Being a Boy Booklet
Challenging Toxic Masculinity through Revised Sexual Education
Empowering Boys to Challenge Hypermasculinity
Being a Boy Booklet is a new classroom material, which focuses on the complex cognitive, biological, and social changes of growing up as a young boy. Currently, most school curriculums do not incorporate real-world feelings and the challenges that 8-10 year old boys may be experiencing. The booklet addresses this gap through five different sections that build into a comprehensive curriculum, ultimately empowering young boys to challenge the pressures and expectations of hypermasculinity.
From a young age, boys are told to suppress their feelings and eliminate any “feminine” characteristics. They are consistently bombarded with messaging that extols hypermasculinity, both directly and subliminally, shaping their perception about what it means to truly “be a man.” Unfortunately, these societal pressures can have devastating consequences. Boys often feel acute embarrassment and shame, which can manifest itself as sexism and misogyny in society, aggression and violence towards women, or can even lead to suicide. Being a Boy Booklet begins to address the foundations of these societal pressures, encouraging young boys to question the meaning of what it means to “be a man.”
Design Brief and Ideation Process
The design brief started with a broad, open-ended question: How might we find new routes of access to affordable, better care for underserved populations in the United States?
This project initially started as narrowing this question to focus on sexual education—particularly around HPV and vaccinations. But as we began that initial research, we found that there was a much more salient issue in society concerning sexual education—particularly that of rape culture and sexual assault. We then transformed our initial question to: How might we empower adolescent boys to help fight sexual assault?
From there, we began to explore the current state of sexual education in the American school system through primary and secondary research. After initial conversations and research, our team came together to identify specific insights and tensions drawn from our interviews. Then, we worked collaboratively to produce over 50+ initial ideas around our transformed design question
Qualitative Interviews and Rapid Prototyping
Primary research included interviews with subject matter experts, including teachers at public and private schools in the Manhattan area, organization leaders, adolescent boys, and parents of young boys. Comprehensive secondary research was also conducted to supplement understanding of the current state of sexual education in America and the challenges in designing any sort of intervention.
After the creation of five sacrificial concepts, feedback was collected from subject matter experts. There were three additional rounds of prototyping, feedback, and iteration before the creation of the final prototype.
Creating the Being a Boy Booklet
When designing and creating content for the Being a Boy Booklet, we focused the activities on three key pillars.
01. ACTIVE PARTICIPATION
Boys would be encouraged to write, self-reflect, and share with others.
02. RESEARCH-INFORMED EXERCISES
All exercises were informed by developmental psychology, social psychology, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
03. REAL WORLD EXPERIENCES
In every section, boys are encouraged to apply their learnings in a “real world activity.”
Feedback from Boys and Teachers
After sharing our booklet prototype with several boys and teachers, we discovered boys were eager to talk about their feelings. Many of them shared that they had no space to do so—neither at home or at school. They also particularly enjoyed exercises in which expression of feeling was connected to a physical activity—especially those in which they had the opportunity to build or create. Favorite activites from the booklet included the creation of a paper airplane on which they anonymously shared their thoughts and a mask that allowed them to share the gap between their public and private identities.