6 Ways to Talk to Boys about Healthy Masculinity

6 Ways to talk to Your Son About Male Violence and Healthy Masculinity

JANUARY 23, 2013
6 Ways to talk to Your Son About Male Violence and Healthy Masculinity
from www.goodmenproject.com

 Our boys are being bombarded with messages on how to be “manly”—not all of them healthy. Men Can Stop Rape pairs with Sandra Kim to help parents support their sons’ healthy development.

It’s pretty common for us to worry about how women, especially our own daughters, are put into gender boxes and encouraged to engage in behavior that hurts them, simply because they’re female.

It’s far less common for us to worry about men, including our own sons, and what gender boxes and harmful behaviors they’re taught, simply because they’re male.

But they are. Boys as young as 4 year old are told to “be a man!”, usually in response to them crying or showing fear.

And as they grow up, they’re bombarded with messages that say to be a “manly” man, they need to:

  • Be big and strong
  • Be physically aggressive and ready to fight
  • Show no emotions – especially fear or pain but anger is just fine
  • Feel entitled to objectify women and sexually pursue women regardless of whether or not she’s interested

You only need to look at our thousands year old history of warring groups that pillaged, looted, and raped to see where this dominant idea of masculinity comes from.

It doesn’t take a leap of faith to see how this history has led to our society and media promoting images of masculinity as inherently obsessed with fighting and sex.

And then having some men turn that image into a reality where they feel entitled to be assault and dominate others, particularly women.

Yet we seldom hear about how this male violence is connected to our traditional notion of masculinity.

And at the same time, while most violent acts are committed by men, most men are NOT violent.

So many men are caring, responsible, and non-violent people. But while many men don’t use violence to express their feelings or control others, many don’t feel comfortable showing the other sides of them for fear of being called “gay”, “girly”, “soft,” or “emotional”.

That’s why we need to change the conversation around masculinity. We need the definition of masculinity to reflect the diversity present in men beyond the narrow box they have now.

Not only to reduce the level of male violence but to also support men in accepting all parts of themselves and expressing themselves fully—without being shamed.

One organization fighting to do just that is Men Can Stop Rape. Through their Men of Strength Clubs (MOST Club), they have pioneered a violence prevention program that provides young men in middle school, high school, and college with a structured and supportive space to build individualized definitions of masculinity that promote healthy relationships.

Based on their highly effective program, here are some ideas of how to talk with your son and other men in your life about what masculinity means for them and its relationship to their lives and violence.

1. Meet Them Where They’re At

Many men may not have thought critically about how society portrays masculinity. It may be assumed to just be normal – that this is just part of being a man.

So they may not see why it’s something important enough to discuss. At the same time, many men may be uncomfortable with how they are represented in the media and don’t identify with the beefy, fighting, womanizing men in the movies.

So it’s important to not assume anything about their beliefs, make them wrong, or attempt to change them. The point is not to create another narrow box for them to fit into but to expand the choices they have and support them in exploring what masculinity is aligned with their values.

2. Help Them To Identify Male Role Models They Know

While the media may glorify violent men, in real life, they are usually not the ones we admire. Men who are responsible, empathetic, caring, and contribute to the community are usually admired.

Ask them how these men show strength in their relationships and how they treat people. Helping them to see how the men they respect do not fit this traditional notion expands their understanding of masculinity and gives them more options.

For many, this may be the first time they’ve thought consciously about how strong good men they respects do not fit that mold.

3. Discuss How the Media Presents the Ideal Man

The media is filled with portrayals of fictional male characters who are primarily rewarded for fighting and getting the girl.

Ask him how this affects his idea of how men should act and compare it to how men he respects act. Often times men haven’t really compared the two and hear the traditional notion much more strongly to the point where they don’t see other ways of being a man.

