Federal Study Seeks ‘Gender Norms Change’

CDC study ‘challenging rigid masculinity norms about what it means to be a man’

October 23, 2015

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is spending nearly $1 million on a study that seeks to change gender norms to prevent sexual assault, teaching young men to resist "rigid masculinity."

The project seeks to produce "healthy masculinities" in young black males in Pittsburgh, using a curriculum called "Manhood 2.0." The curriculum involves "identifying examples of policing gender and sexuality" and teaches young men that masculinity is not about physical strength.

Elizabeth Miller, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh who is leading the study, said it is her "dream project." Miller provided a fact sheet on her study, which details its goals of "gender norms change."

"This study will provide urgently needed information about the effectiveness of a gender transformative program that combines healthy sexuality skills, gender norms change, and bystander skills to interrupt peers' disrespectful and harmful behaviors to reduce SV/ARA [sexual violence and adolescent relationship abuse] perpetration among adolescent males," the summary stated.

The study is enrolling 900 teenagers in 14 community centers in Pittsburgh into its "Manhood 2.0 curriculum" or a job skills program, to see which program is better at changing attitudes about sexual assault.

"Manhood 2.0 curriculum will encourage discussions about being a man using arts-based approaches and other interactive strategies, conversations and role play around healthy sexual relationships, and youth as social change agents," the fact sheet said.

In an email, Miller further detailed what "gender transformative programming" means.

"‘Gender transformative programming’ involves identifying and challenging rigid masculinity norms about what it means to be a man, identifying examples of policing gender and sexuality (through media messages), and envisioning different ways of expressing one's masculinity (that does not involve physical strength, use of violence, sexual conquest)," she said.

Miller said the curriculum is 18 hours long and is based on work done by global health organizations in Brazil, Ethiopia, and India.

"We add to this gender transformative programming discussions of healthy sexuality, comprehensive sexual health education including educating young men about female-controlled contraception and how they can be a supportive partner in pregnancy prevention, and sexual violence prevention (discussions of the harmful influences of porn, sexual consent, bystander behaviors)," she said.

The goal of the project is to increase bystander intervention to prevent sexual assaults. The study also hopes for increased condom use, "increased gender-equitable attitudes," and "increased intentions to intervene with peers," according to the fact sheet.

"At the end of the study, [nine] months after the intervention, we are expecting that participants will report less violence perpetration toward females," the fact sheet stated.

The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control first awarded a grant for the project to the University of Pittsburgh last year. The study has cost $899,364 thus far, and its budget will not expire until September 2016.