‘Meet a member’ is a regular feature in the global MenEngage Alliance newsletter. This month we speak to Jonathon Reed (pronouns: he/him), youth program manager at Next Gen Men, a member of North America MenEngage Network.
What do you work on?
I design and deliver programs and professional development related to engaging boys and young men in topics like mental health, healthy relationships and gender equality. I’m the host of Breaking the Boy Code, a podcast that explores the inner lives of boys and amplifies the voices of boys themselves in positive masculinity, and I host Next Gen Men’s Discord server for youth to connect with each other, build friendships and get support.
I’m also a researcher in the field of boys masculinities and I care a lot about centring our work on a strong theoretical foundation. Maybe that’s less compelling than grassroots justice, but it’s how we differentiate ourselves from organizations, programs and influencers who claim to stand for the wellbeing of boys and men, but who actually serve to perpetuate the status quo.
How did you get involved in this work?
Even as a young kid, I never really fit into the narrow definition of how to be a boy, and I faced the homophobia and gender-based violence that came along with that. At age 15, I was the victim of an attempted sexual assault. I had long hair and a slender body so I’m quite sure that the aggressor, who was intoxicated and didn’t know me, mistook me for a girl.
So I had a direct experience with misogynistic violence that a lot of guys would never experience. I was pretty shaken, obviously, but mostly I was embarrassed. To have someone misgender me was hard enough, but to have them try to take advantage of me like that…I really had no sense of who to tell or how to tell them. I wish I could say that I told my parents, or a teacher, or even a friend. But the truth is I stayed silent about it for almost a decade. Now I’m in the midst of a path towards expanding the definitions of masculinity for male-identified youth across Canada, and ending the cycles of gender-based violence that impacted my life and continue to impact the lives of so many others.
Something you worked on you would like to share
My favourite thing I’ve designed at Next Gen Men is our card deck for affirming the fullest expression of boys’ humanity, Boys Will Be.
What keeps you motivated in this work?
I get to see firsthand the impact that we have on boys and young men. On any given day, I support young people with anything from school stress to relationship struggles or the challenges of growing up. I connect with educators and parents who are committed to supporting the wellbeing of their students and children, and challenging the cycles of violence that we are all too familiar with. It’s a privilege to be in the midst of my greatest passion, using my skills to positively impact the next generation.
A podcast I can recommend:
I will definitely shout out the latest season of Breaking the Boy Code podcast, which follows the true story and voice of an 11-year-old named Louis who undergoes an immense transformation from a bully to an ally.
What do you hope we can achieve together that we cannot do as individual organizations?
You probably know the adage: if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. I think it goes without saying that the movement for gender justice has a long way to go. The stronger our network of connections and the more intertwined our work, the more far-reaching and sustainable our work towards a better world will be. That’s what being part of an Alliance means.
Is there a part of the MenEngage Core Principles that resonates with you
‘We believe in the capability of men and boys to actively support gender, social, and climate justice‘ resonates with me. You probably know the phrase ‘boys will be boys.’ Over the last couple of years, Next Gen Men has been thinking a lot about what it means to believe that boys will be themselves if we let them. We don’t see boys as problems to be fixed, or even allies for others, but as the architects of their own liberation—which will inevitably be built alongside justice for people of all genders.
Finally, can you think of an inspiring quote to share?
“Never underestimate the power of listening to boys, knowing them, and standing by while they navigate the rough waters of boyhood. Behind every boy who avoids being swept away in the current is someone who holds him—and believes in his ability to hold his own.” — Michael Reichert