Man Box


  • This exercise appears in many books by Paul Kivel such as Helping Teens Stop Violence or Men's Work.
  • We draw a box or boxes on "the board" (chalk board, post-it pad, whatever) and write Woman over one/Man over the other (you can draw/complete one box at a time or both boxes...filling each in one at a time; allowing both to be present on the board together creates a great effect). I usually begin with the Woman Box. Ask the audience what messages women receive about what a "Woman" should be. What keeps people (women/men) in "the box"? Answers such as: nurturing, soft, weak, emotional, not good at sports, dependent on a man or caretaker for the man or family, sexual, but not too sexual, etc. usually surface. Once this box is quite full, ask what women are called when they are not these things or when they are the opposite of these things; when they step out of the box (These are written on the outside of the box around the sides)? For example, what is a woman called when she is empowered (bitch), what is a woman called when she is athletic (dyke), what is a woman called if she is overtly sexual or promiscuous (slut, whore). I am sure that you get the idea. Now do the same process with the Man Box. Responses that usually surface are: strong, provider, athletic or good at sports, not emotional/don't talk about feelings, don't cry, sexual prowess, okay to be promiscuous/sign of manhood, protector for women and children. Now ask what a man is called when he is not these things (Write answers same as above, on the outside of box)? Answers often look like: fag, queer, gay, girlie, pussie, momma's boy, etc. Some of the keys points that should come out of this follow. Society links sexuality, personal/gender identity with being either in or out of "the box". Women are called dykes; men are called fags. Men are seen as stronger, more dominant, providers/possessors....define double-bind messages and sexual roles for both....and women are seen as soft, dependent, property, caretakers......STILL! No matter how much we would like to think otherwise. These "boxes" are the roots of oppression, sexism (all kinds of 'isms), homophobia, power & control, abuse, and violence and keep hierarchal and patriarchal societies and systems in place. (Melanie Cleary)
    • This is a powerful exercise. I have used it with middle/high school students, college students, adult audiences, and at our state mandated Peer Crisis Intervention Training for DV/SA/CA. (Melanie Cleary)