A lot of our work as volunteers when it comes to gender focuses on young girls and how we can elevate their self-esteem, and motivate them to study, work and avoid pregnancy at a young age. But, by ignoring half of the population (young boys) we are missing out on a group of people that are equally involved in and harmed by cultural standards that dictate what people should do or feel according to their gender identification.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas of things we can include in our interactions with young boys to change the machista dialogue they often hear. These ideas come from things I’ve heard around my community and especially in the classroom…
- “It’s ok to cry.” They, like a lot boys in the US, are told that boys and men don’t cry. Not only does this encourage boys to bottle up emotions instead of finding healthy ways to express themselves, it also suggests that crying, which is ok and expected from girls, is a sign of weakness.
- “You can control yourself.” In class one day, a teacher told her class that boys can’t stop themselves from cheating on their wives or girlfriends. Tell them that they are in control of their own lives, including their sexualities.
- “Protect and take care of yourself.” Often girls are the only ones told to protect themselves in sexual relationships, because as above, boys are told they can’t control themselves and can’t be trusted. It’s important that we teach boys that they too protect themselves from STIs or unhealthy relationships. Explain to them how having a child before they are ready can negatively affect their lives. Encourage them to be responsible and carry condoms.
- “Your self-esteem doesn’t have anything to do with women.”We often focus on girl’s self-esteem here but many young men outwardly appear to have high self-esteem, but when they are away from their friends have very low self-esteem. Encourage interests they have besides women and encourage them to feel good about themselves for being good students, for being caring, for being thoughtful, not just for things like physical labor or athletic ability.
- “Cochón is not an insult.” Just like we hear ‘gay’ used in English as a substitute for dumb, stupid, or silly, cochón is often used here to describe someone who is weak, worthless, or stupid. Depending on their age, it may be past their comprehension to explain why it’s harmful to use a slur for someone’s sexual preference in this way; however, we can still take simple steps like prohibiting the use of the word in a classroom or youth group.
- “There’s more to women than their bodies.” Boys imitate cat-calling starting early in life. If you see a boy cat-call a girl or make a comment on her physical appearance in a public situation, ask him if she solicited his opinion. Explain that if she didn’t, what he said is verbal harassment. Give examples of appropriate ways to complement girls (in a one-on-one conversation) and encourage boys to complement girls for characteristics outside physical appearance, such as intelligence, generosity, and sports skills.
- “Boys can cook and clean. Girls can fix things and move heavy objects.” Gender distributed duties within the home naturally translate into cleaning time at school. While we cannot control home situations, we can assign tasks at school. Have boys sweep, wash floors, wash dishes etc. Assign girls to do manual labor such as carrying heavy things. Teaching boys they are capable of cleaning is equally empowering as teaching them that girls are capable of fixing things.
What situations have you seen in your communities that affect young boys? Have you had success using any of these suggestions in your interactions with young boys? What would you add to the list?
-Amanda, ENV 60, Rivas