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.

• This report provides a preliminary model and some tools that can be used and adapted for working with New Zealand boys and young men who are interested in contributing to a culture that promotes more ethical online behaviour as well as contributing to the bigger picture of gender equality and violence prevention.

• Further research is needed to develop this peer group workshop-based model into a more extended and sustainable intervention, and test its longer-term impact.

• Supporting even small numbers of boys and men to work together to become change agents has the potential to spark ripples of change that can shift norms of ethical behaviour among peers in the wider cultural context.