By Steve Garrett
Along with eleven other men, I recently completed two days of training with the Good Lad Initiative in London, and they were two of the most thought-provoking and inspiring days I can remember having spent, especially in the company of other men.
The overall intention of the training was to prepare us to work with boys in secondary schools, using a range of exercises and activities to facilitate and encourage them to examine their own assumptions and stereotypes regarding their perceptions of themselves as men, and how they saw their female peers.
Underpinning this, was a strong sense that far too many men and boys in our culture have a damagingly limited view of what it means to be a man, which results in self-defeating attitudes and behaviour in relation to themselves, and potentially demeaning and damaging actions towards the girls and women that they encounter in their lives.
The training facilitators encouraged us to reflect on our own values and assumptions - always the hardest ones to see because they are the ones that we have lived with all our lives as men. Notwithstanding the fact that we might have considered ourselves to be committed to equality, and to opposing sexism, with a little digging we found buried assumptions and frames of reference that we had unconsciously absorbed from a culture which, although it has made some steps in the direction of greater gender equality, it still patriarchal and misogynistic to some extent at its core.
There was a welcome absence of self-blaming with this process, rather a commitment to helping us to shine a light on our basic view of the world, and recognising any ways in which our behaviour in any way oppresses others, particularly women.
At the same time, there was a consistent sense of being challenged and being given an opportunity to wake up to what we really believed in and wanted as men, and the kind of changes we would like to see in ‘male culture’ which would make the world a safer place for girls and women. Combined with this was an opportunity to learn about and practice a series of very practical workshops and activities which we can use in our work with boys. There was much laughter, as well as some bewilderment and surprise, at some of the beliefs which were revealed in others and ourselves.
Overall, the workshops combined providing opportunities for reflection offered in an accepting and non-judgemental way, with practical techniques which we could use in our work raising the gender awareness of boys – offered with a high level of camaraderie and friendship which combine to make it life-changing experience, and one that I would recommend to any men who want to be part of learning about and changing ‘toxic masculinity’ in our culture.