Engaging Young Boys is a Key to Achieving Gender Equality and Healthy Manhood Reveals New Research, as Part of the Global Boyhood Initiative
October 15, 2020
A first-of-its-kind, research-backed initiative focused on boyhood, founded by Promundo and the Kering Foundation in partnership with Plan International, launches today in the United States (US) with plans to expand internationally.
The Global Boyhood Initiative (GBI), founded by Promundo and the Kering Foundation in partnership with Plan International with the support of Gucci’s Chime For Change, launches today in the United States and will expand internationally in 2021. The Global Boyhood Initiative aims to equip adults with the tools and resources to raise, teach, and coach boys (aged 4-13) to share emotions in healthy ways, accept and connect with others, stand up and speak out against inequality, and break free from stereotypes. The initiative is focused on long-term systems change and aims to impact every level of the child’s environment – at home, school, in the media – to support boys to be healthy, emotionally connected, and nonviolent; it ultimately aims to prevent violence and achieve gender equality.
The Global Boyhood Initiative launches with:
- A Conversation Starter filter on Instagram with simple questions for kids and their parents to start meaningful conversations; Access by searching Instagram Stories or Reels for @BoyhoodInitiative
- A free, downloadable Boyhood Initiative Conversation Starter Card Deck, designed to deepen conversations between parents and kids, encouraging boys, in particular, to be emotionally brave, accept and connect with others, and embrace gender equality.
- Episode 1 of a #BraveryIs IGTV Series – looking at how artists and musicians use their art to express difficult emotions – featuring Kevin Bacon, will be available Thursday, October 15 at 6:00 pm EDT. The series will feature artists including Justin Michael Williams, Man One, and Ziggy Marley.
- State of America’s Boys report, which presents research and expert perspectives and investigates boyhood in the United States.
Why an Initiative on Boyhood:
Every day, boys encounter messages about what it means to “act like a boy” – in families, schools, sports programs, neighborhoods, media, and digital worlds – and embracing these messages has long-term consequences.
- 2/3 of parents in the US say boys aren’t comfortable expressing when they’re scared, sad, lonely, or unsure of themselves; Nearly half say boys aren’t comfortable expressing love.
- At least 72% of young men (18-30 years old) in the US say they’ve been told “a ‘real man’ behaves ‘a certain way’”: which involves being heterosexual, tough, and a risk-taker.
- Young men who embrace harmful masculine norms are 5 times more likely to bully (verbally, online, or physically) or sexually harass someone; and twice as likely to experience depression or suicidal ideation. And research finds that these and other impacts start young: boys use substances like alcohol and tobacco, drive more recklessly, engage in unsafe sex, and in other kinds of dangerous activities more frequently than girls do.
- To prevent violence, and raise a more connected, emotionally healthy, gender-equal generation, adults must support boys’ emotional skills and their ability to build and maintain a network of strong, caring relationships.
The new, State of America’s Boys report presents research and expert perspectives and investigates what it is about boyhood that too often plants the seed for such destructive and self-defeating behavior – why open and authentic boys may become more guarded, cynical, and disconnected as they grow. The report points to the need for adults to support boys’ relational and emotional skills and their ability to build and maintain a network of strong, caring relationships as keys to raising a more connected, emotionally healthy, gender-equal generation.
While most parents want healthy masculinity – honesty, respect, and emotional health – for their sons, they worry that if their sons show vulnerability, talk about love, show fear, imagine anything other than heterosexual identities, they will be bullied by their peer groups. Nearly 2/3 of survey respondents agreed with the statement, “My parents taught me that a “real man” should act strong even if he feels nervous or scared.” The report calls on parents to model and help their sons affirm a healthier vision of manhood, critically consume media, and resist harmful pressures.
In schools, the State of America’s Boys affirms that boys receive accolades, acceptance, and respect from being rigidly heterosexual, demonstrably athletic, and dominating (of girls and of other boys), emotionally stoic, bold and aggressive, and anti-academic – and that those who deviate are corrected, threatened, even bullied. This reinforcement of stereotypes can teach boys to separate their private thoughts and feelings from their public selves; and one cost of this may be a long-standing gender achievement gap in schools, where boys fall behind – with their soft skills lacking even before kindergarten. The report, however, affirms that when teachers and educators are engaged, paying attention to, seeing, and understanding boys, it can support boys to reconnect to their studies in authentic and successful ways.
Cultural and social norms about masculinity, particularly those that restrict emotional expression and cause social isolation, undermine boys’ and men’s mental and physical health and are a root cause of violence against women and other men. In the name of greater emotional connection, violence prevention, gender equality, and public health, these norms must be changed.