4. Discuss How Traditional Masculinity Shows Up In Their Own Behavior

While many men are not be violent, traditional masculinity encourages other behaviors that are normalized in our society, such as street harassment, a sense of sexual entitlement, use of physical intimidation over smaller people, etc.

So it’s important for them to connect the dots between more violent acts and more socially sanctioned behaviors stemming from male domination. The more aware they are about their own behavior, the more they can choose whether or not they want to continue doing it.

5. Discuss the Role of Traditional Masculinity in Violence, Particularly Against Women

Since they have been socialized to think traditional masculinity is the ideal, it can take time for them to connect it with something they’re against like violence. So work backwards and discuss what can lead a man to feel comfortable with becoming violent.

While traditional masculinity does not necessarily always lead to violence, it does support male domination over others. And this creates a permissive culture where “boys will be boys”, “he can’t control himself sometimes”, and “she was asking for it”.

6. Discuss How Nonviolent Men Can Be a Part of Ending Violence

Many men who are not violent think that because they’re not doing it, that’s enough. But that should be the floor and not the ceiling for men’s engagement in the efforts to end violence. Sharing statistics about domestic violence and sexual abuse with them can help them see that they probably know several women and men who have been abused but never knew.

Show them different ways they can be involved – whether it’s learning more about the issue, volunteering at nonprofits, or discussing it with their male and female peers – they can do something to stop the violence.

These discussions aren’t easy. In fact, they can be extremely tricky and you may find yourself judging him or getting upset at different times.

So remember, you’re challenging years of society and media telling them what a “man” is. These concepts run deep on the subconscious level and by even engaging in the conversation, they’re taking a big step.

And more importantly, remember that it’s not your place to tell them they’re wrong and make them agree with what you believe “masculinity” means either. That would be the same type of domination you’re trying to eradicate!

But keep challenging their ideas in service of them engaging in their own critical thinking process about what type of man they want to be. Your goal is to help them see other options so they can consciously make their own decision for themselves.

Have you thought about what masculinity means for you and its impact on your behavior? Share in comments below!

Originally appeared at Everyday Feminism

This article was written in collaboration with Men Can Stop Rape, an international organization whose mission is to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women. MCSR provides agencies, schools, and organizations with direct services for youth, public service messaging, and leadership training. Follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Sandra Kim is the Founder & Editor of Everyday Feminism. She brings together her personal and professional experience with trauma, personal transformation, and social change and gives it all a feminist twist. Follow her @SandraSKim.

Lead image courtesy of Flickr/ Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale

Read more at http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/6-ways-to-talk-to-your-son-about-male-violence-and-healthy-masculinity/#DfYI7dUwof5KVrxS.99


Free classes and skill shares at AustinFreeSkool!


Looking to teach a class to other adults on a special topic of your choosing or learn a new skill for free?  Check out AustinFreeSkool, a local non-profit which organizes and hosts classes and workshops for free.  Past classes have covered everything from puppet-making to computer programming, hip-hop to Chinese medicine!


Thanks to Aaron Goldman!

Raising Awareness on Latino lit for kids!

A thought-provoking article from School Library Journal (www.slj.com) about the need for more Latino literature for children and a greater awareness of the work that already exists…

Thanks to Natalie Goodnow!

Librarians Sound Off: Not a Lack of Latino Lit for Kids, but a Lack of Awareness

By  on January 22, 2013 9 Comments

Some Spanish Titles Covers Librarians Sound Off: Not a Lack of Latino Lit for Kids, but a Lack of Awareness

Spanish-language titles by Latin American publishers.
Photo by Sujei Lugo

Librarians who serve children in predominantly Latino communities were shocked this past December to read a New York Times article claiming that there is a dearth of Latino characters in books written for young readers—a notion that is at odds with their own experiences. In fact, they tellSchool Library Journal, there is actually a wealth of resources currently available to these kids, and librarians have the power (and the responsibility) to make those meaningful connections.

