Masculinities (Middle School)

Authors: Jess Karan, Michaela Warady
Subject: Social Science
Topic:  Integrated
Grade Levels: Middle School: 5th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade


This lesson is meant to be integrated into the Sex Ed curriculum. This lesson is not to replace anything in currently adopted health curriculum such as Positive Prevention Plus, rather it is meant to supplement the curriculum. This lesson seeks to address the various definitions of masculinity, particularly in an American context, with the goal of expanding the students’ definitions to include “nontraditional” masculinities. Further, students will be asked to look inwards and see what type of masculinity they identify with, if any.

Time: 55 minutes

Lesson Plan Resources:

Lesson Plan PDF

Masculinities (MS) Slideshow

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Be able to describe and define “traditional” American masculinity, and recognize how this masculinity can be harmful to people of all gender identities
  • Understand how “traditional” American masculinity impacts ourselves and our relationships
  • Be exposed to different types of “nontraditional” masculinity
  • Expand their previous definitions of masculinity outside of what is “traditional”

Essential Questions:

  1. How does American society traditionally expect men to behave, act, and self-express?
  2. How can we contribute towards building a culture of healthy masculinity?
  3. What does healthy masculinity look like? 
  4. What diversity exists within masculinity?


  • 5.1.6.G (Health Education)
    • Recognize that there are individual differences in growth and development, physical appearance, and gender roles.
  • 5.2.1.G (Health Education)
    • Explain how culture, media, and other factors influence perceptions about body image, gender roles, and attractiveness.
  • 7-8.1.5.M (Health Education)
    • Recognize diversity among people, including disability, gender, race, sexual orientation, and body size.
  • 7-8.1.8.G (Health Education)
    • Recognize that there are individual differences in growth and development, physical appearance, gender roles, and sexual orientation.
  • 7-8.2.2.G (Health Education)
    • Evaluate how culture, media, and other people influence our perceptions of body image, gender roles, sexuality, attractiveness, relationships, and sexual orientation.
  • 7-8.4.4.G (Health Education)
    • Analyze the benefits of respecting individual differences in growth and development, physical appearance, gender roles, and sexual orientation.


Masculinity: A set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with and often ascribed to boys and men. A socially constructed notion posed in opposition to femininity. 

Femininity: A set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with and often ascribed to girls and women. A socially constructed notion posed in opposition to masculinity.

Gender: A socially constructed identity category; though typically defined as “woman” or “man,” there are many genders outside of this binary, particularly in non-Western cultures. Gender can be related to sex assigned at birth (if someone assigned male at birth identifies as a man, he is cisgender), or it can be unrelated (if someone assigned female at birth identifies as a man, he is transgender). Gender is often shaped by gender roles and notions of masculinity and femininity.

Sex assigned at birth: A biological category dictated by chromosomes, hormones, and sexual anatomy. A person can be assigned “female” at birth, “male” at birth, or sometimes “intersex.”

Intersex: Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

Gender expression: How we show our gender to the world.

Gender roles: A social role encompassing a variety of behaviors that are generally considered acceptable, expected, or desirable for a person based on their perceived gender.

Gender stereotypes: A commonly, culturally held belief (often incorrect or overly generalized) about a specific gender.

Toxic masculinity: The expectation for masculine people to adhere to traditional, cultural masculine norms, particularly those that devalue emotion and prioritize strength and stoicism. Masculine people who choose to adhere to these norms in a way that harms others can be considered “toxically masculine,” and anyone who projects these norms onto masculine people who do not wish to conform to these norms is perpetuating toxic masculinity.

Teacher Background:

The teacher should be familiar with what gender roles, gender stereotypes, and toxic masculinity are. The teacher should have a fundamental understanding of the differences between sex assigned at birth, gender, and gender expression. The teacher should read this article about gender-expansiveness & gender diversity in the classroom, and familiarize themselves with the terms.


