New Research – young men are told to harden up and that boys don’t cry

Research commissioned by White Ribbon has shown that problematic stereotypes around masculinity remain pervasive in New Zealand.

The research found that that 47% of men were told that ‘boys don’t cry’ while 65% were told that ‘boys should harden or toughen up’ when they were boys. Conversely only 9% of women were told that ‘girls don’t cry.’

White Ribbon Manager Rob McCann says the massive levels of violence by men against women in New Zealand are in part driven by behaviours men frequently assume are normal. “These clichés or #UnspokenRules help shape who we become and what we believe. Ultimately they are damaging and unhealthy.”

Mr McCann says a challenge facing too many young men is the sense that they have to live up to the unspoken rules of masculinity – clichés such as “boys don’t cry” and “toughen up”.

“White Ribbon is encouraging everyone to challenge the unspoken rules, so we can let boys and young men enjoy their individuality and define themselves as men who have respectful relationships with themselves and their partners – creating happier, healthier communities for us all.”

Mr McCann says the research findings are very concerning. “We are programming our young men with unrealistic and unhealthy ideas about what it means to be a man. These unspoken rules put pressure on boys and young men to behave in certain ways and dismiss ‘unmanly’ behaviour, leading them to suppress their emotions and their individuality. This affects how our boys and young men feel about themselves, and how they treat others.”

Mr McCann says these unspoken rules affect how young men approach their relationships, and can lead them to act disrespectfully – even violently – toward their partners.

White Ribbon lock up square“White Ribbon is asking the community to use our voices as parents, caregivers and influencers to challenge the #unspoken rules. We need to say out loud to our boys and young men that it’s ok for them to be who they are, and not get trapped in what we sometimes call the man box,” says Mr McCann.

To undermine the #UnspokenRules White Ribbon has created a number of resources that highlight and attempt to undermine three of these clichés with a range of posters and online videos promoting healthy masculinity.



What Healthy Masculinity looks like:

  • Healthy masculinity is rejecting unhelpful stereotypes and unspoken rules about what it is to be a boy or man.
  • Healthy masculinity is about being kind, empathetic, finding peaceful resolutions to problems.
  • Healthy masculinity is about boys and men being confident in who they are without feeling pressure to be a certain type of boy/man.
  • Boys and men can still be ‘brave’, and have ‘muscles’, be assertive, tough, love rugby, enjoy time with other men and boys, enjoy a ‘pint’ with the lads (for men!). But boys and men should also be free to express sad emotions, enjoy cooking, dancing, gardening and anything else that does not fit into gender stereotypes.
  • Healthy masculinity is treating everyone with respect.
  • Healthy masculinity is recognising that people express gender and sexuality in a variety of ways.


The Man Box

  • White Ribbon calls the expectations that men must always appear dominant, tough and in charge “The Man Box”.
  • It’s a box that’s prescriptive and restrictive. Any different behaviours are dismissed as being not manly.
  • Often a boy and a man will believe he needs to appear tough and in-control in front of other men. This is from a fear, real or not, that they’ll reject him, possibly violently, if he doesn’t fit in. Being told to ‘Man Up’ is to be reminded to get back into The Man Box. A man may use violence to show his peers he is manly.
  • Suppressing individual identities and diverse emotional responses is stressful. It’s also unhealthy as these men avoid asking for help.
  • Men who break out of The Man Box to choose their own masculine identity report that they’re less stressed, more satisfied with life and have happier relationships.


Conducted by Research New Zealand in 2019.
Full research here.

That boys don’t cry

  • 47% Yes, I was led to believe this was true
  • 46% No, I was not led to believe this was true
  • 7% Don’t know

That boys should harden or toughen up

  • 65% Yes
  • 30% No
  • 5% Don’t know

That girls shouldn’t cry

  • 9% Yes I believe this was true
  • 87% No
  • 4% Don’t know


White Ribbon Graphics can be downloaded from here

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