“When I first started as a librarian 27 years ago, there was very little out there,” admits Tim Wadham, director of the City of Puyallup Public Library, WA, and its Spanish-language collection as well as author of SLJ’s bi-monthly Libro por libro column of K–12 books and programming centering on the Latino experience. “There were some books available from Spain, but nothing that spoke directly to the kids that I was working with. There weren’t that many Latinos writing at that time.”

However, there has finally been a sea change for this population of readers, Wadham argues. “Now, there’s an explosion of very talented authors, writing in English, Spanish, and bilingually,” he tells SLJ.

Lucia Gonzalez, Pura Belpré Honoree for her bilingual The Bossy Gallito (Scholastic, 1994), agrees. “Quality children’s books have been published for decades, especially since the ‘90s boom,” she says.

Raising the Profile
The problem, Gonzalez notes, is a lack of visibility. These award-winning titles “unfortunately…just don’t get into the mainstream market. Instead of being displayed with the ‘regular’ books, they’re set apart,” she says. “Until we make our books an integral part of children’s literature, they are not going to be noticed. We have to make them visible.”

gallito Librarians Sound Off: Not a Lack of Latino Lit for Kids, but a Lack of Awareness

Pura Belpré Honor book by Lucia Gonzalez

Gonzalez, who is also current chair of ALA affiliate REFORMA’s Children’s Roundtable, says she is disappointed in this continued misrepresentation of Hispanic-focused kid lit in mainstream media, a situation that REFORMA is still working to resolve. Since 1971, the group has sought to bring attention to books written by or about Latinos and, in 1996, created the annual Pura Belpré Award, co-sponsored with ALSC, to single out Latino(a) writers and illustrators who affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience in outstanding works for youth.

Oralia Garza de Cortes, co-founder of the Award and past president of REFORMA, recalls that one of the principal motivations for establishing the Pura Belpré was because of the lack of literature for her children and patrons that she experienced as a librarian in the late 1980s.

“Ironically, fast forward 30 years…we have the award and better books, but no one knows about them,” she tells SLJ. “That’s why we created the Celebracion event at ALA Annual, where the winning titles are presented—in order to acculturate, or conscientizar other librarians.”

And as the United States population continues to grow more diverse—with Latinos being the most represented minority at 16%, according to the 2010 census—librarians continue to be instrumental in meeting the needs of the communities they serve. Many develop and create their collections according to their changing neighborhoods.

“How wise are librarians that they want to see all groups represented in their collections? They go the extra mile and work with the small presses,” REFORMA past president Loida Garcia-Febo tells SLJ.

Each Community’s Needs
Librarians serving predominantly Latino communities know how important it is for kids to have access to books about their culture, written and/or illustrated by those that share similar ethnic backgrounds.

“Latino authors serve as roles models to Latino aspiring authors,” notes Sujei Lugo, a former media specialist at an elementary school at the University of Puerto Rico who is currently pursuing her PhD in Library Science at Simmons College. While serving her young students, she purchased many supplemental titles in Spanish and English, plus bilingual editions, from Latin American publishers. For many kids, these books offer an alternative history not usually taught in schools, or often regulated to specific holidays or Heritage months, she says.

“Kids have to see themselves as part of the American story,” says Andrew Jackson, director of the Langston Hughes branch of Queens Library.

Yet Jackson also believes it’s even more important for children who have never seen a person of color to have access to these kinds of books. “All children have to expand their worldview, especially those kids who’ve only ever seen negative and/or inaccurate portrayals of Latinos or African Americans on television or in the media,” he explains. “[These books] can tear down stereotypes.”

Adds Lugo, “These books speak about diversity, acceptance—important messages for all kids.”

Wadham is also concerned that books with Latino themes or characters be made more accessible to all kids, and not unfairly pigeon-holed or ghettoized. “I don’t think…a reader should be limited to reading books in [one’s] own culture,” he says. “Kids should be able to read everything; it doesn’t matter where that kid is from or what culture they belong to. It’s good literature, regardless of cultural content.”

