We Are Men: Changing how young men think

Will talking about rape through songs and a Jackass-style video change how young men think? Joan Smith looks at a campaign aiming to find out

A young man tries to vault a parking meter and falls flat on his face. A streaker races towards a sports pitch and collides (painfully, one assumes) with a post. A cyclist shows off, lifting his front wheels in the air and careers into a ditch. The soundtrack fills with raucous male laughter, followed by good-natured catcalls when a young woman walks past a group of young men in a skate park. "I tell you what – she could do with a good raping," one of them remarks casually. Everyone falls silent. The man who's just made the crack about rape protests: "What, man? I'm joking."

Words appear on the screen, making the startling claim that every nine minutes a woman is raped in the UK.

"That's not who I am," says a male voice. "We are man. Are you?"

The short film is the brainchild of London advertising agency Kream, whose client list includes well-known names such as Nintendo, Lastminute.com and Bombardier beer.

It's the focal point of a hard-hitting new campaign which aims to get young people to think again about violence against girls and women, calling on schools and other educational establishments to get more involved.

Far from blaming boys, the people behind it acknowledge the pressure young men are under from their peers and the commercial sex industry and they're keen to get them to think in new ways about what it means to be men.

"We wanted to try and promote non-violent forms of masculinity and address issues around peer approval," says Somali Cerise, prevention programme manager at the umbrella organisation End Violence Against Women (EVAW).

"It's one of the factors leading to the perpetration of violence. There's very little community sanction. We wanted a short film to look at the role of the bystander – when one of the young men makes a joke about sexual violence, he gets a reaction from other men. We wanted to have a message that this is not what it means to be a man." EVAW cites a series of chilling statistics in support of its campaign. Surveys suggest that one in three girls aged 16 to 18 have experienced unwanted touching at school; that one in three teenage girls has experienced sexual violence from a partner; and that half of boys and one in three girls believe there are circumstances in which it is OK to hit a woman or force her to have sex. Cultural factors also expose teenagers to violence: it's estimated that more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation in this country, while forced marriage is an issue for girls and a smaller number of boys.

Against this background, EVAW is calling on the education secretary, Michael Gove, to ensure that violence-prevention strategies are a priority for schools.

It wants to see all teachers receive training on violence against girls and women and argues that the national curriculum should include sex education which discusses consent and healthy relationships. But the We Are Men film breaks new ground by trying to speak to young men in language with which they're familiar.

"It's a really hard project compared to an advert," says Lisa Green, a partner at Kream. "This is aimed at young men, what they're watching and how they watch it. We didn't want to make guys feel bad, that was the main point."

In fact, there's evidence that young men are already challenging commonly-held ideas about rape and domestic violence for themselves. Members of the punk band King Blues, who played at Glastonbury this weekend, attack stereotypes in the outspoken song called "Five Bottles of Shampoo". It starts with gender stereotypes as the lead singer Itch complains about a woman pushing in front of him at the checkout to buy five bottles of shampoo and goes on to make fun of both sexes: "I'll never understand women," the singer complains, while acknowledging that some women think "all men are all the same". But then the song becomes darker, about young men touching up girls in a club and calling them "slags" when they reject their advances: "You call her a slag when she don't accept your advances/You just show you got no respect for yourself/show you ain't got the balls to just talk to a girl."

What's so striking about King Blues is that some of their lyrics could have been composed by feminists back in the 1970s, especially when Itch drones "down with the dick-tatorship, that is so cock-sure/they use rape as a weapon of war". Yet Laura Craddock from Eaves, an organisation that campaigns to highlight the damage done to women and girls by prostitution and sex-trafficking, says young men taking part in a pilot prevention-project reacted so positively to the song that Eaves is hoping to work with Itch in future. "Young people know rape is wrong," agrees Susie McDonald, director of Tender, an organisation that uses drama to challenge teenagers' attitudes to sexual and domestic violence. "But they think it's about a stranger jumping out of a bush in the night. We explain it might involve a boyfriend or someone known to them. We also talk about why women stay in abusive relationships. Girls will say: 'If my boyfriend hit me I'd walk out' so we look at pressures on women to stay. Two women each week are killed by a partner or former partner and they know that when they leave, their lives are in danger."

Tender has worked in more than 100 schools across London since 2003. Like other organisations working in this area, it often has to deal with the tricky subject of disclosure. As the course progresses over 10 weeks, some girls and boys gradually realise that what's already happened to them – controlling behaviour, slapping and shaking, unwanted sex – is abusive.

"They've discussed it so they feel able to talk to workshop leaders," says McDonald. "They're able to identify what has happened to them as abusive behaviour."

This is one reason why the subject of rape has to be approached sensitively, says Michelle Barry, of the STAR Project in Southampton.

The project is run by Southampton Rape Crisis and goes into every school in the city.

"If we went into year 10 and said we're going to talk about rape, obviously we know it's going to be very real for some of the young people," she says. "We have to approach it in a user-friendly way and make it easy for young people to engage with the issues. Our starting point is healthy relationships: what you might look for in a partner, why someone might delay their first sexual experience, we talk about non-consensual sex."

Like Lisa Green from Kream, Barry is careful not to demonise young men.

"We're clear that young men can be victims," she says.

One of the chief aims of EVAW's new campaign is to get programmes like the STAR Project into schools and youth centres right across the UK – and that the We Are Men film will provide a lively starting point.

"What we're hearing so far is that it's a very powerful message," says Somali Cerise. "I watched the shoot and the actors were talking about the end of the film, where it says every nine minutes a woman in raped in Britain. It generated a lot of discussion and I heard one young man say: 'Now I know that, next time one of my friends makes a joke about rape I'm not going to put up with it'.

"We're hoping that the film will go viral."

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions