Healthy Masculinity

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Challenge the #Outdated

When White Ribbon is talking about the #outdated – we mean the stereotypes that boys and men are handed down from their role models. The things we teach our kids about “how to be a man” might seem harmless, but actually carry messages that can create a really negative impact.

When we say things like “Show them who’s boss”, “Kids should keep quiet” or “Treat em mean, keep em keen” we’re putting limits on how kids interact with their world and how they develop their relationships. Many men have grown up hearing these things and end up copying these unhealthy attitudes and behaviours – even if they don’t like or agree with them.  At their worst, these attitudes and behaviours can lead to violence toward women. This violence affects our families, our communities, and our whole country.

So how do we change it? In all of our relationships – whānau, friends, colleagues, teammates – we can challenge the #outdated stereotypes of what it means to be a man. We can role model healthy relationships and focus on strength that comes from a kaupapa of respect and aroha. We can call each other out and encourage more kōrero about gender equality.

By challenging each other in constructive ways we become stronger, and support change for those who need it the most. It’s time to shake off the old and reveal the new. Download the campaign graphics here. Download an overview of the campaign here.

Focus on undermining these #Outdated ideas, and promoting healthy masculinity (and Respectful Relationships) as an alternative.

  • 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’, ‘have muscles’, assertive, tough, love rugby, enjoy time with other men and boys, enjoy a ‘pint’ with the lads. 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 and having Respectful Relationships (which always include consent).
  • Healthy masculinity is recognising that people express gender and sexuality in a variety of ways.

What does unhealthy masculinity look like?
#Outdated Ideas

  • Boys need to be brave
  • Be a big boy
  • Boys can’t be afraid
  • Boys can’t be gentle
  • Boys being boys
  • Boys can’t be weak
  • Boys can’t be timid
  • Boys can’t be hurt (emotionally hurt)
  • Boys can’t look soft
  • Boys can’t be powerless


“Show them who’s boss? YOU LOVE THEM”

When kids hear this outdated advice, they’re getting an idea of manhood as being in control of their partners, family, even their friends. This can lead to men mistaking fear and intimidation for love and respect. The strongest relationships are respecting the people in our lives as their own people. Particularly, it means not assuming there are set roles or rules that give men power over women. Showing that you care creates better relationships and teaches the behaviour you want your children to learn.


“Kids should keep quiet? BE HEARD”

When a kid asks a question, they’re reaching out to us to learn something. When a child engages in play, they are learning important skills that teach them how to behave in the world. When a child cries, they are asking for comfort. Kids ask us for attention because they are learning how to navigate the world and build relationships – they need to be able to speak and be heard, so they can learn and grow.


“Treat em mean EQUAL keep em keen?”

The opposite of violence is showing respect. When kids hear old clichés like “treat em mean, keep em keen” they’re receiving a false idea about relationships. They’re hearing that negative behaviour has positive results, which is really dangerous. Respectful Relationships aren’t about manipulation and mind games – they require us to treat our partners as our equals by listening to each other and making decisions together.

You can download graphics here





This video is from 2019 and will be updated soon with the new #Outdated campaign material.


Boys Don’t Cry

  • If boys aren’t encouraged to show emotion such as sadness and anger in healthy ways, it can lead to bottling up emotions, mental health challenges, aggression, and violence.
  • The (healthy) alternative is to encourage boys to show emotions and to be able to name and express their emotions.
  • As adults, we can help boys (and all children!) to do this by giving them the language. We can say, ‘I can see you are sad about …’
  • We can also role-model and try to get comfortable with our own emotions. It’s ok to cry. This can feel awkward and uncomfortable, but children learn from watching us. If we turn away when we are feeling sad, they learn that being sad is ‘unacceptable’.

Be The Man

  • Boys are often told they need to be dominant (or be the boss of the family).
  • This pressure on boys to be in control of others or to be the bread winner can lead to domestic violence and undermines gender equality, which is a cornerstone of Respectful Relationships.
  • This kind of attitude also reinforces gender pay inequality and can lead to unequal relationships in the home.
  • We need to encourage young men to be who they want to be, not conform to a stereotype.

