What we teach boys – become our men discussed at Character Day Bahamas workshops

There is a lack of understanding of the impact of masculinity on society. The Man Box was discussed at a Character Day Bahamas workshop by Stephen J. Thompson, a clinical forensic psychologist and psychotherapist. He shared the myths that the box holds, and how it affects men and women. He is seen in this Zoom presentation window at the top right.

Written by Azaleta Ishmael-Newry

There is a lack of understanding of the impact of masculinity on society, shared a chief mental health officer who believes that a deeper understanding and earnest change in the way we communicate to young people would positively impact character strengths and personalities.

In a workshop held by Character Day Bahamas, Stephen J. Thompson a clinical forensic psychologist and psychotherapist shared his experience of working with Bahamian boys and men. Key messages included ‘the man box’, understanding masculinity, gender roles, conformity, and a technique known as ‘motivational interviewing.’

Contents in ‘the man box’ contribute to the character of boys and men in our society yet can also negatively affect girls and women. Coined by ‘A Call to Men,’ this figurative box consists of traits and actions that exemplify how boys and men should behave in society. It is expected that they are to be strong, successful, powerful, dominating, fearless, in control, and emotionless. (Source: acalltomen.org).

“Gender is normalized through conditioning, culture, context, structures and social interactions,” said Thompson. “Your idea of what it means to be a man, or a woman comes from your experiences and the messages that you get from others in society.”

Although not unique to our culture, “The way The Bahamas views manhood and masculinity creates this kind of box… It can create challenges for those who do not fit in the box. As well as challenges for people that want to maintain the space in that box,” stated Thompson.

Other traits and behaviours inside the man box include being authoritative, aggressive, protective and brave. Certain sports are watched and played. That males are smart, responsible, a leader and provider, have sexual conquests, they are heterosexual, dominant, and have financial success and material possessions.

Those that do not fit neatly in ‘the man box’ or embody what our society deems as ‘manliness,’ fall outside of the man box and are therefore condemned as not being ‘real men.’ Evidencing traits that fall outside of the man box are seen as ‘violations’ due to manliness being policed through the lens of homophobia and misogyny. These ‘violations’ are characteristics that are seen as less than favourable for men and boys to have. Examples of these violations range from being sensitive and in touch with one’s emotions, to being shorter and skinnier in stature, to not being heterosexual or having an abundance of material possessions and sexual conquests.

Perceptions of being a class clown, stealing, breaking rules, excessive drinking or partying, aggression towards girls and women, sweet-hearting and accepting the statement that ‘boys will be boys,’ are some of the falsehoods about males that are maintained and nurtured by society.

“Boys won’t be boys. Boys will be what we teach them to be. What we teach boys – is what becomes our men,” said Thompson.

For better engagement with males, ‘motivational interviewing’ is important. It is an evidence-based preferred style that elicits behaviour change by helping youth to explore and resolve ambivalence. When a boy feels accepted for who he is and what he does – no matter how unhealthy or detrimental, it allows them the freedom to consider change rather than needing to defend against it.

In motivational interviewing, apply the acronym – R.U.L.E. for successful interaction and outcome:

R Resist telling them what to do 

U Understand their motivations 

L Listen with empathy
E Empower them

Be sure to use open-ended questions, affirmations, reflective listening, summarizations, empathy, collaboration, compassion and acceptance.

Some resistance traps and things to avoid: Question and answer scenarios; taking sides, offering a personal story to encourage doing something the way you did; being an expert on their life; giving opinions as fact; labelling the youth and not the behaviour; using scare tactics; pouncing; information overload, and forcing someone to create and act on a plan for change.

Using assertive communication and listening allows both parties to be seen, heard, valued and respected. Focus is on the problem and not the individual. Problem-solving and direct statements are made, and listening is key. (Dr Niambi Hall Campbell-Dean and HeìleÌne de Jong – Character Day Bahamas workshop 1). Men and women have different communication styles therefore understanding how to communicate effectively is important.

Thompson offered this role play for a person who may be a class clown.

Thompson: “You make people laugh… you get everyone laughing….Help me understand what is going on…”

Student: “I am not doing anything bad.”

Thompson: “ What I want to understand is that if you are doing this… do you see any challenges to your peers or yourself in your situation?… What do you think would be a better scenario?”

There is an agreement between the teacher and the student of one joke at the beginning of the class and one at the end of the class.

Thompson: “During the time you’re not cracking a joke – what will you be doing?” Student: “I guess that I will be paying attention.”

Thompson: “Do you think we can try this new way tomorrow? Well, that sounds good… If you can try… We can put it into play.”

The student is now empowered.

Stephen J. Thompson is a trained Clinical Forensic Psychologist and Psychotherapist and has a Master of Arts in Clinical Forensic Psychology. He is entering his second year of pursuing a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Leadership and Development.

Character Day Bahamas workshops reinforce positive behaviour and change for students and people in the workplace. More than 130 people from the education and guidance counsellor professions, government sector, youth organizations, including corporate leaders and administrators, participated in a two-day workshop in August. A national Character Day will take place on October 20, 2021, to celebrate and showcase programs that will be reflective of those goals. Currently, a Hidden Heroes Bahamas call for nominations that close on September 30, 2021, is looking for citizens whose goodness and character are exemplified. While our society tends to focus on the negative behaviours of men, happily, the majority of the 2020 campaign winners were male figures from a few of the islands in The Bahamas.

Character Day Bahamas is led by the PACE Foundation and is sponsored by the Templeton World Charity Foundation Inc. which offers the opportunity for t-shirts and other resources to be distributed free of charge to the schools and youth organizations participating in the program.

More information on Character Day, the Hidden Hero Bahamas nomination, information on how to apply for a grant to help fund a character day event, and charts of character strengths and virtues are available at www.characterdaybahamas.org.

Motivational interviewing is a tool that is used to encourage empowerment and better communication. Paired with assertive communication, the techniques allow both parties to be seen, heard, valued and respected. Focus is on the problem and not the individual. The technique was presented at a Character Day Bahamas workshop by Stephen J. Thompson, a clinical forensic psychologist and psychotherapist who is seen in this Zoom presentation window at the top right.