shifting the line

Boys talk on gender, sexism and online ethics

Kia ora, Haere mai, Welcome!

Kia ora, Haere mai, Welcome!

Kia ora, Haere mai, Welcome!

Kia ora, Haere mai, Welcome!

Kia ora, Haere mai, Welcome!

Globally, the research is clear – any solution to stopping violence, harassment and abuse against women and girls must address how our societies deal with gender, sexism and inequality. This is true for both off and online abuse. The spotlight is increasingly turning to the essential role that men and boys have to play in contributing to the social change we need to prevent family violence and sexual violence, including online sexual harassment and sexualized abuse.

But how do we put this into practice?



The Shifting the Line Project

Our Shifting the Line research offers some suggestions. It provides a model for making sense of the relationship between rigid and potentially harmful gender norms for men and a theory of change for how to help boys and young men break free of the influence of these norms.

In workshops with secondary school boys and young men in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, we explored a way of working to support and facilitate their contribution to positive change away from a culture that tolerates online sexual harassment and sexualized abuse. We worked with boys who were interested in thinking about these issues and helping provide insights into how boys can promote positive change in their own peer circles in relation to equality. Our approach builds on these young men’s willingness to recognize sexism and interrupt harmful gendered norms.

The research is preliminary, but the findings are encouraging. We think this model has the potential to be extended in ways that would shift how we approach the task of sexual and family violence prevention.

This website is home to the full report on our research, and in time it will include our Workshop Guide, some videos, and other resources we used to facilitate workshops with boys and young men. We hope you will check out our report and if you have any questions, please get in touch.


Ngā manaakitanga,

The Shifting the Line Team

Te Kura Mātai Hinengaro | School of Psychology

Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau | The University of Auckland

© June 2021

the report

The Shifting the Line report

In our report, Shifting the Line, we present a new model for working with boys and young men towards the primary prevention of gendered violence. We discuss what we found when we tried it out, in workshops with over 50 boys and young men in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Our report describes how boys are caught in a web of confusing messages about how to be men, and shows how boys’ peer group norms can get in the way of their being able to stand up for what they believe is right. At the same time, we present an optimistic vision for how, given the opportunity to discuss and unpick these messages, boys’ curiosity and good intentions can be supported in ways that potentially free them up to contribute to more ethical and egalitarian norms for behaviour.

Key points, findings and recommendations

• Some of our society’s key ideas for what it means to be a man give boys and young men a narrow and limiting model for how they should be and act in the world.

• Boys notice these ‘masculinity rules’ and the ways they are policed, but have few opportunities to talk about them, and few positive public models for how to sidestep narrow messages about what it means to be a man.

• The restrictive norms for masculinity, which were identified by boys across diverse social backgrounds and ethnicities, included the avoidance of anything ‘feminine’ and a very limited repertoire of emotions.

• Boys’ friendship groups, and the importance of peer group loyalty and belonging, were spoken about as powerful influences on behaviour, both in maintaining expected norms and in some cases in supporting departures from these norms.

• The powerful role of peer group norms suggests that effective strategies to promote positive change and ethical behaviour should seek to transform collective norms and action, rather than targeting individual behavioural change.

• Given the unhelpful, and in some cases dangerous, cultural baggage that traditional gender roles carry, we suggest it would be better to inspire boys and young men to be ethical people rather than ‘good men’.

• Paradoxically, it could seem, a first step in this direction requires noticing how gender structures the world and most people’s experiences and opportunities within it.

• Some boys and young men are interested in talking about these issues – and it is possible to create spaces that build on their curiosity and their commitment to fairness and equality, allowing them to critically reflect on gender norms and develop insights and skills that enhance their readiness to contribute to positive social change.


The Shifting the Line workshops and report

The Shifting the Line project started life as a study about how boys and young men would respond to a ‘change-oriented’ methodology that introduced questions about gender and sexism and online ethics. It was inspired by two quite different observations:

First, secondary school girls who we were doing research with on ‘sending nudes’ critiqued the way messages designed to prevent harm always focused on girls (implicitly or explicitly), advising them just not to send nudes. Where was the focus on boys and men, they asked – and we agreed, insisting that they handle nudes ethically and don’t show them or distribute them beyond their intended audience?

Second, while not many boys and men take on a prominent public role in sexual and family violence prevention in Aotearoa New Zealand, we were inspired by the boys and young men who spoke out in support of the high profile protest outside parliament against rape culture, which was organised by secondary school girls in 2017. We wondered how it might it be possible to reinforce and expand this kind of role for boys and men?

Since that time, of course, the problem of rape culture has not gone away, and ongoing sexism and gender inequality continue to feed sexual harassment, violence and abuse, as well as other forms of gendered violence. Current methods of prevention are missing the mark, we argue. It is time to try new approaches, and this includes working with boys and men to address the problematic ways that gendered norms are enabling and minimizing violence and abuse against girls and women, and others, including gender diverse people, and boys themselves.

Our team

Our team is based in Te Kura Mātai Hinengaro | the School of Psychology, Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau | The University of Auckland.


Nicola Gavey

Octavia Calder-Dawe (Te Herenga Waka | Victoria University Wellington)

Kris Taylor

Jade Le Grice, Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa

Brandee Thorburn (Avondale College)

Sam Manuela

Makarena Dudley, Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kahu

Senuri Panditharatne

Riane Ross

Angela Carr

Robin Murphy

2021 Research Assistants:

Maddox Drew, Lita Foliaki, Jasmin Smith, Dasha Zapisetskaya

Our project has been supported by The University of Auckland, Netsafe (through an Online Safety Partnership Grant, funded by the Ministry of Justice), and the Marsden Fund Council from New Zealand Government funding, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

We thank the boys and young men who participated in our workshops, for their interest in this subject, and their openness to sharing their views and experiences. We are also grateful to the organisations and schools whose students we worked with, and those staff who generously supported the research. 

Report cover image credit: Toby Morris.

For a fuller account of the people and organisations whose support and assistance we recognise and appreciate, see the Acknowledgements section in our report.