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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Hand-me-down Barbies, problematic opinions & talking to boys about equality

1 On toys & freedom

I’d never been a “boyish boy” growing up. I came from a very relaxed, artsy family with three older sisters, so I was playing with hand-me-down Barbies as much as toy cars. Although I didn’t have the language at the time to explain it, [in church] there was definitely a societal power imbalance that put men further ahead than women, and therefore men had lots of freedom. But there was cognitive dissonance, because in my house, my mum and dad had always worked, my sisters were incredibly competent, and women were calling the shots.

I didn’t challenge very much when I was growing up and didn’t really question stuff.

Then during my second year at university, I came home one time and went to a party. My older sister said: “Make sure you call a cab or call Dad when you get back from the station.” And I said: “I always walk home – why would I do that?” That was the first time I realised that maybe our experiences were slightly different

2 On talking to boys

When you get a room full of guys and give them licence to say whatever they think, they can say really problematic things early on. But I also think it’s important that people feel comfortable to express their real opinions. That is paired with a lot of exploration, challenge where necessary, but primarily holding space to think about things they probably haven’t thought about before. More often than not, people haven’t thought about gender unless they are marginalised.

I applied for a job to develop a boys’ project about how to be a good man, and thought: “This is super easy.” But when I sat down to start the project, I thought: “I don’t know what to do!”

What do you actually say to boys to convince them that they should be good people? How do you teach anyone that what they’re doing is harmful to themselves and other people?

We can change outcomes massively just by having conversations really early on with people

3 On a feminist worldview

My worldview at this point in time is an intersectional, feminist worldview. It’s a major key to allowing people to understand and explore their own versions of masculinity and opt into different versions. It allows men to access a full range of emotions, to be emotionally literate, to be able to have conversations. It allows men to opt in to parenting and caring roles, and being present in the lives of their children. The worldview allows for a lot of freedom, and not just tolerance, but genuine inclusion.

If we have feminist conversations with more boys, more men, more women, more people, it allows you to be a truer version of yourself in the world.

Being more vocal is one thing that people can do. Calling stuff out is super important – that goes so far to create change…

Read more from Ben Hurst – Outspoken Advisory Board member, head of facilitation & training at the Good Lad Initiative and presenter of the 2019 TEDx talk Boys won’t be boys. Boys will be what we teach them to be – in the Stylist piece How men can be better allies, according to a man (19/2/20)

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