Challenging Dogma - Spring 2008

...Using social sciences to improve the practice of public health

Monday, April 21, 2008

“ Coaching Boys into Men:” Failure to Hit a Homerun- Maegan Berliner

A culture that celebrates anger, hostility, violence, and domination, as reflected in its video games, television, movies and music, the U.S. can be classified as a rape-prone culture (2). According to a survey conducted for The Advertising Council and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the number of Americans who know someone who has been abused by a male spouse or partner within the past year reaches upwards of thirty percent. (6) Therefore, it is important to create a public health campaign that treats domestic violence as a serious issue, but also as an issue that can be worked on with successful outcomes. In 1999 alone the New York State Division of Criminal Justice and Services tended to 55,558 documented incidences of family domestic abuse from an adult intimate partner. In 84% of these cases, the victim was a female (8), with evidence that females are victimized at a rate five times that of their male counterparts. (1) In 1985, Koop, the surgeon general at the time called domestic violence the largest, most pressing health issue of the decade (2). Presently, the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence runs a campaign titled “Coaching Boys into Men” originally started by the Family Violence Prevention Fund (5). The campaign is slated to run for one year throughout New York State (9). However, the “Coaching Boys into Men” print advertisement campaign in New York State targets male youths, not male role-models (the intended audience), assumes that social cognitive theory, an individual level behavior change model is effective, and fails to use culture as a context for understanding the concept of respect from an anthropologic perspective.

“Coaching Boys into Men” Fails to Target its Intended Audience and Promote Self-Efficacy in both Men and Boys

A campaign designed to “engage men as partners in the fight against domestic violence” (9), ‘Coaching Boys into Men’ fails to effectively identify a concrete outcome and in doing so does not reach its target audience: male role models. In the official press release for New York state Assistant Secretary O’Donnell, commissioner of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services is quoted as saying “The beauty of this campaign is that it is proactive and preventive. By empowering the boys of today – the men of tomorrow – it is our hope that we can change attitudes and change the collective consciousness of our communities.” (10). He speaks about empowering boys, but misses the key point that first men need to feel empowered in order to then influence and empower male youths. As reflected in the over eagerness to address the public health concern of domestic violence, the print advertisement of this campaign does not target men, but instead focuses on male youths in a scolding, disrespectful tone, alienates male figures by creating a hostile depiction of “their” male youth, and fails to include men in the advertisements themselves.

Although the campaign has rooted intentions of reaching adults, it chooses to target male youths in its print ads. Aside from the fact that the posters and billboards completely miss their mark, the language used is harsh and scolding in tone and manner. The advertisement directed toward males youths places “respect” on a laundry list of things to do (probably things the youth has failed to do at some point in the past), which sends the message that he has already done something wrong. The “awaiting instructions” logo sends kids the message that they cannot think for themselves and therefore they are irresponsible and unable to do the listed task “respect women” This poster takes away their self-efficacy and hurts their self-esteem. Self-efficacy is the internal personal belief that a person is able to do something (4). Without the belief that a person “can do” something, it is unlikely that they will perform that behavior. As well as stripping young boys of their self-efficacy, the poster also sends them the message that they are unable to think for themselves, they are “awaiting instructions” In addition to the harsh language used toward youths, the same message is being sent to parents, however, in a visual manner. The advertisement sends the message “you have already failed” to the male role models. The youth in the poster is wearing an orange sweatshirt, baggy pants and a dumbfounded look on his face, all representations reminiscent of an inmate who has been convicted. The campaign wants the male role model to feel empowered and inspired to teach a male youth to respect women, however, this campaign sends the same message “ you can’t” to the mentors as well as the male youths.

Intended to target men, as supported by the national website for the campaign, the website lists what it expects from men and gives them suggestions such as “Teach Early, Be There, Listen, Tell him how, Bring it up, Be a role model and Teach Often” (5). Next to each suggestion, there is a paragraph about ways to be a role model to male youths. However, the message is not echoed on the posters and billboards. The most striking physical depiction in the print advertisement campaign is the absence of adult men. The absence of men in the print advertisement leads to a lessened sense of self-efficacy and self-control (4). If this campaign is targeting men, they should see themselves reflected in the campaign. Just as the depiction of the youth in the advertisement sends the message “you have failed” the absence of a male in the campaign removes the audience from the campaign. If the person sending the message is not included in the campaign, the intended audience will not connect. The “source”, according to McGuire’s Communication Persuasion Matrix (11) is most effective when it is a peer or a member of the audience itself, in this case a male role model. Along with alienating its target group, the campaign does not give the male role models a clue about how to talk to their sons and mentees about respect and women. In its poor attempt to empower male role models, the campaign not only misses the male role model population by focusing on the male youth and sending a negative message to both the male role models and mentees, the campaign assumes that the Social Cognitive model of behavior change is effective.

