• Grace Schmuland

Healthy Masculinity

Hello and welcome back to week 7 of this blog. This week’s topic is another viewer choice. Thank you to the person who recommended this topic! I always want these blogs to be discussing topics that you are interested in, and allowing viewers to choose the topic is a great way to do that! This post is all about healthy masculinity. A significant portion of today’s content comes from Saffron’s “Developing Healthy Masculinity” workshop that was developed by one of our previous practicum students, Ryan Corbould. Thanks Ryan!

Much of the discussion around masculinity has been focused on rejecting toxic masculinity and what men have been doing wrong. Talking about healthy masculinity helps us in our goal to frame masculinity more positively by using the term ‘healthy’ instead of ‘toxic’, and secondly, to generate discussion about what the right things for people to be doing are, in the pursuit of healthy masculinity. Healthy masculinity is defined as men engaging in the whole range of human emotions and recognizing the importance of boundaries and healthy relationships.


Discussion of masculinity shares an inherent link with ending sexual violence, because in 2014 in Canada, statistics show that 94% of sexual assaults were committed by men (Statistics Canada, 2014). This is not to say that all men are prone to these behaviours, however the connection between sexual violence and masculinity is too significant to dismiss. Another significant part of this discussion is male victimization when it comes to sexual assault. In 2014, males accounted for roughly 13% of victims in cases of sexual assault in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2014). Saffron’s percentage of male clients has been consistent or close to that number, hovering between 10-13% from 2015-2018.


Furthermore, the recent AASAS survey found that in Alberta, the childhood prevalence of sexual abuse is 24% for males, and the adult (lifetime) prevalence is 31% for males. (Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, 2020). This shows that the number of male survivors might be higher than previously determined. In line with that, the number of male clients has tripled in the last year or two at the Saffron Centre.


The discussion of healthy masculinity is important for men to be a part of because it can help them to understand how they have been affected by this “great set up”, which is how boys and men are raised to reject what doesn’t fall into masculinity, and then society is surprised when they exhibit negative behaviours as a result (Newsom, J.S. 2015). We want to encourage men to engage in healthy masculine behaviours and understand the impact that engaging in them can have.


However, women also need to be a part of this discussion because it can help them understand what healthy masculinity is so that they can recognize and encourage it when they see it in the men in their lives. Furthermore, people in general have a significant impact on how masculinity develops in society, regardless of gender. Everyone can have an impact, and so everyone needs to be a part of this discussion. We mean to be fully inclusive within the parameters of race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.


An important aspect in the discussion of healthy masculinity is to break down what we as a society, community and individuals consider “masculinity to be.


Breaking out of “Gender Boxes”

When we ask, “what does it mean to be manly, or what are some of the characteristics or stereotypes people associate with being manly?” Possible answers often include:

· Tough

· Muscled

· In control

· Athletic

· Demands respect

· Fights back

· Responsible

· Mows the lawn (other “blue jobs”)

· Deals with problems

· Doesn’t show emotion


When we ask, “what does it mean to be not-manly, or what are some of the characteristics or stereotypes people associate with being not- manly?” Possible answers often include:

· Weak

· Submissive

· Feminine

· Afraid

· Wimp

· Does the housework (other “pink jobs”)

· Talks about feelings

· Shows emotion


This distinction between manly and not-manly are the stereotypes we’ve been trained to believe about masculinity. This creates certain expectations and standards, and when men don’t live up to those expectations, they experience these consequences: the things outside of the box. Once again, because we’ve been trained that this is what is right. When we remove the barrier around these stereotypes, we find that men might be some of those things in the not-manly area. It’s okay to have the traits in the manly area, and it’s equally okay to have the traits in the non-manly area.


The conclusion this leads us to, is that if we can remove this barrier in real life, then we might not have any of these consequences, and we can confound the expectations that people have of men. Which is not just good for men who don’t want to live up to those expectations, but also so that people of all other genders don’t expect men to only be all of those things in the manly box. This also serves to show us how difficult it is to make the transition from thinking about rigid definitions of masculinity and femininity to more open ones.


