Challenging the pressure to 'man up'

Categories:

This activity is designed for use with one or more small groups. Some of the content is sensitive in nature. It takes 45 to 60 minutes.

Consider whether the notes and activity materials are appropriate for the young people you are working with, given factors like their age and stage of development.

Aims

To support young people to critically reflect on the ‘rules’, expectations and pressure associated with being a ‘real man’ and encourage young men to subscribe to healthier and more positive conceptions of masculinity.

Learning outcomes

At the conclusion of this activity, participants should:

  • have practised forming and expressing an opinion and listening to others respectfully
  • have increased ability to critically reflect on how narrow expectations about being a ‘real man’ can be limiting for young men and others
  • understand the impacts the ‘Man Box’ has on young men’s health and wellbeing and those around them
  • understand that there are a range of healthier and more positive conceptions of masculinity and be able to reflect on some of the potential benefits of exploring these in their own lives.

Preparation

  • Facilitators who plan to use this activity need to have an understanding of concepts associated with gender norms and masculinity. To assist in building and strengthening this required knowledge, consider reviewing The pressure to ‘man up’ .
  • Carefully review the videos and facilitator notes in advance to determine the suitability of this activity for the young people you work with and decide which videos suggested in Part 3 you want to show.
  • Consider your audience and whether there are any additional examples you might highlight/include that are relevant.
  • Consider your audience and whether there are any sensitivities you will need to address based on the composition of the group. Research and plan for this, it will allow you to create a safe space for critical reflection for your participants.
  • Review the Men in Focus and The Man Box study and resources.

Time required

  • Allow a minimum of 45 minutes and maximum of 1 hour.
  • Remember to allow time to establish a group agreement or to reaffirm an existing group agreement.

Materials

You will need:

  • Laptop and screen with audio
  • Printed handouts for the activity in Part 2. Note: You will need to choose one statistic for each group.

Part 1: The pressure to ‘be a man’

Duration: 5 minutes

1. Outline the purpose of the session – refer to the activity aims.

2. Create a group agreement outlining how you will relate as a group during this activity. Reinforce with participants how important it is to create a respectful learning environment in which everyone can feel comfortable to contribute.

3. Show the video: #NeverFollow – there is no one way to be a man

4. Ask participants to reflect on what they see as the key messages from the video. You may ask participants to do this individually, within a small group, and/or as one large group.

5. Facilitate a discussion to highlight and reinforce the video’s key messages. These can include:

  • You don’t have to be what you see (i.e. narrow, strict ideas about being a man).
  • You don’t have to act or behave a certain way because others around you are doing so.
  • It’s okay to be different and to shape your own personality.
  • It’s healthy to show your vulnerabilities and emotions. Physical strength does not mean that you cannot be emotional.
  • It takes courage to stand up to ‘the boys’ to do what you want and what you think is right.

6. Show the video a second time and explain to participants that you want them to pay attention to what is happening in the different situations the lead character walks through. Explain that it is not expected for them to catch everything that happens.

7. Ask participants whether they’ve ever felt pressure or seen others pressured to participate in the types of behaviours depicted in the video. Ask them what they would do if they ever encountered these situations, or what they would do differently, next time.

Part 2: The impacts of the need to ‘be a man’

Duration: 20-30 minutes

1. Explain to participants that you are going to explore the impacts associated with some of the messages society gives about who men should be.

2. Let participants know that you are going to focus on statistics from the ‘Man Box’ study Australian young men aged 18 to 30 years.

3. Explain that the ‘Man Box’ is a name the researchers give to a set of beliefs within and across society that place pressure on men to be a certain way. For example, to be tough or not show emotions. They use this term to convey how these pressures can restrict men, by placing them in a narrow ‘box’.

4. Explain that some of the ‘Man Box’ beliefs can sometimes be useful. For example, ‘being tough’ is an important part of being successful on a football field. However, at other times, having to be tough can lead to problems. For example, feeling like you have to bottle-up your emotions when trying to talk to your friends.

