David Levesley, reports for iNews. The video was shared by a friend: a man, walking down the road, talking into his camera, about how he was volunteering with The Great Men Project. Their aim? Go into schools and run workshops “to discuss misogyny, homophobia and masculinity to basically just further those discussions and stop them being so stereotypical and awful.”
The Great Men Project gets men to play their role in smashing the patriarchy. But, as the organisation’s project manager David Brockway stressed when we spoke, this is a project started by women. “Men aren’t taking the credit,” he stressed, “I never would have thought to start it myself. Because of my male privilege I never realised the extent of the issues.”
The project was originally the lovechild of Sarah Perry and Genevieve Dawson. The line-up of staff has changed over the years, but there have always been women in the campaign’s leadership team.
The majority of sessions are done with students in years 8, 9 and 10 from the ages of 12 and up. This, Brockway said, is because senior school is a particularly crucial point for crises of masculinity. In primary school gender norms might be established- this is what boys like, this is what girls like- but it is senior school where what it is to be masculine begins to matter.
In the video me and my flatmate both saw, posted by 28-year-old actor Sam Swann, he goes into a school with a few other volunteers and they discuss the first exercise they’re going to do before they have to turn the cameras off and focus. “We’re going to start off with a Word Race,” says one volunteer: they put down the word man, and the boys put down words they associate with it (“balls”, “muscles” and football” are all, apparently, common.) Then they put down the word woman, and ask for the same thing (“breasts”, “sexy”, “mother” etc.)
“It’s just, in a fun way, being able to instantly see the stereotypes that we all have when we conceive of these words,” says volunteer Jeff Carpenter, “despite the fact it’s definitely not how they conceive of teachers in their school or their friends.”
The Great Men are not teachers. In fact, Brockway says, it is probably better that the sort of things they talk about are dealt with by external forces. “You can have a maths teacher tell you about debt. They’re not so good at talking about porn because then [the teacher and the students] are never going to be able to speak to each other again.”
The sessions are also very different to your typical class: tables are pushes aside. A contract is agreed upon by students and adults as to what will be kosher during the discussion. They started off just doing a single 3 hour workshop, but received funding from Comic Relief to expand the project across 6 specific schools in London. Now they can be of different lengths, and they deal with five main areas: violence, LGBTQ+ issues, mental health, porn and sex/slut shaming.
Read more and watch the videos The Great Men project sends men into schools to teach boys about feminism.
Do you think The Great Men project would be beneficial in your school? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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