“Many guys think it’s not their fault if they cross borders, how could they have known?”
“let guys be boys again.” The foundation is known for its actions, but this time there was a nationwide outcry: what exactly did it mean to be a “real boy”? The gender stereotypes, according to which boys can not cry or show emotions and must always be on sex, do not help anyone and especially young girls are often in danger – why would you want to reproduce them?
The IMAGINE (Inspiring Male Action on Gender Equality in Europe) project deals with these difficult issues by talking to teenagers between 12 and 18 years of age. The goal: to end sexual violence against girls and women. In this way, the tutors organize workshops in which boys (and girls) should learn to recognize and respect the sexual limits of other people, but at the same time to set their own boundaries. 24-year-old Gijs Hablous has been an IMAGINE tutor since January, explaining why not only Dutch teenagers can benefit from talking about sexism and sexualized violence.
Question: How did the sexual education course work with you at school?
Gijs Hablous: I still remember two biology sessions , in which our teacher – no one specializing in sexuality – talked about preventing pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. And we were taught how to cover a condom. But the whole thing was never really taken seriously. Issues such as sexuality or gender did not occur at all.
And then you thought you could do better?
No, that came later, when I realized I was a white, educated women. In other words: very privileged. I wanted to help with the topics of gender and sexuality, but I was not sure whether I should be involved in feminist issues or debates. I did not want to kick anyone’s feet. Then I found out about IMAGINE and found it great that they were looking for young adults to act as a model for younger teenagers and to educate them about the dangers of sexualized violence and intimidation.
“One of them also made a hard time and said that girls could do what they want with them.”
This sounds like a lot of input for 12- to 18-year-old guys.
How do you deal with such a conversation?
Our focus is on physical exercises. Then we talk about it.
For example, we have a “boundary game” in which two groups of guys face each other. One group goes slowly, the other says “stop” when she feels harassed. However, the first group makes yet another step, thus crossing the straight line drawn. So we show the teenagers that you have to talk about boundaries.
How do the boys react to such exercises?
Sometimes they laugh. One of them also did hard times and said that girls could do with him what they wanted. We also talk about this: Is it really possible to have no limits at all? I have noticed that respecting borders is a difficult issue: how do you know how far you can go? Many guys think that it is not their fault if they cross borders and the girl does not clear “No!” said. How could they have known?
How to teach them to interact appropriately with girls?
We answer this question using stories that the guys themselves tell. One of them said, for example, that he liked a girl and always whistled after her or something behind her when she passed him. But because she never responded, he asked why. Then she said that her behavior was right on her nerves. The boy, however, had no idea how to talk to her. It was clear to him how she felt when the two men talked about it.
In such teenage groups, there is certainly “macho” property, which is not straight to the cause, right?
When such a thing occurs, we show them situations in which they themselves are affected. For example, once a teenager was of the opinion that girls in Miniröcken are themselves to blame when they are whistled. The teacher then asked, “What would you say if I were being whisked away just because I was jogging in short shorts, or if someone treated your sister like that?” He understood that his reasoning made no sense.
“They believe that they are expected to do so. Silly sayings and whistles toward girls are considered normal and cool in certain male groups.”
Why do your workshops focus on boys?
Sexualized violence is usually committed by men to women. It brings a lot to talk with men about their behavior. A good indicator is the amount of sexist jokes that gets torn within a group of men. It would be nice, if one of the men with such a joke times Contra would give.
Have you made this experience with friends?
Yes, especially in the past. I have often felt uncomfortable when someone has made a joke based on different stereotypes. I did not know exactly why it was. Nowadays, I say something when I hear a sexist joke and I think other men should do the same. If you know, but do not mind, you are part of the problem.
Do you believe that the boys in your workshops have the feeling of having to correspond to any stereotypical image of masculinity?
Yes. During the course, some teenagers recognize certain behaviors in themselves, for example, constantly wanting to have sex or to get “hard”. They believe that one expects them. Stupid sayings and whistles towards girls are considered normal and cool in certain male groups. Words such as “gay” are often used in a negative context. If you do not feel like sex, you are “gay”. It is only when you talk to them about it that they do not find such stereotypes very good.
Do they understand the meaning of the workshops?
Of course, I would find it great if after a workshop they would all be interested in feminism and their previous behaviours, but in reality, after a few hours is already over. However, it is still a nice and special opportunity for the boys to exchange on sexuality, sexual intercourse, flirting and relationships. Normally, they are not so open. It would be great if such workshops were part of the normal curriculum – from a young age.