  • Whiteboard & marker
  • Paper, writing utensils
  • Printed images (preferably in color) from this slideshow, tape to adhere them to walls/whiteboards


  • Introduction (10 minutes)
    • On a whiteboard, write down the phrase “Be a man.” Have students turn to a partner to discuss what they think the phrase means. 
    • Come back together as a group, and ask each pair of students to share out what “be a man” means to them.
    • Guide the discussion with questions, and write student responses on the board:
      • How have you heard this phrase used before? 
      • Who gets told this phrase, and by who?
      • What do people generally mean when they say “be a man”? 
      • Why do people use this phrase?
  • Defining & Redefining Masculinity (35 minutes)
    • Defining masculinity (10 minutes)
      • Ask students to collectively brainstorm a definition for the word “masculinity” in an American context. Write the definition that the class comes up with on the board.
        1. Refer back to the previous discussion—what does it mean to “be a man” in America today?
        2. When we think of a “masculine” person, what do they look like? Sound like? Act like?
        3. Does it feel like there is a “right” way to be masculine?
    • Images of masculinity (15 minutes)
      • Adhere images (preferably all slides) from this gallery around the classroom and have students quietly move around to look at them. Be sure to note that this is by no means an exhaustive gallery of images of masculinity. Number the images (so students can refer back to them).
      • Have students write on a piece of paper one adjective that comes to mind for each of as many of the photos as possible.
      • In the last 5 minutes, have students stand by the photo that they feel they most identify with. Ask for volunteers to share out from where they stand about why they chose the image they chose.
    • Redefining masculinity (10 minutes)
      • Have students return to their seats.
      • Work together as a class to create a new definition for the word “masculinity” that is more expansive than the original definition. (Multiple definitions are welcome, to emphasize the fact that there is not one single “correct” way of being masculine.)
        1. Ask: does this definition include all of the masculine people we saw in the slideshow?
        2. Encourage students to refer to the adjectives they wrote down describing the photos to inform their thoughts.
      • Don’t erase the initial definition, but instead write the new definition below/beside it.
  • Conclusion (10 minutes)
    • Have students write a journal entry style reflection on the lesson from today
    • Questions to reflect on: 
      • What are the differences between the two definitions we generated? How do you think definitions impact how we understand and relate with masculinity?
      • How does the way we define masculinity limit those who are expected to be masculine? How does expanding the definition allow for more people to relate to the term?
      • What is your definition of masculinity? How do you relate to it?
      • What photos particularly stood out to you? Why?
      • After today’s lesson, what do you now think it means to “be a man”?

Relevant Resources:

“11.1 Understanding Sex and Gender.” Sociology, University of Minnesota, n.d.

“11.5 The Benefits and Costs of Being Male.” Sociology, University of Minnesota, n.d.

Gilpin, Caroline Crosson, and Natalie Proulx. “Boys to Men: Teaching and Learning About Masculinity in an Age of Change.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2018,

Gómez Carlos Andrés. Man up: Reimagining Modern Manhood. Gotham Books, 2013.

Good Men Media Inc. “About Us – The Good Men Project.” The Good Men Project, 2020,

Kilman, Carrie. “The Gender Spectrum.” Teaching Tolerance, Summer 2013,

“Masculinities: Liberation through Photography.” Barbican, Barbican Centre, 2020,

Pardo, Alona and Chris Bayley. “Take A (Virtual) Tour Of The ‘Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography’ Exhibition.” Esquire, Hearst, 05 May 2020,

Warner, Marigold. “Photo Vogue Festival: embracing diversity and the many shades of masculinity.” British Journal of Photography, 1854 Media Ltd, 15 Oct. 2018,

Weiss, Suzannah. “6 Harmful Effects of Toxic Masculinity.” Bustle, Bustle Digital Group, 23 Feb. 2016,

Author Information

Jess Karan (she/they) was an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition (Summer 2020). They currently attend Kenyon College in Ohio and are studying Womens’ and Gender Studies and Arabic.

Michaela Warady (they/them) was an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition (Summer 2019). They are an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Mathematics and Computer Science.

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