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As a father of two boys, and a victim of spousal abuse, I’ve watched with concern at how the #MeToo movement has acquired an unhealthy habit of male bashing in overt and subtle ways. The media fuels this but the media is also feeding the appetite for it and the pendulum has gotten stuck in an unbalanced world view of boys and men. As a father of two boys, I'd be interested in hearing how you'd coach males to respond to people who use language that positions all men as privileged patriarchs, intent on exploiting women?
One of the most powerful ways we can shift the perception about men is by demonstrating in our lives we are upstanding human beings in support of equal rights.
As a male educator, this topic has been dear to my heart since the beginning of my career. Each year, I would hold an assembly on Dec. 6th in honor of the women killed in the Montreal massacre. This was my way of dealing with violence against women and promoting gender equity. I soon became aware, however, that my stance was alienating the male students, the very ones I was trying to educate. It also became apparent that I was being characterized as a male basher. If I wanted to have an impact on how society views females, I needed to change my approach.
The following is a list of guidelines I used to include boys in the conversation of equality and bring more awareness to their behavior:
- Teach everyone to listen and ask questions in order to find resolution. This approach to communication fosters curiosity, compassion and understanding of another person’s point of view.
- Create a safe place for the communication to occur, so that people can speak openly about their views without fear of judgment. This container would have to have rules, such as no physical aggression or blame statements.
- Provide young men with the necessary tools for appropriately interacting with women, which includes asking permission (such as “may I hug you?”) as well as respecting boundaries.
- More than just a gender issue, we need to teach our boys to be respectful of all races, ages, and sexual orientations. In the past, brute force and physical power were considered manly and a sign of strength, whereas showing emotion reflected weakness. Today, we must continue to shift this antiquated paradigm so kindness and compassion are considered top values.
- Teach young men to stand up against the injustices they witness in their lives. When locker room talk happens, our boys need to be encouraged to withdraw or set a boundary.
- Finally, we as fathers, have to use our mistakes from the past as teaching opportunities. By admitting that our behaviour in the past might have been inappropriate and contributed to gender inequality, we empower the next generation of men to conduct themselves with more awareness.
Thanks for writing in, as I know this is a controversial, sensitive topic. After being silenced and dis-empowered for so long, women are discovering they finally have a platform for voicing not only their suffering, but the oppression of previous generations. I agree that the pendulum has swung, and that balance will be found. If the end is an equal playing field, the means is education.
In my Girl on Fire Empowerment program, we teach young women how to become self-contained and resilient by building their house on solid ground. By helping girls to foster unwavering self-worth, they are able to weather the storms of life, which unfortunately still include sexism, by standing strong in who they are. However, this curriculum begins by clarifying that our intention is not to bash or blame men, but to empower ourselves. The goal is equality, not superiority.
Thank you for mentioning in your question that you are male and also a victim of spousal abuse, since this is not commonly shared. As Blair stated above, we must educate both genders on effective communication and respectful conduct. Anger is a universal human emotion that both men and women need techniques for managing. Violence toward anyone is not acceptable.
As we raise our girls to be aware of the hazards in the world, we must also nurture our boys to grow up believing in their goodness. We can all stand to be more careful of our language, by avoiding blanket negative, incriminating statements about men.
We also need to teach people to effectively protest against oppression. Let’s direct the energy of our hurt and hatred toward the improvement of rules and laws. Behavioural guidelines need to be examined, revamped and effectively enforced in real time, so that everyone is held accountable.
For women who have suffered trauma by men’s actions, it may be difficult to imagine that kind and healthy men exist, but they do. David Richo, author of When the Past is Present, says, “Though most of us want to move on from our past, we tend to go through our lives simply casting new people into the roles of key people, such as our parents or any significant person with whom there is still unfinished business.”
It’s common to get caught in the web of transferring our pain from the past onto people in the present. Instead of carrying our pain from relationship to relationship, we can do the hard work of grieving and healing, so we can put the past to rest and free ourselves to see people in our lives for who they truly are.
This is a rough patch in the timeline of humanity, but we’re confident that our hearts are big enough and our minds are open enough to reach new and common ground!
Have a question? Email Askthetherapists@herald.ca
Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award-winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.