Rethinking Masculinity: questioning what it means to ‘be a man’

Our young men are growing up in a society that, in many cases, reinforces unhealthy connotations of masculinity.

Boys are often taught that ‘being a man’ means placing little or no value on caring, relationships or empathy, and that respect is linked to violence.

The media frequently backs up the that view ‘being a man’ means emotions should be repressed and women are sexual conquests as opposed to equals and friends.

As a society, it’s crucial that we enable our boys to question and reconsider this definition of masculinity. Schools must play their part in this.

To address this issue, Brighton Grammar School has constructed a compulsory unit, Rethinking Masculinity, as part of our Year 10 boys’ Wellbeing curriculum.

All Year 10 boys spend one full term studying Rethinking Masculinity. This is a compulsory unit within the Year 10 curriculum – after all, every teenage boy will become a man.

Initially, the boys view the US documentary The Mask You Live In, which probes the big questions facing young men and their definitions of their own gender. The Mask You Live In also vividly explores the consequences of owning flawed perceptions of ‘being a man’.

After watching this at times confronting film, the boys engage in a number of activities and discussions based around the film’s major themes and ideas. These topics include:

  • Man-Up: Masculinity as a Performance: where the boys reflect on what ‘being a man’ actually means to them and their own personal values.
  • The Men That Men Look Up To: Masculinity in Popular Culture: which offers the boys the chance to discuss how society’s saturation of media can distort the positive values of masculinity.
  • Gender Differences: Masculinity and Femininity as Social Constructs: which allows students to learn how the 90% psychological similarity between men and women is misrepresented by society’s constructions of gender.
  • The Whole Self: Developing Healthy Masculinity: where the boys work together to construct their own healthy version of masculinity, while being aware of the social constructions they are potentially challenging.

Whilst the Rethinking Masculinity unit is designed to take young men out of their comfort zone and challenge them, the primary learning intention is for the boys to see through social constructs of gender and develop their own interpretation of what it is to ‘be a man’.

The classes revolve around building healthier perspectives of three key areas:

  1. their roles and responsibilities as men
  2. the character strengths that make up positive role models
  3. the values that good men live by.

There is no doubt many of our Year 10 boys have been challenged by the ideas, issues and themes that have been raised by Rethinking Masculinity; this in itself shows why the unit is such a vital part of our adolescent boys’ education. The discussions in class have been at times confronting and passionate, but at the same time, curious and engaging.

Ultimately, this is a conversation we must have with our boys if they are to emerge as men who see ‘success’ as the good they bring to society, and leave behind for the next generation. After all, our future, and theirs, depends on it. 

By Alex Sylvan, Student Growth and Wellbeing Co-ordinator (Senior School)