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Beat the Macho Campaign

When under peer pressure, boys often exhibit macho behaviour and do things they would rather not do. According to a study in the context of the Dutch campaign Beat the Macho, boys are very motivated to talk about masculinity and macho behaviour, but only under certain conditions.

Boys deserve (individual) attention

The evaluation of the campaign Beat the Macho offers tools for teachers and youth workers to provide information to groups of boys. Together with STI AIDS the Netherlands and Movisie, Rutgers carried out the campaign Beat the Macho in the Netherlands in 2015. The aim was to get boys between 12 and 18 years old to think about how they could be a man without showing macho behaviour. For adolescent boys, there is a lot of pressure to behave like a ‘real man’. This includes acting tough towards girls, acting indifferent about school performance and showing little respect for other people’s feelings. (Sexually) transgressive behaviour can be a threatening consequence.

It’s difficult to deviate from the norm

Marianne Cense, researcher/consultant at Rutgers, observed the boys during the workshops of Beat the Macho. “Here, situations arose in which, due to peer pressure, boys took things further than they wanted to with, for example, alcohol and substance abuse, crime and sexual behaviour, but also in sports, choice of clothes or expressing emotions. Boys are afraid to drop out of the group if they show any signs of gender non-conforming behaviour.

Getting boys to talk

For this reason, boys seem to be very eager to talk about masculinity and macho behaviour. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. There are two important factors to get boys to open up and be honest and vulnerable, namely a small group and a male supervisor who knows how to strike the right chord and who creates safety.

Comic, track and music video

In the campaign, the most recognisable experiences from the workshops were processed into short online comics with an open ending. Popular video bloggers challenged the boys to finish the comics on, the number one Dutch website for teenagers with reliable information on sexuality. The amount of responses was beyond expectations. Many boys showed how they dealt with situations in which it was difficult not to meet the macho standards. All this input was analysed and processed in the report.

To put the icing on the cake, two famous rappers, MC Fit and Adje, made a track of the most recognisable situations and solutions, titled 'Listen to yourself'. Boys were invited to upload a video clip to the chorus of the track. From all the entries, Mc Fit and Adje chose the best clips for the music video. This video can still be viewed online.

Lessons learned from the campaign

The campaign Beat the Macho resulted in insights into what does and does not work if you want boys to open up about masculinity and macho behaviour. Would you also like to talk to with boys about masculinity and macho behaviour? View the tips and tools here.

Gender transformative work means that, besides asking questions about gender norms, you also provide space for new, more positive forms of masculinity. Often, this side of the boys is already present, but is not shown easily. Often because the boys are not sure if this type of behaviour is socially accepted. For example, it can be seen as girly behaviour or because it can express weakness.

The manner in which the supervisors treat the boys is decisive.

Important elements are:

  • Humour
  • Being able to be vulnerable
  • Right tone, playfulness
  • Equality
  • Listening carefully to what the boys have to say

Male supervisors

Although good workshops have been conducted by a man and woman together, it seems that guidance by just a male supervisor is worth pursuing. This encourages the boys to speak feely and creates a safe place for them. Male supervisors can use examples of their own lives to stimulate openness. Furthermore, the mix of earnestness and humour that men often pursue, suits well with the boys.


Peer pressure among boys is an obstacle for the open exchange of experiences. This means that safety in the group is not always self-evident and can require a lot of effort from the supervisor. When the environment is unsafe, boys will start to get defensive to prevent coming across as weak. This results in bragging and showing macho behaviour. This is counterproductive, for the following reasons:

  • The macho norm will be verified
  • Weakness will be punished
  • Homosexuality will become a taboo

Small groups

It helps to have reasonably small groups (a maximum of 10 people), in which no clear hierarchy is already established (school classes, groups of friends). Furthermore, the supervisors need to be competent and clear and should not be afraid to intervene if rules are broken.

Action perspective

Finally, it is stimulating to work with a concrete action perspective (like setting up various scenarios and making a music video in our campaign), making clear promises on the general roles the boys can play.

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