Healthy Masculinity and Sexual Violence Awareness Month – Male Survivors

Sexual assault and harassment are often seen as a ‘women’s issue’ and the focus is often on male perpetrators and female survivors. But if we really want to support change in our society, we cannot divide things with labels like ‘women’s issues’, especially when sexual violence is an issue that affects everyone!


I think it is absolutely necessary to actively include men in discussions as victims/survivors of sexual assault. In our Healthy Relationships presentation, I start by showing a clip from the movie Sierra Burgess is a Loser (released in 2018). In this scene, Sierra and her friend Veronica work together to manipulate Jamie into closing his eyes so that Sierra can kiss him while he believes that he is being kissed by Veronica. There’s one thing that I like, and one that I dislike, about what that scene has brought to people’s attention.


The first, the thing that I like, is that the comments section on the YouTube video of this clip shows that most viewers understand that what happens to Jamie is sexual assault. (Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual behaviour, and Jamie consented to kissing Veronica, not Sierra. Sierra is, therefore, a perpetrator of sexual assault). Some comments include: “that’s awful, she literally kissed him without his consent” and “this is sexual assault. No way around it.” To me, this shows an increased awareness around sexual assault and consent that is encouraging!


The thing that I don’t like is embodied in another comment left on this video: “if this was two men and a woman, people would have destroyed them.” The movie Sierra Burgess is a Loser was widely panned by critics, and some (like the commenters on the video) noted a scene of sexual assault. However, overall, this scene from the movie did not get the attention I believe it would have if it was two boys manipulating a girl into the same situation. After the #MeToo movement, especially in Hollywood, there was increased attention about the experiences of female actors in movies. If this scene had been written with two men and a woman in 2018, I doubt that it would have made it into a movie at all. However, because the genders are flipped, it was able to make it into a movie, and did not receive a massive backlash from the public. I believe that we as a society need to actively work on taking sexual assault against men seriously. It is an issue that deserves our attention, and we must work to condemn sexual assault against men and support male survivors of sexual assault, so that they know that they will be believed if they come forward with their experiences.


When we discuss the #MeToo movement, for example, in terms of celebrities that came forward about their experiences, it is important to acknowledge women like Reese Witherspoon, Gabrielle Union, America Ferrera AND men like Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek and Javier Muñoz who shared their own experiences of sexual assault. From personal experience, it is empowering and uplifting to see people speak out about their experiences, and it can be more personally impactful if the person speaking out is someone who looks like you.


Promoting healthy masculinity is also about reaching out to a population that has been socialized to ‘not talk about their feelings’ and ‘not show emotion’. We want everyone to know, that (in line with last week’s discussion around how to support survivors) that if you come forward with your experience of sexual violence, no matter your gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. you will be believed and supported by the Saffron centre. We are here to help everyone that wants to come to us.


A Moment of Gratitude

What I am grateful for: spring weather! It can change from day to day, but we have enjoyed a number of beautiful sunny days, which I am always thankful for as an Albertan. It’s the perfect time to go outside and enjoy nature. And if you’re looking for something to do outside, you can try our SVAM scavenger hunt! Information about the scavenger hunt is on all our social media pages, and down below!


Sources

Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services. (2020, January 29). Summary of Key Findings: Prevalence of Sexual Assault and Childhood Sexual Abuse in Alberta. Retrieved from: https://8f67f8f0-4c7b-4e3a-ac25-635bcc5f92b5.filesusr.com/ugd/0822d3_cef7625a73a64e02b1dff889608c498d.pdf


Newsom J.S. (2015). The Mask You Live In. [Film]. The Representation Project.


Statistics Canada. (2014). Self-reported sexual assault in Canada. Retrieved from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2017001/article/14842-eng.htm

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