Toughen Up

  • If boys feel like they have to be tough and not let anything bother them, they learn that having feelings (especially strong feelings) is not acceptable. This can lead to mental health challenges, shame, violence, aggression and self-harm.
  • It is healthy to open up and share our thoughts and feelings. After all it’s what we do until the #unspoken rules kick in.

There are many other #unspoken rules such as Boys Don’t Back Down From Fights, Boys Need To Drive Fast, Boys Need to Sleep With Lots of Girls, Boys Need to be Muscular, Boys Don’t Wear Pink and Boys Can’t Ask for Help. Challenge these #unspoken rules.


Visit to use our free resources – The Toolboxes, Raise Our Men video, The Eight Actions to Reduce Violence or to take the online Pledge to stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence towards women.


What this means in practice is that unhealthy masculinity can look like

  • Violence towards women (physical, sexual, psychological, spiritual, financial)
  • Violence towards other boys and men (physical, sexual, psychological, spiritual, financial)
  • Violence towards children (physical, sexual, psychological, spiritual, financial)
  • Boys and men feeling like they can’t express emotions, especially strong emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, in healthy ways.
  • Boys and men feeling like they have to resolve their problems with violence and aggression.
  • Boys and men feeling like they have to be in control of
    • situations they find themselves in
    • their own emotions
    • their families
    • their friends
    • their partners
    • their children
  • Boys and men feeling like they cannot express their sexuality
  • Boys and men feeling like they cannot express diverse gender identities
  • Boys and men feeling like they have to wear specific clothes to conform
  • Boys and men feeling like they have to conform to a specific body type – muscles.
  • Boys and men feeling like they have to drink alcohol (and other drugs perhaps?)
  • Boys and men feeling like they have to take risks so they don’t look fearful
  • Boys and men feeling like they have to have a girlfriend/wife/partner and that their girlfriend/wife/partner should conform to gender stereotypes in terms of their looks and behaviour.


What unhealthy masculinity can lead to

  • Men’s violence towards women
  • Men’s violence towards children
  • Men’s mental health challenges – depression and anxiety
  • Suicide



This year there are a range of new resources that are available to download. You can download the items here. Other resources can be purchased at the online White Ribbon Shop.

  • Facebook graphics
  • videos for online use
  • 4 posters
  • Flyer

This information will help put the campaign in context.

What causes men’s violence towards women?
It is rigid ideas about gender[1] and roles that contribute to men’s use of violence against females[2].

Even with 80% of family and intimate-partner violence incidents going unreported, New Zealand still has the worst rate for this violence in the world[3]. And our country has the third highest rate of sexual assault in the world[4]. This indicates that too many New Zealand men still express their masculinity through dominance and power over women.

Specific links between masculinity and violence are:

  • Where a culture expects masculinity to involve dominance and toughness there is male violence against females.
  • If an individual man over-conforms to perceived male gender expectations of strength, power and domination, he is more likely to rape women.
  • There’s more sexual violence where men and women have segregated lives, a belief in male sexual conquest, strong male bonding, high alcohol consumption, use of pornography, and sexist social norms.[5]
  • Sexual violence serving as a tool for men and boys to prove their manhood, achieve the social status of a “real man,” and establish power over others[6].
  • When men believe that they are not – or are not perceived to be – “masculine enough,” they may use intimate partner violence to overcompensate or conform with gendered expectations. [7]


What is the Man Box?
White Ribbon calls the expectations that men must always appear dominant, tough and in charge “The Man Box”[8]. It’s a box that’s prescriptive and restrictive. Any different behaviours are dismissed as ‘being a girl’ or ‘gay’ i.e. 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[9]. 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[10]. They’re also much less likely to use violence against women. Having all men breaking out of the Man Box will help to eliminate men’s violence against women. White Ribbon has a toolbox to support men to break out of the Man Box.