5. Inform participants that you are going to break into small groups to discuss a statistic from the ‘Man Box’ study. Statistics you could use include:

  • Almost half of young Australian men (47%) think that guys should act strong even if they feel scared or nervous inside.
  • One in 5 young men (20%) think that men should use violence to get respect if necessary.
  • Almost two in five men (34%) think a guy who doesn’t fight back when others push him around is weak.
  • 27% of young men think a man should always have the final say about decisions in his relationship or marriage.
  • 37% of young men think that if a guy has a girlfriend or wife, he deserves to know where she is all the time.

6. Ask each group to discuss and respond to the questions below. Bring the groups back together as one and ask them to share what was discussed in response to each question. Examples of points you could draw out in relation to each question are provided.

    7. Share the following key points to summarise the discussion:

    • Many of the ‘Man Box’ rules restrict and limit men – for example, stopping them from developing emotional intelligence and skills, or exploring all the options for what they might want to do with their lives. They can restrict, limit and potentially isolate men who want to step outside of the ‘Man Box’ rules.
    • Many of the ‘Man Box’ rules, have the potential to be damaging to men’s mental health and wellbeing in the long run. The ‘Man Box’ study shows that young men who most strongly agree with these rules report:
      • poorer levels of mental health;
      • engagement in risky drinking;
      • a greater likelihood of being in car accidents; and
      • committing acts of violence, online bullying and sexual harassment.
      • These dominant forms of masculinity also help to maintain gender inequality. They create and give legitimacy to the privilege and power that men as a group hold over women as a group, and that men hold in their personal relationships with women.
      • The idea that men have to be ‘powerful’, ‘tough’ or ‘in control’ are more likely to lead to sexist attitudes and behaviours, and use of violence against women — especially when their masculinity is challenged or when they find it difficult to live up to these norms.
      • These dominant forms of masculinity also help to maintain gender inequality. They create and give legitimacy to the privilege and power that men as a group hold over women as a group, and that men hold in their personal relationships with women.
      • The idea that men have to be ‘powerful’, ‘tough’ or ‘in control’ are more likely to lead to sexist attitudes and behaviours, and use of violence against women — especially when their masculinity is challenged or when they find it difficult to live up to these norms.

      Part 3: Exploring different ways to be a man

      Duration: 15 minutes

      1. Explain to participants that the ‘Man Box’ rules are communicated in a range of ways across the whole of society – we see messages about who men should be in the media (music, advertising, movies, Netflix), in sport, in school, and can hear these ideas shared by family and friends.

      2. Acknowledge that it can feel very hard to try to counter this or go against the ‘Man box’ rules. But that there are many men and others who actively challenge the limiting ideas about who men should be.

      3. Explain to participants that you are going to watch some videos of men talking about how they navigate the pressure to be a ‘certain type of man’.

      4. Show some of the following videos:

      Note:

      • Ziggy Ramo and Thomas Deng are Ambassadors for the #NeverFollow campaign.
      • Ziggy Ramo is an Indigenous hip hop artist who has was touted by Triple J Unearthed as an “Artist to Watch”, in 2017.
      • Thomas Deng played for the Melbourne Victory in the A-League and was named in the Socceroos squad in 2018. Thomas was born into a family of South Sudanese refugees in Nairobi, Kenya. He, along with his family, were fleeing from the conflict in South Sudan and eventually resettled in Australia.

      5. Facilitate a group discussion with participants on what they took as the key messages from the videos. Draw out the following points.

      • There is no one way to be a man.
      • To show up and be seen – as who you really are – takes guts.
      • It takes courage and strength to create your own path.
      • More and more men are rejecting narrow expectations about how ‘real men’ should be.
      • Men can and should be vulnerable, emotional and sensitive – in fact there is strength in being vulnerable.

      6. Conclude by emphasising that:

      • living up to the pressures of being a ‘real man’ can cause harm to young men and those around them;
      • young men shouldn’t have to prove they are tough and strong, or suppress their emotions;
      • more and more men are challenging the narrow expectations from society about how ‘real men’ should be;
      • by getting rid of the rules about who can have what qualities, people of all genders can be respected for who they are.

      You may also like...

      Loading next article