The Good Men Project defines toxic masculinity as “the cultural ideal of manliness”; men are seen as strong, both physically and emotionally, while so-called feminine characteristics, such as emotional vulnerability, are seen as ‘weak’. But what if we looked at masculinity differently – and taught boys that it’s okay to be in touch with their emotions?
First, we need to define what it means to be a ‘good’ man – a ‘good’ man protects women and is a provider, but this is too narrow and paternalistic. It’s also important to note that both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ men perpetuate gender-based violence.
UCT’s Dr Benita Moolman’s research finds that both ‘toxic’ and ‘benevolent’ masculinities are problematic, and it all comes down to authority. Men are perceived to wield power, and authority is practised by all men, regardless of whether they are seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (in fact, Moolman’s research reveals that many sex offenders consider themselves ‘good’ men).
Moolman argues that in order to end gender-based violence, and to redefine masculinity, the idea that men hold authority must be eradicated – this starts at home, and at school.
Boys need to be taught that there’s more to being a man than being physically strong and exerting dominance and authority; men can cry, be maternal, and not see women as people who need to be ‘protected’ and ‘provided for’ – and still be men.
Author Michael Ian Black writes in his 2018 opinion piece The Boys Are Not All Right that boys have been left behind. The past 50 years have redefined what it means to be a woman in the west, but a movement hasn’t emerged to help boys understand and navigate what it means to be a man – ‘good’ or otherwise. He states that America’s boys are broken – and the same can be said for South Africa’s boys, which is why it’s so important to give them access to positive role male models, and new ways of seeing themselves.
Mentor a Boy Child gives vulnerable boys access to male role models, so that they can be taught new ways of understanding what it means to be a man. The NPO was co-founded in 2017, and in 2020 the pilot group of 60 boys will graduate from the programme – they will then become role models for the next cohort.
Help to redefine masculinity by supporting Mentor a Boy Child; contact them for more information.