by Marie-Anne Maakrun

Machismo is a boys' program created and developed by Stephanie Brown and Marie-Anne Maakrun, teachers at James Cook Boys' High School in Sydney. Machismo allows boys self-expression through the arts. It is also designed to break down stereotypical attitudes towards male expression and provide healthy ways for boys to develop their self-image.

Eighty percent of the students at James Cook Boys' High School are of non-English speaking background, including large numbers of Macedonian, Lebanese, Greek, Asian and Pacific Islander boys. In 1998 we decided on an activity called Cooks Culture, a day showcasing the boys' own cultural dance, song, food and other cultural specialties. There were a lot of skeptics who said the idea will never work, because boys don't sing and dance. But we were right. Not only were they quite proud to get up and perform, but people saw a real change in the boys.

They were happier to be at school, they clearly felt better about themselves and there was less fighting in the playground. Working together as a team and showing their schoolmates that they can get up and perform settled the feisty boys down dramatically.

From that we got a glimpse of the potential of working through the arts. The school had previously been very strong on sports, and to be a "star" a boy had to be an outstanding sportsman. We realised that this excluded many boys who are just as talented but in different areas, and decided to invite male artists to work with them.

We chose the word Machismo to challenge the negative image of men currently being promoted in Australian society. Within the Latin American culture it is seen as male dominance and control over others. Instead, we promote male control over themselves.

Challenges stereotypes

Boys in many ways represent the lack of diversity in our community and it was the intention of Machismo to challenge these stereotypical expectations. It breaks down these stereotypes by exposing them to activities not usually directed towards boys, that is the arts.

To call Machismo a success would be a grave understatement. Within the first year the program involved over 1200 students from 32 schools across Sydney. Over 65 artists, business owners and community members took part in its delivery.

Workshops covered dance, drama, art, music, film, literature and physical theatre. These varied from 1 hour to full day workshops, and slotted into the school curriculum during sport, drama, art or other curriculum times.

The project was un-funded. A lot of artists remembered being bullied and having a tough time at school because of their artistic leanings, and were delighted to provide their services at no charge, or for a nominal fee. The boys paid only a nominal fee of a couple of dollars per workshop. Organising had to be fitted in around our normal teaching schedule, which meant most of the work was done voluntarily on our own time. This year we met with the Premier of NSW who was very enthusiastic about the project and as a result the project is to be extended into pilot areas around the state.

Boys bursting with pride

To celebrate the culmination of this work we held a festival day during education week where the boys could strut their stuff in a big top circus tent. The 1700 people attended the show agreed it was a hit!

Machismo has had very tangible outcomes. Suspension rates at James Cook fell from 21 in December 1998, to 3 in December 1999.

We have seen changes in many boys who were considered "tough kids", the boys that teachers had given up on. Some who became involved in Machismo told us that the project had changed their lives. We received lots of positive comments from parents and teachers.

One boy who has a long history of suspensions joined the African Drumming workshop and ended up with a starring role in the big-top performance. People came up to him after the show and said "well done". He was obviously proud of his achievement; to be famous rather than infamous for the first time in his life. Since then he is happy to sit and chat with us, which is a dramatic change. He is no longer disruptive, he has a part-time job and is happy to be at school. He has a new identity now. He is no longer the kid that gets into trouble all the time, the one who will "amount to nothing". Now he is a performer with a great future ahead.

Machismo 2000

With the in-principle support of the NSW Premier, Department of Education and the ministerial departments of Health, Juvenile Justice, the Arts and Community Services, Machismo is being further piloted in selected areas across New South Wales in 2000 with independent research.

Make it happen

The coordinators have devised a 5-stage plan that will be used to implement Machismo. This example from a small country town on the NSW/Victoria border illustrates how Machismo can work within a community. A town meeting took place at Barham High School where interested community members met to discuss Machismo. At this meeting the availability of community support services and expectations of the school and community were discussed. From this, a Machismo committee was formed and their role will be to implement each stage of the project. A committee can comprise people such as; the school principal, parents, students, health and youth workers, art consultants, Rotary and Lions members or other interested bodies. Artists can be networked into the community from Sydney but the majority will be local and regional artists as well as skilled males in the community. For example some possibilities are: A local male has the skills to weld windmill pieces together. He can work with boys to create large metal sculptures for the town representing their culture. Fathers will work with boys to build a community climbing wall for the use of all members in the community. An aerial performing artist, will then teach them how to do this. He can then workshop them on rigging and safety so they can teach other community members, including girls. That facility remains for the use of the community. Race Around The World filmmakers can travel to Barham with a broadcast van and workshop participants to make their own films. Students will then make films to be used as resources to educate other students around the state. Subject might include films on where they live, drug use, a day in the life of... etc. Later these films will join a Machismo Film Festival. They can also assist the community to establish their own video editing suite. The community requested ceramic artists. A large craft community exists in a nearby town so artists can easily be accessed. More importantly, an unemployed 50-year-old male ceramic artist contacted the coordinators earlier this year to take part in the project. He lives in within 2 hours travelling distance. Retired males in the community have the opportunity to pass down unique skills they may have, such as bootmaking, saddlemaking, leatherwork. Performances will also take place for the community and help to raise revenue. Publicity is of vital importance and is reinforced through such things as media coverage and merchandising. Continual evaluation and modification of the program is essential within the planning stages. The project in its own time will grow to be networked into neighbouring communities. It is anticipated that inter-district events will be advertised on a Machismo website as well as latest news from community events. Artists and other skilled males will also be able to easily register their interest via this site. Machismo empowers the community to be responsible for taking action to address youth issues within their own community. Different districts will develop Machismo to suit their own needs. Its sustainability will arise from the skill development that occurs within the Machismo Committee, enabling them to exist autonomously. The larger network will provide ongoing support and renewal of the project.

To find out more contact -

Marie Anne


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