Exploring Masculinities: background, content

The exploring Masculinities programme began as a pilot programme in seven boys' schools in 1995

The exploring Masculinities programme began as a pilot programme in seven boys' schools in 1995. Three years later, in 1998, a further 21 schools, mainly diocesan seminaries and Christian and Patrician Brothers schools, joined the project. All the students involved were either in Transition Year or senior cycle. The programme is now available to schools on request.

What is the programme about?

The seven themes of the programme include: men working, men and power, relationships, health and sexuality, violence against women, men and children and men and sport. Each session within these themes comes with teacher guidelines and student material. The sessions, which are interactive, begin with a key question designed to focus students on a single issue and enable them to clarify their thoughts. The programme's first key question asks students to create a code of behaviour that will facilitate open discussion, establish the right to be heard and allow students to reflect on their development as people.

In the first section, starting out, students learn that it's difficult to talk about personal feelings in public, they consider assertive, aggressive and passive behaviour and peer pressure and examine the difficulty of saying no. A murder hunt allows the class to work as a team and later examine how they fared.

Is work only work if it is paid for? Are men the natural breadwinners, who should have preference in the workplace? These are among the issues considered in sessions on men working. Students discuss equality in the work place, career choices, housework, working in the voluntary sector, school attendance and the role of the father.

Men and power examines power, whether history is dominated by male rather than female figures, bullying, students' personal behaviour, making the school a safer place, sexual harrassment, the way our language reflects our values, black culture, wheel power (road safety) and homelessness.

The fourth theme, relationships, health and sexuality deals with male attitudes to these issues. Students explore how to build good relationships, and examine sexuality, sexual orientation, pornography and the relationship between drink and masculinity. A session on testicular cancer is included.

Violence against women, men and children, the fifth theme of the programme, is arguably the most controversial one. The first session examines the feelings of safety, freedom and fear. Another session poses the question: how can we break the silence of violence in the home? Students examine sexual abuse and legal protection for victims of violence. They examine, too, what men must do to ensure a just, less violent world.

Under men and sport, life in the dressing room, whether sport is taken too seriously, the existence of a win-at-all-costs mentality, appropriate behaviour for fans, drug abuse in sport and media coverage of women's sports are all discussed.

Wrapping it up is the programme's final theme and poses the question: where do we go from here? Students are invited to describe their hopes for the future, to describe their ideal man and explore the meaning of men's lives, collaborative working and male role models.

The programme has been the first gender programme to be funded by the Department of Education, for use in single-sex boys' schools. Boys' schools were targeted because programmes on gender and equality already existed in girls' and coeducational schools. Traditionally, the focus in boys' schools has been academic.

Research in Irish schools shows that boys and girls in co-educational schools are more satisfied with the opportunities provided for personal devlopment than are students in single-sex schools. Boys in single-sex schools have a more traditional view of gender than do boys in coeducational schools. Just last year, research conducted by Dr Kathleen Lynch of UCD's Equality Studies Centre showed that boys in single-sex schools equate masculinity with physical strength, height and sporting ability. The boys recorded high levels of prejudice towards Travellers and gay males. Gender equality was an issue they had barely considered.