Elizabeth Burns, NJ youth services librarian and SLJ blogger, agrees. “We as industry leaders should point to and promote these titles…Our role is to connect the right book to the right reader,” she says. “If a child is looking for a family-themed book, why can’t we offer Julia Alvarez’s How Tia Lola Comes to (Stay) Visit (Knopf, 2001)? These titles are for everyone.”

And, notes REFORMA president Denice Adkins, “Most of our children’s books are about universal themes of childhood—love, fear, growing up. These are topics all children can relate to.”

Expanding the Market
Beyond raising visibility for these wonderful books, many are working to expand the market even further for these diverse voices—and librarians are leading the charge, even at the publishing level.

Garcia-Febo, for example, actively encourages presses large and small to produce stories about Hispanics that portray “the true Latino experience,” in every skin color, economic status, and tradition. “And, from personal experience,” she tells SLJ, “I can say that publishers actually listen.”

She also urges Latino professionals who are already in the publishing industry to continue to promote and foster Latino talent, and cites Marcela Landres as a great mentor to burgeoning authors.

Despite the large selection now available to today’s kids, there has actually been a slight decline in the number of children’s books being published for Latinos recently, according to the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book center—a distressing report, says Adkins.

That means children’s book publishers should be actively looking to cultivate even more Latino authors and illustrators to create new works, Gonzales tells SLJ.

Notably, librarians wield great influence when dialoging with publishers due to their immense buying power, blogger Burns tells SLJ. “When we talk to publishers at conferences or via social media, it should be a two-way street,” she says. “We have to let them know that these books are popular with our students. ‘If you publish them, we will buy.’”

And within ALA, librarians of any background should strive to become active in the many ethnic library associations, such as Asian Pacific American, American Indian, and the Black Caucus, Garcia-Febo says. “This is a complex issue and we must continue to bring it to the table, not only among ourselves, but also everyone in our community: nonprofit organizations, celebrities, and government agencies,” she says, adding that the more people involved in the cause, the more successful it could be.

Broadening Horizons
For those librarians who want to learn more about how to better serve the Latino community, there are many additional resources available.

Jaime Naidoo, past chair of the Pura Belpré award and organizer of the biennial National Latino Children’s Literature Conference, encourages all library science graduate students to take classes that focus on working with underserved communities and multi-cultural groups. He also urges experienced librarians to continue their professional development in much-needed areas of the study—like this one. The conference, he notes, is a great place to start.

Meanwhile, Lugo praises several Latin American publishers that already produce books about Hispanic children in everyday situations, instead of the cultural emphasis that is prevalent in many books and series currently in print. Venezuela’s Ediciones Ekaré offers bilingual and Spanish-language editions;Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico publishes primarily Puerto Rican authors; and Spain’sEditorial Hotel Papel offers the Libros para crecer en igualdad series, which includes titles that encourage children ages 3–8 to break away from stereotypes and racism.

Librarians’ mission to create lifelong readers and learners has not changed, and reluctant readers, Latino or not, often need a connection to the story to be drawn in. Naidoo describes an unforgettable story-time event with award-winning Latina author/illustrator Yuyi Morales. “A mom came up to me after a Día program in a public library,” he says. “Her daughter never pays attention during story hour, but was transfixed because the author looked just like her. She had her light bulb moment.”

These kinds of eye-opening experiences illustrate the deep and ongoing need for books with Latino characters, a need that has has been articulated for decades by youth librarians, affirms Wadham.

Fortunately, “it has finally become part of a national conversation, which is a good thing, because these are good books,” he says. “We’ll soon see the day that a novel by a Latino will win the Newbery Medal.”

An interesting article on “colorblindness” in teaching, from nea.org

Teaching Teachers to Reflect on Race

As America’s schools grow increasingly diverse, powerful educators can’t be “colorblind.”

