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Some issues which might arise...

Gender norms are highly personal for each of us and deeply embedded in our societies, our day-to-day lives, and our minds. We can be heavily invested in these norms, as our sense of identity and social status can be closely tied up with them. Challenging gender norms can therefore be difficult and can present a range of barriers which need to be overcome. This section offers suggestions for how to deal with some of the most common issues which can arise when engaging with men and boys about gender.

  • Defensive responses and backlash – Try to focus on creating meaningful and productive dialogue. Some mediums are easier than others for doing this, for example individual face-to-face conversations are likely to yield more nuanced and constructive discussions than ones over social media.
  • Making it ‘all about men’ – Working with men and boys is important in and of itself, but should be done in reference to and in conversation with women and girls' organisations, and recognising the context of wider social inequalities.
  • Raising sensitive topics – Discussing issues related to masculinity can bring out difficult issues and experiences for men and boys so it is important to be sensitive to this, support participants when they need it, and point them towards relevant services if needed (some of which are listed in the next section).
  • Blaming individual men – Recognise that all men need to be involved in change, not only those engaging in the most unhealthy or harmful behaviours.
  • Blaming women – Whilst all of society plays a part in reinforcing harmful gender norms, men must be encouraged to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
  • Becoming despondent about possibilities for change – This work can be difficult, so self-care and caring for others is a crucial aspect of it, as well as remembering and providing examples of how positive change can and does happen.
  • Problematic behaviours – In the process of delivering this work harmful, prejudiced or oppressive attitudes and behaviours may be encountered, and it is important to challenge these where possible, rather than dismissing or colluding in them.
  • Challenges to messages – Participants may not always agree with messages about changing gendered social norms, which is why encouraging a dialogue based upon critical thinking is so important. People may have personal experiences which differ from the broader picture, so it is important to illustrate how these fit into a wider context in which social structures and norms follow certain patterns in relation to gender, even if these do not always apply in the same way for everyone.
  • Unaccountable and unreflective practice – Unfortunately there are examples of men involved in this field using violence and abuse themselves, or using women’s ideas as their own and/or receiving more credit than women for doing the same work for example. It is therefore important to continuously examine our own attitudes and behaviours too, and make ourselves accountable to others to ensure we are not replicating unequal gendered power dynamics.
  • Lack of wider organisations or services – There might not be much support available in the local area for a specific issue. However, rather than expressing frustrations at women’s organisations for not providing particular services for men, encourage men to instead ask what would be needed for appropriate services for men to be available in a given area or for a particular issue.
  • Work with men and boys being dominated by individual stars or personalities – This work should not primarily be about personal fame or benefit for men involved in it, so it is important to remember that it is a collective effort for social change rather than one defined by individual figureheads.