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Raising sons to embrace healthy, positive masculinity

The Men’s Project recently collaborated with leading girls’ rights agency Plan International Australia and Promundo, a global leader in engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality and preventing violence, to produce a guide for parents to help boys embrace healthy, positive masculinity.

The guide offers parents nine simple, practical tips to talk to their sons about healthy masculinity, and encourage positive beliefs and behaviours from an early age, including: how parents can use play to define positive values, challenge gender stereotypes, be clear about consent and more.

Matt Tyler, Executive Director of The Men’s Project, said about the relevance of such a resource: “Our Man Box research, published last year, found that two thirds of young men said that since they were a boy they had been told a ‘real man’ behaves in a certain way. Women suffer in a world where men feel pressure to be a certain kind of man – and it’s also bad for men. We found men who personally endorse stereotypical masculine norms are more likely to sexually harass women, have had recent thoughts of suicide and use or experience physical violence.”

The Men’s Project aims to build positive social change around what it means to be a man today to reduce violence and other harmful behaviours prevalent among boys and men and to improve their wellbeing and relationships.

“We all have a role to play in shaping community attitudes towards gender equality and eliminating violence against women, and this begins with promoting positive role modelling and beliefs from when children are young so that our boys are free from the expectations of what it means to be a ‘real man’ and can be their best selves.”

Nine ways to encourage healthy masculinity

  1. Encourage personal expression with toys. Introduce boys to a range of toys and activities, including those that are ‘gender neutral’ and thought of as ‘for girls’.
  2. Use play to define positive values. Show through role play that being able to express a range of emotions, including being afraid, or compassionate and caring is positive for both boys and girls.
  3. Challenge harmful stereotypes around clothes. Encourage boys to be their authentic selves by allowing them to experiment with fashion and self expression.
  4. Be clear about consent. Let boys know they have to ask permission to touch others, and they have the right to say no if they don’t want to be touched.
  5. Find media with good role models. Choose books, TV shows and media that break gender norms by showing boys and girls who have interests and emotions that challenge stereotypes.
  6. Speak up when you hear disrespect. If family or friends say something problematic around your son, speak up in that moment and have a conversation about values.
  7. Find positive role models. Identify role models in your family, community or media who demonstrate healthy, respectful ways to be a boy or man.
  8. Talk the talk. Help boys feel supported that they won’t be judged for sharing their concerns or fears, and encourage them to empathise and connect with others.
  9. Walk the walk. Challenge your own perceptions of gender roles and model behaviours you want to encourage.

Download the tip sheet Raising sons to embrace healthy, positive masculinity.