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Boys are in favour of gender fluidity…but are held back by their own

Masculinity

UK boys overwhelmingly support gender diversity, but are still facing limiting expectations of masculinity in schools, according to a new report by the Global Boyhood Initiative

According to a new report, boys in the UK are increasingly aware of, and are in favour of, gender fluidity – but they are still facing traditional expectations about masculinity on a daily basis.

The ‘State of UK Boys’ report by the Global Boyhood Initiative (GBI)  showed that 85% of 13 to 18 year olds agreed or strongly agreed that ‘people should be free to choose their genders’.

68& of them disagreed that ‘there are only two genders’.

No doubt this represents a nuanced view of gender that is developing among the young, a growing awareness that, according to the report authors, “instead of one ‘boyhood’, boyhoods are multiple, fluid and changing.”

But it also showed that many of the traditional methods of ‘performing’ masculinity remain, with organised sport and PE remaining key environments for boys to experience and perform gender roles. Research showed “popularity [is] often the reward for those ‘good’ at sports and exclusion and humiliation as ‘girly’ for those who do not measure up to masculine athletic ideals.” The GBI say this signals “the urgent need for the curricula to tackle gender and equality issues.”

Such is the environment prepping boys for manhood today, one caught between increasingly nuanced gender thinking and traditional expectations.

GBI is an organisation formed in 2020 by Equimundo (a centre for masculinities and social justice) and The Kering Foundation (an organisation fighting violence against women), and is now working in the UK to equip adults with the tools and resources to raise, teach and coach boys aged 4-13 to “share emotions in positive ways, accept and connect with others, stand up and speak out against inequality and break free from gender stereotypes.”

The big breakthrough here is in the way the organisation looks at every level of a child’s environment – home, school, the media – and understands that gender equality must involve boys.

It is backed by famous faces like Kevin Bacon, and is really about engagement for dads, kids and teachers to explore flexible thinking about being boys in order to tackle a range of seemingly embedded issues facing them in adulthood.

This kind of approach is not about gender wars, of punishing boys for being boys, rather it engages boys in conversations that promote understanding and tolerance, and which surely is the way forward for preventative action against not simply gendered violence but serious mental health issues in later life, when we know constraints around being a man lead to isolation, silent suffering and high suicide rates.

Gary Barker, CEO and Founder of Equimundo, commenting on the report and the aims of the GBI, said: “Understanding the multiple ways that boys, boyhoods and masculinities are constructed and produced in contemporary societies, and how these relate to other gender formations, is fundamental if we are to support and respond meaningfully to the diverse experiences of boys. And we are acutely aware of boys’ educational challenges and of the need to bring boys into our feminist aligned advocacy an into healthy, equitable, social justice focused versions of manhood. We hope this new report about the state of boyhood in the UK and the Global Boyhood Initiative will offer a space for collective action on these issues.”

Read the report in full here.

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