Raise Our Men is a 35-minute film featuring interviews with New Zealand men talking about their experience of being socialised as a boy and their experiences as a man. The film is designed to prompt men to choose to be more respectful towards women and break out of the man box.


What prevents men’s violence?
White Ribbon promotes respectful relationships to prevent domestic and sexual violence against women.

Respectful relationships are based on:

  • Equality between men and women. Gender equity in personal relationships and all social spheres, reduces violence against women.
  • Flexible gender behaviour for all. Having men breaking out of the Man Box and choosing their own masculine identity prevents their use of violence.
  • Non-violent communication. Men being emotionally aware and expressive gives them alternatives to aggression.
  • Enthusiastic consent for all sexual activities. Having willing participation is crucial to preventing sexual violence.

White Ribbon also promotes adult men promoting the respectful behaviour of younger men. It also encourages men to be critical of pornography, especially the ways it promotes violence against women[11]. White Ribbon’s toolboxes support men to behave respectfully and for care-givers to influence young men. Promoting the key features of respectful relationships is an established, proven violence prevention strategy. It is also a positive approach that effectively engages men[12].


What is ‘male socialisation ‘and how it links with violence?
‘Male socialisation’ is how a boy’s social environment influences his behaviour. It is how he learns his masculine behaviour and about using violence against females. If a boy grows up in a family with traditional gender roles he’s more likely to physically and sexually abuse women, especially if he witnesses or experiences violence[14]. But if he sees women being treated as equals and men exhibiting a wide range of behaviours, especially those considered feminine, he is much less likely to use violence. He’ll also be more satisfied with life and have happier relationships[15].

An adult man can demonstrate the ongoing effects of his socialisation by believing he needs to always appear tough and in-control in front of other men. If he believes he’s not perceived to be “masculine enough,” he may use violence to overcompensate or conform with gendered expectations[16]. Encouraging men to choose their own identity and to live by their own, respectful values breaks the need for them to limit themselves to other men’s perceived expectations.

White Ribbon’s toolboxes offer help on breaking out of the Man Box. Bringing up boys so they choose their own identity and actions will significantly reduce the risk they’ll use violence. It will also make them healthier and happy men. White Ribbon offers toolboxes for fathers and caregivers on how to do this. White Ribbon’s film Raise Our Men covers this topic and offers solutions.


What are ‘social norms’ and how they support violence?
Social norms are the informal understanding about how to behave.

Social norms have a significant influence in determining men’s behaviour, particularly in perpetuating male power and privilege[17]. It’s these norms that maintain high levels of violence against women, despite it being illegal, so changing male social norms is a key to preventing men’s violence[18].

Men tend to incorrectly assume that most men use violence when they don’t, and they routinely overestimate other men’s comfort with sexist, coercive and derogatory comments about, and behaviour towards, women. Consequently, the men who oppose violence mistakenly believe they are in a minority, so keep quiet. This, in turn, can be incorrectly interpreted as approval for violence by others[19].

White Ribbon seeks to correct these distortions with information that most men are non-violent and support respectful behaviour.

Secondly, men typically underestimate other men’s willingness to intervene in violence against women. The most significant factor in whether a man will intervene to stop sexual assault is his perception of what other men would do[20].

Letting men know that their peers also oppose violence is crucial for men to publicly act to prevent violence.


How does ‘gender equality’ fit into this?
‘Promoting gender equality’ as one of the essential strategies for preventing violence, especially violence towards women.

Where there is female inequity – within relationships and whanau, but also socially, economically and politically, it is reinforced by men’s violence.

Having men and women as equal will prevent men’s violence[21].


What’s this ‘toxic masculinity’ people are talking about?
The #MeToo movement has been talking about ‘toxic masculinity’, as a shorthand term for the traditional expectations of male power, dominance and toughness. This is what White Ribbon calls the Man Box.

It is called ‘toxic’ as it damages people around the man, who’re victims of his violence. It also damages the man’s physical and mental health.

