Five ways to take down toxic masculinity in schools

Young men are exposed to all sorts of damaging stereotypes about themselves and the world around them, but schools can help override them
3rd January 2021, 12:00pm
Gohar Khan

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Five ways to take down toxic masculinity in schools

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/five-ways-take-down-toxic-masculinity-schools
How A Boy Found Courage To Speak Out About How He Felt

Working at the only all-boys' state school in Oxfordshire means that conversations about masculinity, including toxic versions of it, are always on the table.

We are keen to nurture an environment that enables all our boys to feel empowered, authentic, valued and, most important of all, happy. 

Despite a great deal of research and several significant endeavours to repair the damage caused by the tropes of toxic masculinity, it prevails and continues to cause harm. The pressures on boys to fit into an archaic framework of masculinity are immense. 

In schools, we need to work actively and strategically to cultivate a culture that allows boys to thrive, where there is support and space for them to explore their thoughts and feelings openly and freely. Our aim is to enable all our young people to grow, while cultivating the values of leadership, resilience, compassion and confidence. 

Such an ethos needs to grow organically and takes time to embed. There are, however, tried-and-tested ideas that can be embedded straight away to begin to cultivate a culture for modern masculinity: 

Talk about the basics

Ensure that students develop an authentic understanding of what toxic masculinity is. To dismantle this culture, young people first need to recognise it. In schools, we can find a range of platforms to convey this, including form time, assemblies, guest speakers and judiciously crafted reading lists. 

Find an engaging way to convey to students that toxic masculinity is a set of undesirable traits that are traditionally associated with being male. These might include physical or emotional domination, aggressive or violent behaviour, a tough exterior, the need to be infallible, the urge to be in control, and an immunity to danger, vulnerability and fear.

Change the conversation

Encourage a widening of the conversational scope: most boys are socially conditioned to restrict themselves to a frustratingly limited set of conversational topics. Very broadly speaking, these might include sport, gaming, films, music, but steering well clear of anything more emotional or "deep" (there will always be some welcome exceptions to this general conditioning). 

In schools, we can create opportunities for thoughtful face-to-face discussion. Create a predesigned series of topics for discussion, which can then be opened up in a supportive environment. Include anything from theatre and politics, to philosophy and food; whet their appetites for ideas they may not have explored before.

Check the curriculum

Revisit the curriculum to make sure it represents wholesome and nuanced masculinity: schools are generally better at promoting female inspirational role models than male. Subject specialists should think carefully about exposing young people to an eclectic range of male role models who embody a diversity of traits and strengths.

Praise vulnerability

Dismantle the shame in vulnerability. It is empowering for students to recognise that teachers and leaders all make mistakes and what matters is how we respond to them. Talk openly about failure - be clear about strategies for recovering from it. It is just as important to talk about failure as success.

Make feminism inclusive

It is short-sighted and alienating to make equality and feminism areas that are exclusive to female students. It is important that we make our male students an integral part of promoting equality and exploring feminism. Boys' active participation in gender justice and equality among the sexes will strengthen individuals and societies.

Boys and men play an incredibly important role in challenging others over sexism, misogyny and violence so we need to make feminism all-inclusive territory. Try celebrating International Women's Day with real aplomb at your all-boys' school, for a positive start.

 

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