Christchurch Girls’ High School sexual abuse survey demonstrates the need for ‘primary prevention’.

 A survey of Christchurch Girls’ High School has revealed widespread sexual harassment with more than 400 students revealing they’ve been sexually assaulted and more than 20 saying they’ve been raped.

“As a country we need to support our young men to understand what Healthy Masculinity looks like,” says White Ribbon Manager Rob McCann, “and have a working comprehension of what Respectful Relationships involve, which includes understanding consent.”

“It is these concepts that can help provide a protection against the type of attitudes and behaviour, which enable young men to think it is ok to harass and harm women.

“While there has considerable focus on breaking the cycle of family violence, we need much more emphasis on combating the unhelpful messages about what it is to be a supposed ‘Real Man’.

“Our young men are still hearing unhelpful messages to ‘man up’, ‘that boys don’t cry’, ‘get pissed’ ‘be the man’, and to ‘toughen up’.

“Whether it’s societal pressures, peer pressure or learned behaviour, our young men are too often being asked to renounce the best of themselves and pretend to be something that fits the narrative of a ‘real man’.

“We need to have open and honest conversations about being a good person, and understand what healthy masculinity looks like and how that is a better option than outdated ideas. One way of achieving that is through education and inspiring our youth,” says Mr McCann.

White Ribbon offers a free programme to schools that focuses on consent, respectful relationships and encouraging healthy masculinity. The Youth Ambassador Leadership Programme (YALP) brings student leaders from schools across a region together for a full-day workshop to focus on these issues and how to intervene, respond and offer support. The Youth Ambassadors are then supported to share what they have learnt within their school community and help spark these conversations in their own schools and communities.


Healthy Masculinity looks like:

  • Healthy masculinity is rejecting unhelpful outdated stereotypes and unspoken rules about what it is to be a boy or man.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.


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.

New research titled Shifting the line – Boys talk on gender, sexism and online ethics found:

Key points, findings and recommendations

• Some of our society’s key ideas for what it means to be a man give boys and young men a narrow and limiting model for how they should be and act in the world.

• Boys notice these ‘masculinity rules’ and the ways they are policed, but have few opportunities to talk about them, and few positive public models for how to sidestep narrow messages about what it means to be a man.

• The restrictive norms for masculinity, which were identified by boys across diverse social backgrounds and ethnicities, included the avoidance of anything ‘feminine’ and a very limited repertoire of emotions.

• Boys’ friendship groups, and the importance of peer group loyalty and belonging, were spoken about as powerful influences on behaviour, both in maintaining expected norms and in some cases in supporting departures from these norms.

• The powerful role of peer group norms suggests that effective strategies to promote positive change and ethical behaviour should seek to transform collective norms and action, rather than targeting individual behavioural change.

• Given the unhelpful, and in some cases dangerous, cultural baggage that traditional gender roles carry, we suggest it would be better to inspire boys and young men to be ethical people rather than ‘good men’.

• Paradoxically, it could seem, a first step in this direction requires noticing how gender structures the world and most people’s experiences and opportunities within it.

• Some boys and young men are interested in talking about these issues – and it is possible to create spaces that build on their curiosity and their commitment to fairness and equality, allowing them to critically reflect on gender norms and develop insights and skills that enhance their readiness to contribute to positive social change.


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