The importance of sex-based language, data and strategies for transformation

Men At Work trains professionals who work with boys and young men to facilitate constructive dialogues with them about safety, empathy and respect – for themselves, for their male peers and for women and girls.

Our mission is to empower – through knowledge, skills and confidence – a widening range of professionals to help boys and young men achieve their potential as positive assets to their peer-groups, their places of education, their communities and, in time, their own partners and any eventual new families. The goals: fostering violence-free relationships, families and communities and helping to remove obstacles to safe, empathetic and respectful lives – all through constructive, reflective dialogue.

Despite some progress in recent decades, sex-based stereotyping (i.e. ‘gender’) and the spectrum of negative outcomes it feeds into – persist. This comes at tangible costs to women and girls – and to boys and men in different, but related ways. This is not inevitable. We can imagine – and work to realise – a society that is much safer, fairer and more human. To do this we must name the problems, in order to address them. This means spelling out the range of issues manifesting in our schools, colleges, universities, online and in person, and in our communities. Being serious about this work requires absolute clarity in our language, our data and our strategies.

Sex is – by definition – the fundamental axis on which sexual harassment plays out. Sex is the key determinant of who does what to whom in terms of sexual assault, voyeurism, stalking, image-based abuse and intimate partner violence. Sex is a key determinant in types of criminality, mental health challenges and radicalisation. This is not reasonably disputable.

Whatever the role – teacher, social worker, counsellor, youth worker, law, family support etc – of the professionals we work with, the issues below are familiar, to varying degrees:

  • Sexual Harassment of (mostly) girls and young women in schools, public spaces and online by (mostly) boys, young and adult men
  • Coercive Control (mostly male to female) starting to manifest itself in early adolescent relationships
  • Porn is ubiquitous and consumed by ever-younger children with inadequate societal intervention, protection and challenge
  • Domestic Abuse of all kinds is a daily reality for huge numbers of women, some men and – of course – many children, for whom it may seem like a ‘norm’
  • Image-based abuse of (mostly) girls and young women by (mostly) boys and young men – and, of course, adult men
  • Boys and young men being at risk themselves from aggressive behaviours of other males
  • Boys and young men being at risk of grooming and radicalisation into criminal or extremist behaviours and beliefs (e.g. #gangs #incels #religiousfundamentalism #countylines)
  • Boys and young men having elevated vulnerabilities to some mental and physical illnesses and conditions – often linked to a fear of seeking help, the constraints of gender stereotypes or lack of expressive vocabulary
  • Boys and young men having elevated incidences of risk-taking behaviours, often part of seeking the approval of others or being unable / unwilling to resist negative peer-pressures

The list, sadly, could go on. We look at all of this, in the media, in our schools, our charities, our organisations, our public services and our own families and social networks and think ‘what can we do about it?’

We believe it is true that the overwhelming majority of professionals working with boys and young men want:

  • to proactively support the safe, healthy and empathetic development of boys and young men
  • to optimise their organisation’s work around #Safeguarding #Equality #MentalHealth
  • to develop their skills and abilities in facilitating vital, constructive dialogues with boys and young men

and that they see:

  • that #sexism #misogyny and #maleviolence are powerful social influences negatively affecting the lives of girls and women, primarily, but also, in different ways, those of boys and men
  • that offering boys and young men an innovative, single-sex space and structure in which to reflect on social and cultural messages about ‘being a man’ would be a concrete step forward
  • that their organisation needs to ‘do something‘ and that the time is now

Let us, together, name the problems. Let us, together, acknowledge the sexed basis and dynamics of so many of these problems. Let us, together, do the work.

Michael Conroy will be speaking at our webinar on Sat, 19 March 2022, from 10:30 – 13:00 GMT. Book your tickets here.