Man box

An American organisation called ‘A Call to Men’ used the term ‘man box’ to describe the way that men are often socialised into a box. This activity looks at what it is that puts men inside the box and how to get out of it.

What you will need

You will need...

Timing: 30mins

  • A large empty box, preferably one without too much writing on it
  • Marker pens
  • Paper


Start by...

Ask the group who is ‘man’ enough to go into the box. On the outside of the box invite the group to use marker pens to write down all of the things that they think keep men in a box.

Invite members to read out to the person in the box what they have written on the outside. Ask the person in the box if they relate to any of these things.

Here are some prompts:

  • not expressing your emotions
  • not showing weakness
  • being powerful and in control
  • viewing women as objects/property
  • being fit and sporty
  • don't need help to make decisions

Middle bit...

Now give each member a sheet of paper and ask them to write down one thing that they think will help the person inside to break out of the 'man box' (without using any physical force). Remember the box is a metaphor, we're not trying to escape from a real box, but the box we can't see that has a negative effect.

One by one ask each person to read out their suggestion and tape it onto the box.

Ask the person inside the box, which of the suggestions they would be willing to try first. In what way would group members be able to help our 'man in the box' break out of the box without using any force or aggression.

Working together, everyone should pick a safe part of the man's body and with his consent, count to three and quickly lift him out of the box and gently place him down.

End by...

Have a look at the 12 healthy steps to manhood [see the download]. As a group or in smaller groups draw an image of the kind of world we would have if everyone followed these steps.

Summarise by asking each group member which step they think they might try out for themselves. If you want to and have time, you can show the video from Kevin Powell and Tony Porter (A Call to Men) on decoding the man box.

If you have young women, or non-binary group members it's important to tease out their perceptions of masculinity. For example, most violence against women is committed by men. Women that get involved in knife crime often say that they are trying to behave like males, to act tough and protect themselves from abuse by men. Mothers and females in families and communities often reinforce the stereotypes that keep people in the 'man box'. We all need to work together to tackle these issues.

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