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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Recruitment Genius: Software Tester

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Tester is required t...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Developer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The Company sells mobile video advertising sol...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have a vacancy within our ra...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - 1st Line Helpdesk - West London - £25,000

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - 1st Line Helpde...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project