“Coaching Boys into Men” assumes Social Cognitive Theory is an Effective Health Behavior Change Model

The base of this campaign assumes that if you talk to your son about respecting women, he will respect women. However, the campaign expects that he will learn from the social modeling of the men in his life, essentially Social Cognitive Theory, a behavior model which focuses on the immediate environment as a factor in behavior change (4). Developed by Bandura in the 1960s, Social Cognitive Theory combines individual and environmental factors to bring about behavior change. In theory this sounds like a very manageable behavior change model, however, it relies strongly on individual characteristics such capability, an individual’s amount of knowledge and ability to a behavior, expectations, an individuals perception of what will happen if he does the behavior change, emotional coping, an individuals capacity to manage emotions associated with the behavior, and self-control, how much control a person has to make a behavior change (4). The campaign is a negative campaign that assumes men have capability, positive expectations, emotional coping and self-control.

In accordance with Social Cognitive Theory, the campaign assumes the “alleged” male role models being targeted know how to communicate effectively with their youth as well as know the information that they are expected to share. There is a lack of behavioral capability where the male role models are concerned. The posters and billboards give no concrete information about domestic violence or ways in which to talk to male youths about domestic violence. We have to ask ourselves why youths are not being “instructed” to respect women. It is possible that men do not know what to say or how to say it? The campaign tries to get the message out to men that they are responsible for teaching those who look up to them, but shouts at them to get it done without any resources and/or tools for making a behavior change. The model expects male youths to model their behavior based on the behaviors of the men they look up to but assumes the men they model know how to act and know what to say.

Along with capability, the Social Cognitive Theory makes the assumption that men will believe that modeling respect for women to their sons or male youth that it will have a positive impact on them. This characteristic along with the other characteristics are individual characteristics and expect that men with think rationally about the decisions they make. However, the campaign hopes that men will care about domestic violence and believe that their actions will have positive outcomes. The failure of this campaign is that it does not even reach out to men and as mentioned earlier, sends them the message that the outcome of their efforts has already failed illustrated by the male youth dressed ready for jail.

In addition to behavioral capability and positive expectation, self-control, may also play a large part in the issue. Violence is a sensitive subject and males may not know how to respect a woman because he himself was never taught or models his own behavior after a male in his own life. The campaign does not take into account the cycle of violence and how the abused may be more inclined to become abusers and has little self-control to change the ingrained behavior he has modeled throughout his life.

All these individual characteristics in the Social Learning Theory detract from an individual’s self-efficacy and the success of this campaign. The campaign leaves respect as a blanket statement and does not unfold to include specifics that could educate a male role model as to what constitutes respect and how to communicate those ideas and values to a boy who looks up to them. The “Coaching Boys into Men” campaign not only swings and misses the ball on the fight against domestic violence, the campaign ignores the context of the campaign, refusing to look at culture and anthropology for historical meanings of respect and ways in which to communicate across and within communities.

“Coaching Boys into Men” Lacks Diversity and Fails to use Culture as a Context for Understanding Respect

The “Coaching Boys into Men” campaign has just recently updated its nation- wide campaign to include posters that target diverse communities. This particular New York State campaign, however, does not include posters for any of those communities. The campaign includes a “white” male youth. Advertised throughout New York State from Brooklyn to Buffalo, this campaign while marketing to the majority for New York State as a whole with 74% white population, completely misses its audience in such areas as the Bronx which includes a population 35.6% Black and 48.4 % Latino/Hispanic, the largest percentage of non-whites in all of NYC (12). Almost as equally diverse with only little under half the population non-white, Manhattan and Brooklyn include high percentages of minority groups as well. However, a factor that could be even more predictive of campaign success: the proportion of people who are foreign born comprise nearly 30% of the population (12). While the actual campaign demographics may cater to New York State as a whole, failure to break down regions by demographic audience does a disservice to the campaign message and may even fail to target those audiences who need the information. Diversity and culture play an important role when trying to get out a health message to diverse communities while talking about terms such as respect.

