Last weekend I worked with teenage boys for the first time and they surprised me beyond belief. I am almost embarrassed to say I truly thought my workshops were gender specific and that they wouldn’t have the same impact on boys as they do with the girls I work with. Not only was I completely wrong but my ideas were backwards. If I’m honest, based on the feedback received from the participants afterwards, the workshop had MORE impact on the boys. Why?
I think I’ve figured it out. Workshops similar to mine and issues of emotional wellbeing and mental health are so often catered to girls only. Girls are so much more open about their feelings and it’s not unusual for their emotions to sit on the surface. There is still a gender stereotype in society that tells young boys that it is not manly to express their emotions. Crying is weak; it’s for girls.
I wholeheartedly believe in gender equality. Any opportunities that men may have I believe women have equal rights to those opportunities. In the exact same way I feel that if women are taught that it’s healthy and acceptable to express their feelings, boys should be taught the same.
Suicide remains to be the biggest killer in young men. Often they show no signs at all of mental health issues for example symptoms of depression. If we encouraged and allowed young men to speak up more about the things that bother them then we’re seriously looking at changing and possibly even saving lives.
In terms of body image I believe that women are finally starting to accept and appreciate their bodies for what they are. We’re recovering from the size 00 era and it’s much more fashionable to have curves and a fit and healthy body. I’m not insinuating we’re in the clear, we have a long way to go! At least there’s somewhat less pressure for us to starve ourselves. Having said that, for boys it has never been more fashionable to bulk up. Weight lifting, obsessive gym-ing and protein powders are in and being skinny is out. As women, are we really going to sit back and let boys go through what we’ve experienced? False or enhanced media images making us feel badly about our body image is nothing new for girls but maybe it is to boys. They could be more at risk concerning these images if we fail to educate them about the consequences they can have.
As The Motivation Project grows I hope to help boys and girls in turn. Although this enterprise will always have been started to help girls, I plan to practice what I preach and exercise a bit of equality!