In his thesis GENTLEmen: Challenging Adults to Raise Feminine Boys, Andrew Schlesinger explores gender identity, masculinity, stereotyping, parenting, education, and male culture. Andrew has been investigating the restrictive nature placed on men and the necessity for them to conform to a masculine ideal, which is destructive to themselves and those around them. Through the feminist movement, most would acknowledge there has been a significant approach towards teaching girls traditionally masculine traits. This thesis argues we need a similar, foundational shift to teach boys feminine traits. “Given all the forces against ‘feminine’ behavior in boys, we need to push the pendulum past the center,” says Andrew. He wishes to challenge influential adults in boys’ lives, and make them rethink the stereotypes they project onto boys and instead, encourage traditionally feminine traits.
From his research in the field, Andrew discovered that the common narrative of biological sex driving behavior differences between boys and girls has been largely debunked. In her most recent book—Testosterone Rex, Dr. Cordelia Fine uses contemporary scientific research to disprove the myth that testosterone levels in men drive sexual desire and prowess. Additionally, renowned gender theorist Judith Butler helps us realize that gender is in fact just a performance—a societal expectation that is flexible to change. Given these two principles, we can acknowledge that the traits and characteristics we’ve assigned to gender are adaptable and subject to change based on society’s structures and teachings.
Boy Scout Badges
Boy Scout Badges is a suite of boy scout merit badges that promotes and values traditionally feminine activities, laid out by likelihood of acceptability in today’s society. This product aims to address the following question—what if boys valued feminine activities as much as masculine ones?
Bathroom Signs were designed in response to the question of whether color defines gender. The set of signs flips the traditional color palette, and assigns blue for girls and pink for boys.
Pledge of Emotions
Pledge of Emotions is a web service that is designed in an effort to help teachers encourage emotional expression. It structures a morning routine for teachers to perform with their students, where students act out and learn the full range of emotions.
Spectra is a product design initiative to develop physical tools that promote gender-inclusiveness and gender neutrality in an early childhood (pre-kindergarten) classroom environment. Andrew developed this initiative with fellow classmate Alexia Cohen.
Campaigns is a series of advertisement concepts that leverage well known brands as vehicles to project the message and point of view of this thesis into the world. Three primary messages were portrayed in the campaigns—1) break deep-seated masculine stereotypes, 2) question our implicit notions, and 3) establish a new masculine ideal.
BabyGym is a piece of critical product design that illustrates a hyper-masculine concept for fathers to spend time with their newborns by using the baby as weight during intense lifting exercises. BabyGym aims to provoke a meaningful discussion on what it means to be a father today, and ask why it is not “normal” for dads to engage in caring and nurturing activities with their child.
FamJam is an event that brings together prospective and current fathers to bond over the challenges of fatherhood and the difficulties in creating a relationship with their child. Because men are often not provided the appropriate and respected emotional space to discuss the transformation associated with becoming a father, FamJam helped create it for them.
To learn more about Andrew Schlesinger and his work, please visit his website at www.andrewschlesinger.com.