Redefining masculinity in schools

What does it mean to be a man in today’s society? Haseeb Riaz and Gareth Shantikumar, founders of MAN UP, are challenging the traditional ideas of masculinity, and empowering young men to express emotions and embody ideals of individuality.

MAN UP is a not-for-profit social enterprise that provides information and workshops for young men in WA about masculinity, and how to embrace the idea of being a modern man.

Mr Riaz and Mr Shantikumar both felt the need for change from reflecting on their personal experiences and behaviours with traditional masculine ideals.

Mr Shantikumar said: “It was a mixture of things happening externally and internally. I felt lost and couldn’t express my emotions. I would always bottle in what I was feeling.”

MAN UP founders Haseeb Riaz and Gareth Shantikumar and challenging preconceptions. Photo: Supplied.

Life in Mind is a network of suicide prevention services in Australia. According to its figures, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for males in Australia, while the rate of suicide is three times greater in men than in women.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018 figures show males also account for 75 per-cent of all suicide deaths in Australia.

The MAN UP workshops follow a framework of three main concepts: culture, relationships, and coping.

They address issues such as toxic behaviour, relationships with family (as well as romantic relationships), and how to identify problems and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Mr Riaz said the workshops are unique because they create an intimate setting, away from teachers, giving boys a safe space to speak.

He said while having masculine traits in itself is not a bad thing, it becomes a problem when a man feels like he must be that way all the time.

“Anything outside their vision of normal is considered weird or rejected or is absolutely pushed into the ground. That’s why there’s such a conformative culture.”

Mr Shantikumar said: “I think the biggest problem facing men today is the idea that to be a man, there’s only one fixed way.”

He said one of the biggest challenges they had faced was discrimination and hate from peers when they started the project.

“It’s not that they don’t agree with it, but they feel quite triggered when we say stuff that gets you to question your own identity.”

While the workshops are currently run in all-boy schools, they plan to develop workshops for co-ed schools.

In the future MAN UP hopes to create a ripple effect that reaches as many schools and people as they can.

“We want the change to continue without us, where we can have boys talk about this sort of thing normally,” said Mr Shantikumar.

“To be a good man is to be a good human.”