By Tyrone Howard


As a faculty member in a teacher education program, I have been part of a team of faculty who have created a new mandatory course, “Identity and Teaching,” to help preservice teachers develop cultural competence and racial awareness that are vital for effectively teaching in diverse schools. The specific purpose of the course is to allow preservice teachers to grapple with their racial, cultural, and gender identities. The most vexing challenge for students has been their examinations of their own racial identities. Students engage in readings and activities, wrestling with questions such as, “Who am I racially? What do I believe about other racial groups? and “Does who I am and what I believe about race have ramifications for the students I teach?” The reflections and revelations that emanate from the course are invaluable, and the emotional outpouring is a testament to how difficult it is for many individuals to come to grips with their own notions of racial privilege.

Many of the students in the course explain how their discomfort is a result of race being a taboo topic for them. They express concerns such as not wanting their comments to appear racially insensitive, racist, prejudiced, or politically incorrect. Yet, facilitators guiding race-related discussions cannot allow individuals’ discomfort or ignorance about race to become an escape for not addressing and analyzing their own beliefs about race. Teacher educators should be willing to push students into the uncomfortable spaces where race is being discussed on an in-depth level. Students can be asked to think about why race was not a part of their upbringing, or challenged to think about why students of color believe that race and racism are real issues in their lives.

The process of examining identity also can mean taking students to task in a respectful manner when racially inappropriate comments are made within the context of a course, such as when a White student in one of my courses stated, “Why do we spend so much time on this race stuff; these people need to just get over it.” The tone and tenor of such a comment suggest that race-related issues are insignificant and need not be discussed. However, hearing the stories, learning from the experiences, and hearing some of the painful episodes that people of color encounter, may help to enlighten those who want to avoid race-related topics. The process of critically delving into race-related topics is especially important because if teachers do not have experiential knowledge regarding issues of race, they may feel inadequately prepared and retreat to the safety net of practicing “colorblindness,” the practice of not acknowledging the racial identities of their students. With the best of intentions, colorblindness inadvertently renders students of color invisible.

Colorblindness can imply that there is something wrong with not being White, or that there is something embarrassing or insulting about acknowledging one’s race or ethnicity. Colorblind perspectives also may reproduce racial and cultural hegemony in school practices, such as curriculum choices, teacher expectations, testing procedures, instructional practices, and even more pedestrian tasks such as seating arrangements. Because of the growing racial diversity in the United States, it is vital for teachers to understand and have the capacity to acknowledge racial diversity, and create safe, affirming, and supportive learning environments for their students to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to dialogue about race-related issues.

Preservice teachers in our identity course are informed that many of their students will see their racial identities as important—and in some cases primary—facets of who they are. The ability to talk with students openly, honestly, and from an informed standpoint about race can be a huge asset. An inability to create a learning environment that recognizes the salience of race could place these novice teachers at an extreme disadvantage.


While research on the topic is sparse, it remains clear that one of the pressing challenges in teacher education is the largely White population of former teachers who serve as teacher educators, many of whom have not problematized issues of race. Nevertheless, they are given the daunting task of helping preservice teachers to think critically about race-related issues. Being able to effectively initiate and facilitate critical reflection about race requires the ability to critically examine one’s own personal beliefs, opinions, and values about racial identity and the race of others.

The reflective process in the identity course was enhanced by a three-day workshop that each of the course instructors took before teaching the course. Each instructor engaged in activities identical to the ones they would take their own students through—activities that required the students to come to grips with their own identities around race, ethnicity, social class, and gender. The willingness on the part of teacher educators to share their own lived experiences, expose their own human frailties, and reflect on their ever-evolving identities within a community of peers is important. The practice of reflecting on race in teacher education becomes superficial if facilitators of discussions are not clear and comfortable with both their own identities and those of others.

