File | Becoming a man (3 articles)

Boys are expected to be different from their elders: more open, more sensitive, more respectful and better able to express their emotions. Are we sufficiently supporting their transformation?

A few years ago, Philippe Roy, professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Sherbrooke, walked the aisles of a toy store. What caught his attention was not that the dolls and trucks were classified according to a still very stereotypical model, but the messages addressed to girls and boys.

“On the girls’ side, there was a Barbie banner that told girls that they can be whatever they want: soccer player, judge, firefighter,” he says. On the boys’ side, what do you think we were saying? Nothing. There was nothing. »

The anecdote reveals a lack, according to this specialist in issues of masculinity.

We encourage girls to break out of the stereotype and we say nothing to boys during this time.

Philippe Roy, professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Sherbrooke

So what do the boys do? They take the models they find, particularly in the media environment.

However, on social networks, there has been a resurgence of misogynistic discourse and in popular culture – music, TV, cinema, video games, etc. –, the dominant model remains that of the muscular man, quicker to action than to introspection. This model “locks boys up” and puts them at risk, underlines Philippe Roy. The available studies all point in the same direction: the more men adhere to the traditional masculine model, the less well they do.

Social norms still place men, and by extension boys and teenagers, in a dilemma, summarizes the researcher. If they rigidly adhere to the traditional male model, they risk problems with depression, suicidal ideation and toxic relationships with women. If they go in the opposite direction and strongly resist this model, they run the risk of being stigmatized and ostracized by other men.

This reflex to exclude boys who step off the path of traditional masculinity begins very early. In the documentary The Mask You Live Inwhich is interested in male socialization, a speaker states that at around 5 years old, all boys will point to another if they are asked who is “moumoune” (sissyin English) in their group.

Gilles Tremblay, retired professor from the School of Social Work at Laval University, says that at the same age, one of his grandsons made people laugh at him the day he arrived with a box pink lunch in kindergarten. Of course he didn’t want to use it anymore. “What would we have said if a girl showed up with a blue lunch box?” he asks. Nothing. She wouldn’t have been told she had a boy’s lunch box. »

Develop positive masculinity

Orlando Ceide and Jean Wedne Collin, speakers at Maison d’Haïti in Montreal, are leading a very rare program aimed at preteens and teens aimed precisely at deconstructing this narrow and stereotypical vision of masculinity. The initiative is simply called “Projet Gars” and offers a discussion space for boys aged 10 to 17 who frequent this community center in the Saint-Michel district. “Here, they know that they can say anything and that they will not be judged,” explains Orlando Ceide. The principle is: what is said here stays here. »


Jean Wedne Collin and Orlando Ceide, speakers at the Maison d’Haïti.

Around the table, the boys are encouraged to express themselves as they wish. “Afterwards, if it needs to be reframed, questioned or reformulated, we do it, but the floor is freed,” specifies Jean Wedne Collin. They don’t find this freedom to ask questions and say what they feel elsewhere.

The list of topics of interest to boys, written on a large sheet placed on the table in front of the speakers, confirms the intimate scope of the possible discussions at the Guys Project. Alongside words like “ADHD”, “religion”, “right to liberty” and “autism”, there are several other themes associated with romantic relationships and sexuality. “In individual meetings or in small groups, they are capable of opening up if they have confidence,” assures Jean Wedne Collin.

He and Orlando Ceide also note that if the Maison d’Haïti is a safe space for these boys, they are well aware that the rules of the game change when they are at school or in the park, where the pressure of conforming is strong. By seeking to unravel the stereotypes of so-called toxic masculinity, the Guy Project nevertheless aims to reduce the gap between what boys are inside themselves and what they dare to display on the outside.

Between diversity and stereotype

There are few positive initiatives like that of the Maison d’Haïti in Quebec, and perhaps no others, according to Philippe Roy. However, many teenagers and boys today might find something to suit them. “Our young boys are much more open to expressing emotions than the older generations,” says Gilles Tremblay.

The researcher, now head of the Center of Expertise and Research in Men’s Health and Well-being, believes that today’s guys have access to a greater diversity of models. Displays of physical affection in male friendships would be more common and the presence of gay couples is common in many environments, he says for example. “We have a lot of young people who are doing well,” adds the researcher, “and who are developing other models of masculinity. »

The affirmation of a masculine identity outside the norm “requires taking a personal approach”, he specifies, however, which does not go without saying since guys “have always been used to looking for ready-made models “.


Gilles Tremblay, retired professor from the School of Social Work at Laval University

What role models do we have for boys in cartoons or video games? Not many tender and attentive boys. Fortunately, fathers are now much more present and offer another option.

Gilles Tremblay, retired professor from the School of Social Work at Laval University

There is still a way to go in terms of male socialization, starting with the family sphere. Parents, even well-intentioned ones, perpetuate certain stereotypes. We still promote attachment in girls and autonomy in boys, notes Gilles Tremblay, which encourages the latter to seek validation of who they are in their environment, friends or available media models.

Philippe Roy, for his part, mentions a study showing that parents react to behaviors deemed “gender non-conforming” precisely according to the gender of their child. “Parents are more uncomfortable when it’s a boy who behaves in ways that are deemed gender non-conforming. This discomfort is also greater when the parent is a dad,” he summarizes. In short, the path leading to masculinity remains “very narrow” for boys.

“There are people who say that with the stories of gender diversity, guys no longer know how to be men. Studies say that, on the contrary, when the social context allows for greater diversity in the expression of masculinity, men are less at risk. They no longer need to prove to themselves that they are men to the point of harming themselves, underlines Philippe Roy. Telling guys that they can be inspired by whoever they want is also part of diversity. »


Leave a Comment