Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum, used in Washington’s high schools, has major blind spot

Republishing this article from Equality for Boys and Men

September 24, 2021 by Admin

If you can see it, you can be it. This concept is rightly employed to emphasize the importance of girls seeing women succeeding in a variety of roles, including ones not conventionally associated with women. The flip side of this concept similarly bears truth: If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

One role that many boys can’t see themselves in, thanks to the bias with which we educate them, is the role of victim of intimate partner violence (also called domestic violence). A textbook example of such miseducation is the Coaching Boys Into Men program, which is delivered by coaches of boys sports teams. Since its launch in 2008, thousands of coaches of high school boys have delivered this curriculum that fails in two ways:

  1. Coaching Boys Into Men reinforces stereotypes against boys while teaching them not to reinforce stereotypes against others, and – most importantly –
  2. With its focus on boys as potential abusers, Coaching Boys Into Men fails to teach boys how to recognize and prevent abuse against themselves.

Dating violence: 1 in 11 girls, 1 in 14 boys

If girls never abused their boyfriends, then the Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum would be acceptable as it is. However, surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control showed that approximately 1 in 11 female and 1 in 14 male high school students reported having experienced physical dating violence in the previous year. Furthermore:

  • The CDC found that among high schoolers who had experienced one or more instances of physical dating violence, the proportion of boys who experienced four or more instances in the previous year was double that of girls (41.6% vs 21.6%). In other words, girls were more likely to be serial offenders of physical dating violence [CDC, Table 3].
  • Similarly, among high schoolers who had experienced one or more instances of sexual dating violence, the proportion of boys who experienced four or more instances in the previous year was double that of girls (41% vs. 20.8%). In other words, girls were more likely to to be serial offenders of sexual dating violence [CDC, Table 3].
  • In addition, 26% of women and 15% of men who have ever been victims of sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced it before age 18 [CDC].

Knowing this, it is a mistake for high schools to implement programs like Coaching Boys Into Men that focus on preventing the victimization of one gender or another. Schools should instead educate teens about what unhealthy relationship behaviors look like. Then, regardless of gender, our youth will be better prepared to not abuse and not be abused.

Logo of the Coaching Boys Into Men program, by the Futures Without Violence organization
Coaching Boys Into Men logo

“Coaching Boys into Men is a comprehensive violence prevention curriculum that inspires athletic coaches to teach their young athletes that violence never equals strength and violence against women and girls is wrong. The program comes with strategies, scenarios, and resources needed to talk to boys, specifically, about healthy and respectful relationships, dating violence, sexual assault, and harassment.”

CBIM Evaluation One-Pager (Coaches Kit document #9)

Clear gender bias

Coaching Boys Into Men is a program of Futures Without Violence, a non-profit headquartered in San Francisco that works “to end violence against women, children, and families.”

We downloaded all 15 documents in the Coaches Kit and closely reviewed them. We offer two key findings:

  1. The curriculum teaches boys to see themselves as potential perpetrators but leaves them blind to the possibility that a girl could abuse them.
  2. The curriculum sends mixed messages about what its purpose is.

CBIM’s purpose is ambiguous

What is the purpose of Coaching Boys Into Men? In some places, the curriculum uses phrases to describe what it teaches that sound neutral and inclusive, e.g. “building healthy relationships,” “the importance of respect,” “violence prevention,” and “preventing teen relationship abuse.” However, the program also says repeatedly it is about about respecting women and girls, preventing violence against women and girls, ending violence against women and girls, and denouncing violence against women and girls.

The ambiguousness of Coaching Boys Into Men’s purpose becomes comprehensible only if one assumes that when the program says it is about “building respectful and non-violent relationships”, the people it has in mind who are fully deserving of respect and non-violence in heterosexual teen relationships are girls.

The curriculum’s focus occasionally strays away from behaviors and into ideology/politics. At one point it emphasizes boys’ responsibility “to listen and believe the experiences of women.” Elsewhere it talks about “promoting equality” and “promoting gender equity”. (We have previously expounded on the problem with the popular one-sided notion of gender equality.)

Two teenage boys in school, smiling
[Photo by Jeswin Thomas via Unsplash]

More evidence of gender bias

There is more evidence that this program, which is purportedly about preventing teen relationship abuse, fails to equip boys with information to avoid becoming victims.

When the Centers for Disease Control funded a three-year evaluation of the effectiveness of Coaching Boys Into Men, follow-up surveys after boys went through the program asked them whether they had perpetrated any of ten abusive behaviors toward a female partner. The surveys offered no opportunity for boys to report having been on the receiving end of abusive behaviors from a female partner. Imagine the 16-year-old boy whose girlfriend hits him, who – incentivized by a $10 gift card – takes the evaluation’s follow-up survey. He truthfully reports perpetrating no abuse, while never being asked about the abuse he is experiencing.

Glimmers of gender neutrality

On rare occasions, the curriculum strays from its predominant framing of boys as potential abusers and girls as potential victims. The following statistic, which acknowledges the existence of male victims, appears twice among the materials in the Coaches Kit:

1 in 3 teenagers reports knowing a friend or peer who has been physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend.

If the writers of Coaching Boys Into Men know that approximately 1 in 11 female and 1 in 14 male high school students reports having experienced dating violence, why do they make no effort to teach male high school students to recognize signs their girlfriend is abusing them?

The only other glimmer of gender neutrality is an occasion when the course materials say, “people…may even use violence to control their girlfriend or boyfriend.”

A quotation from the Coaching Boys Into men curriculum that includes the sentence, "They may even use violence to control their girlfriend or boyfriend, but it's never okay."
Snip from Coaches Kit document #1, CBIM Card Series

Remove the gender ideology, and get inclusive

The essence of the Coaching Boys Into Men program is this: Boys, do not hurt girls.

A curriculum that is concerned about the protection of our girls and boys would teach both girls and boys what relationship abuse looks like, with the goal that all youth, regardless of gender, would choose to take no part in relationship abuse – whether as perpetrator or victim.

Referring back to the beginning of this post, if boys and girls only ever see male airline pilots, how will they know that girls can become airline pilots? Similarly, if we only show adolescents male-perpetrated relationship abuse, how are boys to learn they can be victims, and how are girls to learn they can be abusers? Solving for half a problem is not a solution.


Screenshot from Team Up Washington's website showing their logo and a the word "Empowering our student athletes to be leaders in their school and beyond"
Team Up Washington promotes the use of the Coaching Boys Into Men

Team Up Washington, a program under the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, exists to promote the use of the Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum in Washington’s high schools.

Team Up Washington also promotes the Athletes as Leaders program, a curriculum for female high school athletes that we may write about separately.

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Equality for Boys and Men (EBM) advocates for the well-being and equal treatment of boys and men in Washington state. EBM’s philosophy is that equality must include girls, boys, women, and men, and this begins with a comprehensive look at what constitutes gender equality.