Whatever reflective mechanisms are put in place, teacher education programs must go beyond reflection and actively engage preservice teachers in discourses about how race plays out in schools, how students make meaning of race, and to what degree race and race-related issues influence students’ prospects for learning. Ray C. Rist’s research on labeling and teacher expectations revealed that teachers’ preconceived notions about students and their academic potential frequently were influenced by race and consequently contributed to the salience of self-fulfilling prophecies wherein students question their own potential for academic success.

The following suggestions are offered to inform teacher educators, preservice teachers, inservice teachers, and school administrators about ways to translate critical reflection into greater racial awareness.

  1. Develop teacher education faculty who are able to sufficiently address the complex nature of race, ethnicity, and culture. Clinical educators, lecturers, or mentor teachers can be helpful in facilitating this critical racial awareness with preservice teachers. These individuals can share their own frustrations with mistakes and strategies for making meaning out of issues pertaining to race in diverse schools. For teacher educators who have never worked in racially diverse schools, the process of critical reflection is likely to be incredibly difficult. Consequently, it can be fruitful for teacher education programs to identify former classroom teachers who have experience working in racially diverse school settings to work with preservice teachers.
  2. Recognize that reflection is a never-ending process. Just as the very nature of teaching is built upon always revisiting curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, the same holds true for critical self-reflection. Preservice teachers should realize that even the most seasoned and racially aware teachers are prone to mistakes, and lapses in judgment. However, they acknowledge their errors and improve their teaching accordingly.
  3. Emphasize that teaching is not a neutral act. It is highly political, and issues such as race and class are always tied to teaching. Teachers should be mindful of how their actions can contribute to or stifle the development of a healthy identity and sense of self among students. Teachers who refuse to monitor their own beliefs and classroom ethos can contribute to resistance on the part of students.
  4. Avoid reductive notions of race and culture. A critical reflection process allows teachers to recognize the array of differences that exist within groups. Not all Black students work well in groups, not all Latino students are second language learners, and not all Asian American students are high achievers. While there may be central tendencies within groups, teachers must avoid creating stereotypical profiles of students that may do more harm than good. Instead, teachers should develop individual profiles of students.
  5. Enumerate specific issues to reflect on. Teachers should consistently examine data and ask challenging questions about equity at their school. Such questions might include:
    • What is the racial breakdown of students who are referred for special needs services?
    • What is the racial breakdown of students referred for gifted education and recommended for AP/Honors classes?
    • How frequently do I differentiate instruction?
    • Do scoring rubrics give advantages for certain ways of knowing and expression?
    • Do I allow culturally based differences in language, speech, reading, and writing to shape my perceptions about students’ cognitive ability?
    • Do I rely solely on traditional student assessments? How often do I allow nontraditional means of assessment such as role playing, skits, poetry, or rap to be a part of my class?

The development of a critical consciousness should not be viewed as relevant only to White teachers. One of the mistakes that can be made by teachers of color is assuming that being a member of the same racial or ethnic group as one’s students automatically gives one a unique ability to connect to or effectively teach students of color. The ways in which race, ethnicity, culture, language, and social class are manifested in young people’s lives are constantly in flux. Therefore, it is important to recognize that while there may be experiences that allow teachers of color to relate to certain realities of their students, this is not necessarily a given, and it is therefore highly advisable for teachers of color also to engage in the process of critical reflection.

Tyrone C. Howard is associate professor of education and Director of Center X in the Graduate School of Education at UCLA.

Adapted from Chapter 6, “Developing Cultural Competence and Racial Awareness in Classroom Teachers,” from the book Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms, Copyright 2010 by Tyrone C. Howard. Reprinted with permission from Teacher’s College Press. All rights reserved.



The RaceBridges Project describes itself as being a place for “ideas, tools, and resources for teachers who want to explore diversity and race-relations in the classroom”.  The website has over 60 videos, a multitude of articles and essays on Dr. King and teaching his legacy to kids, and a large selection of lesson plans, stories for kids, and other resources.