Releasing Boys

In his documentary Tough Guise, Jackson Katz speaks to many young men who describe the pressure to be a “real man”—tough, strong, independent, hard, in control. Katz points out that this concept of masculinity puts men and boys into a box—everyone in it is a “real man,” and those outside it are taunted, often with names that imply they are either girls or homosexuals.  The box that defines manhood puts a great deal of pressure on boys to conform.

In Masterminds and Wingmen, her book about the pressures and power dynamics of boyhood, Rosalind Wiseman calls this box the Act Like a Man Box, or ALMB. In her work with boys, Wiseman connects the dots between boys’ pain and struggles and their need to repress who they are to fit into this narrow definition of manhood.  Wiseman wants to empower boys to think and grow outside the box.

So do I—both because I have a son and because I believe releasing boys from a repressive concept of masculinity is a key component of happiness for everyone.  To do that, we need to understand how and why masculinity is socially constructed.  We also need to imagine an alternative masculinity—one that allows boys to grow into healthy, happy men.

In this workshop, we’ll consider:

  • How our current definition of masculinity relies on violence, sexism, racism, and homophobia, and how these factors affect boys.
  • How and why our culture approaches gender as a zero-sum game with either boys or girls as the winner—and what we can do to ensure that all children reach their full potential.
  • Examples of repressive messages American boys receive in the media, and their consequences.
  • Examples of toys and clothing that send American boys repressive messages.
  • The importance of media literacy, and of talking to boys about cultural messages.
  • Alternative media—books, magazines, movies, TV shows, music—that release, rather than limit, boys and young men.
  • Actions you can take to change our cultural treatment of boys and young men.
  • Resources for further reading and reflection.