It is not masculinity, per se, that is toxic, just this particular interpretation of it. It maybe more useful to talk about toxic masculine behaviour to highlight it is specific actions that are unacceptable, rather than being male. And it is his behaviour, rather than his biology, that a man can change.

White Ribbon’s toolboxes offer help for men to break out of the Man Box.


And what’s is ‘rape culture’?
‘Rape culture’ refers to when society normalises sexualised violence. By doing that we accept and create rape culture.

Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.”[22]

White Ribbon focuses on changing men’s social norms to undermine their support of sexual violence. Having men break out of the Man Box prevents a ‘rape culture’ from developing.

Examples of Rape Culture

  • Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
  • Trivialising sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Inflating false rape report statistics
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
  • Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
  • Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
  • Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped [23]


Bystander Intervention
If you hear someone say something disrespectful or display unhealthy behaviours such as harassing women, telling inappropriate jokes, picking a fight, etc., there are a few things you can do to challenge the language or behaviour. By doing nothing we are effectively condoning the behaviour. You can use one or more of the 4Ds;

  • be Direct – challenge them verbally ‘that’s not cool, bro’
  • Distract – get them to do something else, or ask a question of the person who is on the receiving end of the unhealthy behaviour to engage them in conversation (useful if you don’t feel safe being direct)
  • Delegate – talk to someone else about what is going on. Ask their friend/parent/workmate/boss what they think of the behaviour and if there is anything they can do to address it. Work together to see what you could do.
  • Delay – it might not always feel safe to intervene or challenge at the time, depending on the situation, so you can ask them later about whether they realised their behaviour was harmful, or ask the person who might have been on the receiving end how they are. (Adapted from –
  • Watch and talk to others about this resource – Who Are You? (for older teenagers)

Get support for yourself

Why focus on men’s violence?
Throughout the world, historically and in the present, a much greater number of men use domestic and sexual violence than women.

This is consistently identified by international population-based surveys and New Zealand data confirms that it is kiwi men committing most violence[24]:

  • 90% of individuals sexually abusing children and young people are male[25].
  • These were 64 males for each female among the 712 individuals convicted for sexual assault and related offences in 2016[26].
  • An average of 72% of offenders linked with family violence investigations are male[27].
  • 88% of protection orders are taken against a male, on average[28].

Men’s violence also results in more severe outcomes. Women are three times more likely than men to be injured because of intimate partner violence; more likely to report more severe forms of violence; and twice as likely to report being victimised on more than 10 occasions. Women are much more likely to require medical attention, to be fearful for themselves and their children, and to have depression, anxiety attacks, sleep problems or lowered self-esteem[29].

Even if a man is not violent, their attitudes tend to support violence. Generally, men are more likely to: agree with myths and beliefs supporting violence against women; define violence more narrowly; minimise the harms and blame or show less empathy for victims; and see violence against women as less serious, damaging or inappropriate than women do[30].

Given that men’s violence is both the most prevalent and damaging it is an obvious focus for prevention strategies. Targeting men’s gendered behaviour is crucial; and changing New Zealand men’s attitudes, behaviours, identities, and relations is critical to eliminating violence[31].

The international White Ribbon’s movement developed after the brutal mass shooting of 14 women by a man in Canada and the focus remains on preventing men’s violence against women[32].

Encouraging men to stand up and speak out and act to prevent violence towards women by taking The Pledge and committing to take one of eight specific actions. Men can make this commitment and learn more at


Men back up their stand with real actions.
White Ribbon supports men to commit to taking at least one of these eight actions to show their respect. They’re the right thing to do:

  1. Listening and believing women.
  2. Reflecting on and changing their behaviour.
  3. Disrupting other men’s violence towards women.
  4. Treating women as equals.
  5. Choose how to be a man and how I will act.
  6. Talk to a young man about breaking out of the Man Box.
  7. Think about what they watch and the media they use.
  8. Talk with young men about respectful relationships and pornography.

Men who stand up show they respect women.
Living by respectful values and doing the right thing is key to the respectful relationships White Ribbon promotes. This prevents violence. Learn more from the toolboxes.

