Children of the Street shows the signs of toxic masculinity

The non-profit continues its mission to end sexual violence by educating young men on one of its root causes.


What’s the connection between human trafficking, sexual violence and toxic masculinity? Children of the Street Society aims to educate young men on that link in its new campaign with the provocative phrase, “being a man doesn’t make someone toxic. Find out what does.”

The national charity dedicated to preventing the sexual exploitation and human trafficking of children and youth launched its out of home campaign on March 25. The visuals include young men standing with arms crossed in an X, mirroring the skull and crossbones symbol for poison, but is also a gesture that also conveys “stop” or “no good.”

The creative directs people to a website outlining harmful thoughts and beliefs associated with toxic masculinity, such as the perpetuation of rape culture, the idea that “real men” don’t show emotion and the assumption that “real men” cannot be victims of abuse. It also outlines “solutions,” such as building emotional literacy and understanding the social constructs that create our image of masculinity. It also explains that mindsets associated with toxic masculinity can make it easier “to embrace pro-abuse beliefs,” such as using “boys will be boys” to prevent people from being held accountable to failing to support victims of abuse.

In the wake of Gillette’s own recent campaign confronting toxic masculinity, the topic has entered the world of marketing and reached a new level of awareness among the general public, especially when it comes to how it is related to sexual violence.

“With the ‘#Me Too’ movement and media finally taking a stand against sexual violence, we really felt like now was the time for this campaign to be heard,” says Miranda De Jong, Children of the Street Society’s program manager. She tells strategy that the toxic masculinity theme came up when the organization started doing workshops in 2018 called “Redefining Manhood.’” The Society had received a lot of positive feedback from teachers and students about its workshops, and the organization wants to increase enrollment/participation in them with the new campaign.

“And we wanted to change the culture that allows exploitation and human trafficking to happen,” she adds.

De Jong says in its previous 2018 campaign, the organization also focused on toxic masculinity, but from a bystander-intervention approach. The new campaign, by contrast, focuses on more directly communicating the toxicity message to young men with subjects close to them in age. The Society is targeting boys aged 15 to 18, with a secondary audience of young adult males.

“We wanted to continue the conversation from last year, as people still misunderstand the concept of toxic masculinity,” De Jong says. When design concepts came up, “we wanted to emphasize that males aren’t toxic, behaviours are.”

Billboards will appear in bus shelters for a month-long duration, and posters will be shared with community centres, the group’s workshops and for partners like RCMP to use for officer seminars.

Vancouver agency Will worked on the creative for the campaign.