MenCare partner MERGE for Equality is working to change the way we raise boys in the United States

MERGE for Equality, a MenCare partner in the United States, is working to change the way we raise boys through two pilot initiatives targeting early childhood educators and child-serving agencies: the Developing Healthy Boys Training and the Children’s Book Campaign.

On November 29-30, 2017, nearly 60 early childhood educators and community leaders, representing more than 30 organizations, gathered for the piloting of the Developing Healthy Boys Training. The event was convened by MERGE for Equality in Springfield, MA, in partnership with three child-serving agencies: Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, Square One, and Preschool Enrichment Team of Valley Opportunity Council.

In his opening remarks, MERGE for Equality Executive Director John Engel called for a change in the way we raise boys, given that:

  • All boys are born loving, caring, and sensitive, as are all children.
  • The state of manhood, in the United States and globally, demonstrates that traditional models of masculinity cause harm to others and hurt men themselves.
  • Boys are being raised to conform to these inequitable stereotypes about how men should behave.

The two-day training included small and large group activities and discussions aimed at unpacking male socialization by:

  • Raising awareness about gender norms and stereotypes that limit boys, and the men they become, from realizing their full potential.
  • Examining the cycle of male socialization, including violence and trauma, as conditions from which boys – starting from a young age – are trained to be men.
  • Exploring racism and ways racism and gender socialization conspire to harm boys and the men they will become, as well as the families and communities in which they are located.

The training also included a focus on early childhood literacy and the use of children’s books to promote healthy forms of masculinity and to advance gender equality.

Weaving together lessons about male socialization and early childhood literacy, participants engaged in small and large group activities using the first three books from the MERGE for Equality Children’s Book Campaign, of which they received copies: Be Boy Buzz, authored by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris Raschka; Sparkle Boy, authored by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Maria Mola; and Made by Raffi, authored by Craig Pomranz and illustrated by Margaret Chamberlin.

The Children’s Book Campaign activities included:

  • Small group reading, listening, and observation activities with each of the three books.
  • Discussions of practical applications of books with young children, including anticipated challenges and strategies for success.
  • Identifying and sharing of resource ideas generated by participants.

At the conclusion of the training, MERGE invited participants to engage in post-training activities designed to advance the call to change the way we raise boys. These next-step opportunities include:

  • Three 90-minute coaching sessions, to be convened in January, February, and March 2018, where training participants can connect with each other and MERGE staff to share lessons learned and address challenges in the work of supporting boys’ healthy development.
  • Production of a MERGE for Equality children’s book, titled The Story of a Little Boy: Journey to Manhood, with funding support from the Beveridge Family Foundation.
  • Production of a MERGE video, titled Beliefs About Boys and Men, with funding support from the Beveridge Family Foundation.
  • Selection, funding, purchase, and distribution of two to three additional titles for the Children’s Book Campaign.
  • Posting of additional tools and resources on the MERGE for Equality website.

In program evaluations, participants shared enthusiasm for the importance of changing the way we raise boys, with comments that included:

  • “If we want to stop violence against women, we must allow our boys to be vulnerable and free to be themselves rather than fitting traditional male stereotypes.”
  • “I would love to see all early childhood educators attend this training.”
  • “This training will help me start conversations with parents and educators about the harmful impact of gender norms and stereotypes on boys as they grow into men.”

MERGE will work with collaborating early childhood education partners to evaluate the impact of this pilot training, make program design upgrades where warranted, and develop a vision and implementation plan for expanding the pilot to reach many more early childhood educators in 2018 and beyond.

Together we can develop socially and emotionally connected boys today, and healthy men, families, and communities tomorrow.

Learn more about the MERGE for Equality Children’s Book Campaign here.