
is equally the responsibility of men. That’s why it’s so important to get
these conversations started early, to bring boys into this discussion
so they can have a chance to not take forward those
negative ideas and stereotypes. One of our most difficult
topics is pornography. Our approach is not to shame anyone,
but to ask questions such as, “is this a good place
to learn about sex?”, “Can this be degrading?” and
“Where’s the consent in this?” We aim to educate the boys
about the porn industry to tell them that it can often be
unsafe and coercive for women, that the things on display
are rarely representative of a mutually pleasurable
sexual experience. Sometimes the boys we work with go back to a home environment that is contrary
to all of the things we’ve discussed. What they are taught
and learn from the media is the total opposite
of discussions they had with us. Healthy relationships are about
respecting, caring and communicating. Our aim is to plant a seed that will allow the boys we work with
to start questioning these things and create their own version
of being a man.

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