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Starting points for conversations with men and boys

Talking to men and boys about masculinity can sometimes seem like a daunting task, or something which they will quickly turn off from. However, there are a wide range of different ways in which men and boys can be engaged with about gender norms and the impacts that they have. You may be surprised about the interest you receive when raising these important issues, which men and boys often don’t have an opportunity to discuss (because to do so is frequently seen as ‘unmanly’ for example). The following are a series of points which can be used to help start conversations with men and boys about gender norms – whether that’s in an organised engagement setting, or in an everyday one-to-one chat.

  • Many of the things we take for granted about aspects of masculinity being ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ are in fact socially constructed (in other words, shaped and defined by society), and therefore can and do change.
  • Gender norms can contribute towards significant harms experienced by everyone - from mental health issues for men, to violence against women and girls.
  • Gender norms are not necessarily always harmful - some can have positive impacts. However, it may not be helpful to have any set of expectations for how people should behave based around gender, even if we see them as being positive or healthy.
  • Gender norms are built upon and reinforce social inequalities which give men more power in society than women. However, individual men can still suffer in different ways as a result of them, and some men have more power than others as a result of those social inequalities.
  • Men and boys should feel able to be whoever they want to be, and not feel constrained to behave only in ways which are deemed to be ‘manly’.
  • Many men and boys are already challenging dominant social norms in a variety of ways, and living their lives in ways which are kind, caring, egalitarian and peaceful.
  • Often our peers do not approve of harmful or oppressive behaviours as much as we think they do - they are just waiting for someone to be the first one to step in and do something.
  • It can sometimes feel challenging and uncomfortable to raise and confront these issues, both with ourselves and with other people, so one thing which can help is connecting with others who are doing similar work.
  • It can feel overwhelming to see the size of the task that is needed, but small individual steps all contribute in important ways to changing the bigger picture.
  • All of us contribute to reinforcing gendered social norms - and all of us can do things to change them. Stereotypes can help our brains to make sense of the world in simple and easy to categorise ways, however sometimes we need to question the assumptions we hold if they place limitations on other people or ourselves.