Women have asked men to take these actions.
These actions are what women have asked men to do to make their lives better. This campaign is White Ribbon’s positive response to what the women of the #MeToo movement have asked for. These actions will prevent violence and improve the lives of women. They’re the right thing for men to do.

Men’s respectful behaviour prevents violence.
Respectful relationships are based on: treating women as equals; choosing your own identities and behaviour to be your own man; using non-violent communication; and ensuring enthusiastic consent for sexual relationships. These actions prevent men’s violence towards women, and can make everyone, including the man, happier and healthier.  There’s more on respectful relationships at in the heading ‘What prevents men’s violence?’

Online Resources
There are seven Toolboxes available for free on the website. These are great tools to point men and agencies towards. Raising Boys Who Respect, Respectful Sexual Relationships, Start With Respect, Step Up Stop Violence (and take other men with you), What Kind of Guy do you Wanna Be? There are also two new toolboxes, Breaking out of the Man Box, and Supporting #MeToo.

The White Ribbon Film Raising our Men is free to download on the website and the website also has all the posters and logos available for downloading here.
Order resources via the White Ribbon Shop.



  • New Zealand has the highest rate of reported violence towards women in the developed world
  • Police investigated 118,910 family violence incidents in 2016 or about one every five minutes
  • That’s 41% of a front line officers time
  • One in three women will experience partner violence at some point in their lives
  • Less than 20 percent of abuse cases are reported
  • Approximately 3,500 convictions are recorded against men each year for assaults on women
  • On average, 14 women a year are killed by their partners or ex-partners
  • Between 2009 and 2015, there were 92 IPV (Intimate partner Violence) deaths. In 98% of death events where there was a recorded history of abuse, women were the primary victim, abused by their male partner.
  • Family violence accounts for half of all reported serious crime [33]

[1] Gender is the socially determined, learnt behaviour for males or females, compared to sex, which is biologically determined
[2] Page 9, Brian Heilman with Gary Barker (2018). Masculine Norms and Violence: Making the Connections. Washington, DC: Promundo-US. From
[3] From
[4] From
[5] All information from pages 8-10, Baker, G. (2013). Effectively involving men in preventing violence against women. Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, University of Auckland, from
[6] Page 11, Brian Heilman with Gary Barker (2018).
[7] Page 9, Ibid.
[8] The Man Box behaviours is also sometimes called ‘toxic masculinity’, as they damage those around the men, often with violence, and the behaviour often harms his own wellbeing
[9] Page 9, Brian Heilman with Gary Barker (2018)
[10] Pages 19, Baker, G. (2013).
[11] See
[12] Pages 12-16, Baker, G. (2013).
[13] All information from Baker, G. (2018). Report on how White Ribbon New Zealand can align with the #MeToo movement Available from
[14] Page 9, Baker, G. (2013).
[15] Page 19, Ibid.
[16] Page 9, Brian Heilman with Gary Barker (2018).
[17] Page 15, Baker, G. (2013).
[18] Page 9, Ibid.
[19] Page 15, Ibid.
[20] Page 15, Ibid.
[21] Page 12, Ibid.
[22] WAVAW Rape Crisis
[23] See
[24] Page 6, Baker, G. (2013). Effectively involving men in preventing violence against women. Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, University of Auckland, from
[25] Page 5, Data Summary: Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Sexual Violence – Perpetration by Gender, June 2017 New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, University of Auckland, from
[26] Page 9, Baker, G. (2013).
[27] Page 3, Data Summary: Violence Against Women, June 2017, New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, University of Auckland, from
[28] Page 16, Ibid.
[29] Page 8, Baker, G. (2013).
[30] Page 10, Baker, G. (2013).
[31] Page 8, Baker, G. (2013).
[32] See
33] See the section ‘Why does White Ribbon focus on men’s violence?’
[34] Moffitt, T.E., and A. Caspi. Findings about Partner Violence from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. Research in Brief. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 1999, NCJ 170018.
[35] See
[36] See