Culture is a term used by anthropologists to add context to a situation. According to anthropologist E. B. Taylor, culture: is that complex whole that includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society (4). As such, we are unable to view behavior without looking at the context of that culture, in our case looking at the idea of respect and domestic violence within culture. The campaign fails to define respect and domestic violence and fails to aim the intervention at decreasing domestic violence in cultural groups and subgroups, further separating the audience from the message.

The Coaching Boys into Men equates the abstract concept of respect, with concrete actions such as eating vegetables and doing homework, essentially saying that not respecting women is only as bad as not eating vegetables and not doing homework. The abstract concept of respect needs to have concrete examples in order to have meaning. This campaign’s goal is to encourage male role models to speak to their sons and male youths about respecting women, but does not define what they want the men to speak about. Taken from a cultural perspective, what constitutes disrespect and domestic violence differs greatly between and within cultures. For all intents of this campaign, definition of disrespect toward women could mean calling a woman names to threatening and exploiting a woman to beating and physically abusing a woman. It is not clear from the campaign what they expect. What domestic violence means to an “American” does not automatically mean the same thing to someone who is from another country and shares a different culturally historic definition of domestic violence. For example in the Middle East and in Asia, women are killed for honor and genital mutilations continue in Africa for custom (6).

In conjunction with the definitions of “what” constitutes domestic violence and disrespect it is important to look at the language used when discussing the issue. For example in Ghana, domestic violence means child abuse and wife beating is called “discipline”, in Japan domestic violence could mean the mother-in law’s treatment of the wife, and in Russia domestic violence is referred to as home violence (6). In some cultures, the concept of domestic violence does not exist! Going back to the statistics of the demographic make-up of New York State and New York City, this campaign clearly fails to think about its audience and target the campaign to reflect cultural values and definitions of the concepts of respect and domestic violence by lack of definition and language used.

In addition to what respect means and how it is defined, it is also important to look at who is being targeted. Research for campaigns may include demographics, however, targeting to a specific group can lead to lumping groups and missing subgroups with distinct cultural factors for a public health campaign (6). The campaign “Coaching Boys into Men” targets (although not well) only American white men. The premise of the entire campaign, not just the print campaign revolves around sports and coaching baseball, an American sport. In addition to looking at which men are being targeted, women play a large role in who a public health campaign targets as well. The ways in which a woman views herself in accordance to cultural history also plays a tremendous part in the rate that domestic violence is reported because traditionally it is normal for the woman to accept her role as part of a greater cultural context. Integral to culture are beliefs such as religion, language and social networks, which works to preserve tradition (6).


Coaching Boys into Men may be a good agenda setting campaign to get domestic violence into the public consciousness but as an intervention campaign it fails to hit a homerun. The campaign does not campaign to its intended audience: men, but instead sends out a negative message to male youths to respect women. The campaign explicitly wants men to become role models to male youths. The campaign also assumes that Social Learning Theory is an effective behavior change model, that men are able to model correct behaviors without any information or support. Lastly the campaign does not target its campaign to diverse communities and fails to define respect and take into consideration culture as a factor in how respect is defined and expressed.


1. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Intimate Partner Violence, May 2000,

2. Chrisler, Joan C., Sheila Ferguson. Violence against Women as a Public Health Issue. 
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2006; 1087 :235–249

3. Coalition of Fathers and Families, The

4. Edberg, Mark. Essentials of Health Behavior: Social and Behavioral Theory in Public Health. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2007

5. Family Violence Prevention Fund. The Facts on Domestic Violence.

Family Violence Prevention Fund.

6. Fernandez, Madeline. Cultural Beliefs and Domestic Violence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2006: 1087:250-260

7. Lieberman Research Inc., Tracking Survey

The Advertising Council and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1996

8. NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services. Crime & Justice Annual Report, 1999

9. Office of the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Coaching Boys into Men. New York State: Office of the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

10. Office of the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Press Release. New York State

Office of the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

11. Siegel, M. Lecture . March, 2008

12. State Census Bureau. State and County Quick Facts. New York:

State Census Bureau

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home