A programme for boys to help them consider modern manhood, think about unhelpful masculinity and develop empathy, character, and integrity.

Telling young people what they are doing wrong hardly ever stopped them wanting to do those things.

It didn’t stop you and it certainly didn’t stop me.

It won’t stop them believing in one of a number of online figures who have built their cult of Aspirational Misogyny on the abuse of others, on an updated image of 1950s machismo and their ‘subversive’ and ‘disruptive’ use of social media. This image is a constructed stereotype – like Alan Partridge as a character in Grand Theft Auto – but it’s a powerful one when it’s paired with fast cars, big watches and assertions that ‘feminism has gone too far’.

As Cinzia DuBois – The Lady of The Library says in her recent video: 

“…we need to write a new pro social script for men in order to prevent men like Tate from reviving ancient sexist ideas”. 

We couldn’t agree more… that’s why What Makes A Man? takes a different approach.

Firstly it starts with being open about what young people have always liked – being rebellious and shocking – from Rock n Roll to Punk and beyond, teenagers have always wanted to shock ‘the system’.

Bernie starts by talking about his teenage years at one of the country’s best Grammar Schools, being given loads of chances and rebelling against them – trouble with the police, at football, with violence and shoplifting [Watch it here: 10 minute Vimeo link] – ending in an E and a U grade at A Level. After making a massive decision he found some success…only for one of his testicles to try and kill him (testicular cancer).

We will consider attitude, choices and responsibility, and the power and agency that young people have over themselves and their futures IF they choose to use it.

The trouble is, when we’re subject to peer pressure and the pull of whatever is cool this week, it’s hard to swim against that tide…we all claim we want to be different but we also want to belong…it’s a perennial battle.

Building on these elements we start to use tools – some from Bernie’s book The Ladder – to show how we have agency over our happiness and futures. What Makes A Man are the decisions we make as young men that define the rest of the time we have on this planet.

Developing the theme of decisions and responsibility – for happiness and success we will look at attitudes and opinions about masculinity – role models, versions of masculinity and what feminism ACTUALLY is (through the lens of women’s pay gaps, societal influence and power and also as the victims of assault and abuse).

We’ll discuss approaches to relationships which are likely to include unhealthy behaviours, coercive control, lack of consent and abuse, and try and open cognitive gaps where empathy can be grown. Empathy that can be developed to help young men to see experiences from different viewpoints and with some understanding that if an ‘empire’ or a ‘relationship programme’ is built on control, ‘ownership’ or abuse of any kind then that destroys integrity and is also likely to be illegal…whilst illegality may be attractive and edgy to teenage boys, it also has repercussions that last a lifetime and can negatively affect many lives in many ways.

We will refresh the notion of masculinity as a concept which should be about integrity, character and empathyand ask the young people present to set some goals to help them understand the role of men and women in society, set goals to help them develop their skills and approaches and set goals to enhance their self-esteem and character.

We want to see a generation of young men who are able to make decisions from a point of THEIR own set of ideas of success and respect, their experiences and hopes, not the ideologies and attitudes they’ve inherited from the toxicity and misogyny of the manosphere.

Vanessa Mehta, Manor High School, Leicester:

“Bernie has been to Manor High twice now, this week he spoke to the entire school – both talks DV and What Makes A (Hu)Man are challenging, thought-provoking, relevant, adaptable to the age of the cohort and a MUST!”

Jamie Wordsworth, Castle School, Taunton. March 2023

“Bernie, Huge huge thanks for today – the colleagues I’ve been speaking to have said it was the best INSET they’ve had for a long time! Massive thanks for the books for the staff room and the card games. Hugely appreciated.

Safe journey and thank you again – we loved hearing from you. You were fantastic. See you in the summer”

Mrs L Swannell, Jack Hunt School,  Peterborough. April 2023

“Good afternoon Bernie,  I just wanted to say again a big thank you for today. So many teachers have also commented on how wonderful your presentation was. The sixth form especially have really been made to think. We’ll be in touch shortly for year 12 and 10.Thanks again, Lucie.

Head of Year 11, Saracen’s High School. April 2023.

”The feedback from the pupils has been really positive. Pupils said the assembly was really informative and much needed. Feedback from the boys’ sessions were also of praise and positivity. Bernie was amazing with the pupils and conveyed an important message to the pupils in a clear and concise manner. Please pass on my appreciation to him”.

S.Green, VP, Saracen’s High School.

“Staff said that the INSET was the best they’ve had for a long time. Time flew and gave them all plenty to think about in terms of the influences young men are finding online. Thank you”.

REVIEW: Heathfield Community College, East Sussex, April 2023. Click HERE

Jill Howard, Society of Heads (Independent Schools) DSL and Headteacher COD sessions, June 2023.

“Bernie is extremely knowledgeable around the topic of sexism and misogyny, and our DSL group really enjoyed listening to his talk – so much so, they would like to hear more and we will be rebooking Bernie for another meeting next year!  Hearing Bernie’s personal story and insights into this difficult topic, really brings home how easily things can happen and go wrong for people, but it’s also inspiring to hear how positives can come out of sad situations.  Life lessons for us all, and Bernie is confident in speaking to students, staff and parents, and we would wholeheartedly recommend him.”

The Society of Heads


For more information about the half-day programmes and CPD / INSET and for a PDF flyer about What Makes A Man, please contact us.