Boys should be encouraged to ignore gender stereotypes and share their emotions, according to the team behind a new UK initiative aimed at encouraging them to talk about their feelings and speak out against inequality.
The Global Boyhood Initiative, co-founded by the US-based gender equality organisation Equimundo and the French violence against women charity the Kering Foundation, aims to equip adults with the tools to raise boys to become men who embrace a healthy masculinity.
A report – The State of UK Boys – has been published to mark the launch of the US initiative in the UK, pulling together findings from a range of academic research over the past 20 years – with insights from 15 researchers in the field of gender, masculinities and boyhood.
One of the report authors and fellow of Equimundo, David Bartlett, said: “How boys and men behave makes an enormous difference to the lives of girls and women, and individuals of all gender identities, in all areas of their lives.
“From sexual harassment and gender-based violence, to the gender pay gap and relationship breakdown, the attitudes and behaviour of boys and men are hugely influential.
“So, we need to raise a generation of boys who are able to build and sustain healthy, respectful, caring relationships with people of all genders, and not be influenced by restrictive gender stereotypes.”
The 35-page report claims that, as ideas of gender and boyhood are changing to be more fluid, traditional notions of masculinity such as physical, sexual and intellectual prowess – as well as heterosexuality – still dominate.
It states that children understand “real violence” as involving men and struggle to perceive or name other acts as being violent, such as violence between peers or siblings or emotional or sexual violence in schools or homes.
Recent evidence suggests there is some movement in schools toward less gendered practices, the report said.
But it flagged organised sport and physical education as areas with an urgent need to tackle gender and equality issues, with popularity often the reward for those “good” at sports and exclusion and humiliation as “girly” for those who do not measure up to masculine athletic ideals.
Céline Bonnaire, executive director of the Kering Foundation, said: “In order to effectively combat violence against women and girls, it is essential to address the origins of this violence.
“The Kering Foundation is proud to be a co-founder of the Global Boyhood Initiative. Its launch in the UK, with its evidence-based pilot curriculum for seven– to 11-year-old students, is an opportunity to work directly with younger generations, who can shape a more gender equitable future.”