men, masculinities and gender politics

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Engaging boys and young men in the prevention of sexual violence: A systematic and global review of evaluated interventions (2011)

The purpose of this review is “to investigate the effectiveness of interventions for preventing boys’ and young men’s use of sexual violence, including: increasing gender-equitable attitudes, bystander intentions, and other attitudes and behaviours”. It considers a total of 65 studies to assess the effectiveness of such interventions. The interventions came from 11 countries, although a high proportion was based in the USA. The majority of interventions took place in school settings.

The review begins with some background information on violence against women, noting that men’s use of violence is now understood as a learned behaviour, rooted in men and boys’ socialisation. It argues therefore that an important strategy in rape prevention is to reach boys when their beliefs and attitudes about sexuality and gender are still developing. The theoretical standpoints behind the interventions included in the review are outlined: these include social learning theory, which posits violent behaviour in early experiences of growing up with violence; social norms theory, where people are influenced by norms in their social group or community; belief system theory, which argues that interventions need to take account of participants’ self perceptions; and the bystander approach, which extends work with individuals to a broader collective approach where everyone plays a role in preventing violence.

The studies included in the review show strong evidence of the effectiveness of interventions to improve young men and boys’ attitudes towards rape and violence against women. However, their ability to change behaviours is less straightforward to prove. When looking at the populations involved in the interventions, the review found that most participants were self selected, and were not necessarily the boys or men most likely to perpetrate sexual violence. 21 of the interventions reviewed were single sex (for young men and boys only), and the other 44 were mixed-sex. The review listed both positive and negative aspects of both single and mixed sex interventions; for example, mixed sex settings “provide a space for boys/young men and girls/young women to model respect for one another”. However single-sex spaces are often the best place to challenge rigid norms around masculinity and to practice new roles.

The review ends with some implications for future research. It argues that there is a need for “more rigorous evaluation designs, more standardised measures, additional measures of behavioural outcomes, additional differential effectiveness analyses, and longer follow up periods”.

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