#Men4Change toolkit launched to support young men in talking about masculinity, gender inequalities and sexual violence

A group of men looking at a phone

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have launched a toolkit which supports young men in critically exploring and understanding masculinity, encouraging them to recognise and tackle harmful gender norms and behaviours both online and offline.

The #Men4Change toolkit is an educational resource for youth leaders, activists and other professionals who work with young men to reflect on issues relating to gender, masculinity and what it means to be a man in the UK today. The resource further encourages young men to explore how harmful gendered norms and behaviours can be tackled in ways that aim to benefit themselves, their peer groups and communities.

The toolkit, developed in consultation with UK community based stakeholders – Metro, Beyond Equality and Survivors Network – has emerged from a three-year research project from the Department of Communication and Media – #Lads on Social Media: Investigating Young Networked Masculinities.

Researchers on this ESRC funded project spoke directly to young people (18 to 25-year olds) in all four countries of the UK about how they view identities, masculinity and ‘lad cultures’ in both online and offline spaces. Over half the young people spoken to were cisgender heterosexual men, and the remainder were heterosexual cisgender women and LGBTQ+ people.

The research found that harmful gendered norms and behaviours (e.g. linking masculinity to sexual objectification and conquest of teenage girls and women) are directly linked to sexual and gender-based forms of abuse and harassment against women and teenage girls, such as non-consensual sexting.

Findings were consistent with earlier studies showing that sharing sexual images of women and girls without their consent is relatively normal at school age and seen as a way to acquire status within heterosexual male friendship groups.

These findings show that there’s an urgent need for educational interventions to engage men and boys (and all members of society) across the UK in critical discussions about these harmful gendered norms and behaviours, in ways that actively work to tackle and prevent them.

The detailed toolkit provides real-life scenarios for young men to consider in workshops such as: “A mate of yours tells you he’s started to ‘like’ and ‘follow’ an online influencer who’s claiming that women who say they don’t want sex actually do. He’s encouraging you to ‘like’ and ‘follow’ them too. What do you do?”

The toolkit also uses anonymised real-life stories, detailing the serious harm that sexual and gender-based abuse, hate speech and non-consensual sexting can cause to victims. It further clearly sets out the law around sexual consent, sharing sexual images and pornography.

The research found that dominant forms of masculinity in UK society, such as ‘laddishness’, can put pressure on men to behave in certain ways, (e.g. being encouraged to ‘pull’, drink heavily and to suppress their emotions) which can adversely affect men’s physical, emotional and mental health. To address these issues, the toolkit includes specific workshops on health and well-being, how to set goals to be the man you want to be, and signposts to further sources of support.

The toolkit will be launched, together with an overview of the research underpinning it, today Monday 27th March at a hybrid event at the University of Liverpool with local stakeholders such as the University’s Guild of students, in attendance. This will be followed by an expert roundtable, hosted by the Centre for Digital Politics, Media, and Democracy – DigiPol to discuss how academic research can better help approaches to tackle sexual and gender-based harassment and violence online and offline.

Experts include Richie Benson and Dr. Dan Guinness from Beyond Equality, (a charity which works with men and boys) Professor Jessica Ringrose, Dr Debbie Ging, Professor Carolyn Jackson and Professor Vanita Sundaram and Aimee Pepper from Survivors Network (a Sussex-based charity supporting survivors of sexual violence and sexual abuse).

Lead author of the #Men4change toolkit, Dr Fiona O’Rourke said: “We’re really pleased to have worked with community-stakeholders who have helped us to develop a toolkit that we hope will help professionals in the UK who support young men in thinking about masculinity and how they can tackle and prevent harmful gendered norms and behaviours.

“The #Men4Change toolkit offers practical tools that can be used to recognise, tackle, and prevent harmful gendered norms and behaviours that are associated with gender-based abuse, harassment and violence women and/or LGBTQ+ people can experience, and mental health problems men can face. By so doing, it aims to support those working to mobilise positive cultural changes for gender equality within their communities.”

Principal Investigator for the Project, Senior Lecturer in Media, Dr Craig Haslop said: “Our three year research project into young people’s experiences of masculinity provides a fascinating insight into how masculinity is viewed in male friendship groups and the function social media plays in these dynamics.

“Our study highlighted some extremely uncomfortable truths about the negative effects of harmful gender norms and behaviours across society. We hope that publishing this toolkit today, supported by the research, can begin to help to address these issues and help to re-think some aspects of masculinity in a positive way.”

Richie Benson, Universities Lead for Beyond Equality said: “Online spaces are breeding ground for misogyny. This is something that a lot of us already know and are already talking about. The toolkit provides a blueprint for how we as professionals can start engaging young men in open conversations about this, and start compassionately disrupting some of the painful and toxic narratives that go largely unchecked on such platforms.”

Aimee Pepper from Survivors Network said: “We are the rape crisis centre for Sussex. As such, we’re a charity that works with survivors of sexual violence, and in recent years we’ve seen a rise in how harmful gendered norms and behaviours are contributing to a culture of normalised sexual abuse, harassment and violence against women and girls. This abuse is widespread across educational institutions, workplaces and social settings.

“There is an urgent need for educational interventions that tackle and prevent these harmful sexual behaviours. That’s why the #Men4change toolkit is a vital resource for anyone working with young people. It can be used to support young men to understand the role that they can play in tackling sexual violence against women and girls and has the potential to positively impact the wider communities that these young men are part of.”

You can view the full website for the #Lads on Social Media: Investigating Young Networked Masculinities Research Project here.