Gender-based violence prevention education can foster a consent culture on Canadian campuses by showing male students a better way to be.
TORONTO, June 4, 2018 /CNW/ - Here's a staggering statistic: 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution in Canada—and that's to say nothing of the full picture of sexual violence that often goes unchallenged: everything from sexist or homophobic jokes and comments to stalking and harassment.
The key to preventing sexual violence in the first place lies in dismantling toxic masculinity: socially-constructed attitudes that describe masculinity as unemotional, sexually aggressive and violent.1 Toxic masculinity encourages these qualities and behaviours, despite the fact that they're damaging, and devalues any behaviours or attitudes seen as being "feminine."2
Teaching a generation of male-identified students a better way to be is no small task but, luckily, many Ontario post-secondary institutions are taking steps in the right direction by participating in gender-based violence prevention programs like the Draw-the-Line campaign.
Sexual violence is a gendered issue.
While sexual violence mostly affects women—with those of marginalized backgrounds and identities (including disabled women, queer and trans women, Aboriginal women and women of colour) being most at-risk3—it's largely a problem with male origins. In fact, more than nine out of ten perpetrators of sexual assault are men.4 Unless male-identified students step up and take ownership of it, there can be no real solution to the problem of gender-based violence on campuses.
The attitudes and behaviours that condone and even lead to sexual violence aren't developed in isolation. Historically, they've been part of the way boys are raised. And just as toxic masculinity isn't developed in isolation, it can't be changed in isolation. Young men—especially—need support to challenge these attitudes and actions. That's where White Ribbon and Draw-the-Line can help.
What is Draw-the-Line?
"The Draw-the-Line campaign says, 'It's okay. You don't have to be this kind of male," says Professor Elizabeth Brulé, formerly a faculty member in the Department of Equity Studies at York University, and now Assistant Professor in the Department of Gender Studies at Queen's University. "Toxic masculinity doesn't empower you. Rather, it disempowers you from being the best human being you can possibly be."
The campaign, which Brulé has explored with her students, challenges common myths about sexual violence and equips bystanders with information on how to intervene safely and effectively. Part of the way it does this is by presenting real-life scenarios for the group to reflect on and work through. For example, a university or college group might consider: "A teammate on your school team is accused of sexual misconduct. Do you still cheer him on?" or "Frosh leaders start to chant: 'no means try harder.' Do you sing along?"
The campaign was developed by the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres and Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes. The work has been carried forward by various partners, including White Ribbon—the world's largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. As part of the Government of Ontario's It's Never Okay Action Plan, White Ribbon worked with 32 colleges and universities to implement Draw-the-Line, with the goal of encouraging healthy masculinities and enabling male-identified students to become part of the solution to end gender-based violence.
Draw-the-Line workshops help students to reflect on and reframe their actions and beliefs.
"The most important part is [that the workshops] mention specific behaviours that have been accepted as part of masculinity but are just another way of being misogynistic," says Juan Araque, Customer Service Rep., Accessibility and Academic Services at Georgian College, where workshops have been hosted in classes and through the Athletics Department.
"An individual may make a rape joke and think it's harmless," adds Roy Ben-Moshe, an undergraduate researcher at York University. "But, in reality, it's just one of countless small contributions to the continued cycle of violence against women."
According to Jake Chevrier, Peer Tutor Advisor, Accessibility and Academic Success Services at Georgian College, that's why educating male-identified students about their role is key. "It starts the conversation. And having someone to facilitate that conversation and being able to stop and reflect in the moment is powerful. Our actions are often contributing to the problem, but we're not always aware of them. It also helps us to challenge other men in the ways they think and when it comes to their actions."
Young men need role models for embracing healthy masculinities.
Beyond education, male-identified students also need strong role models to show them what healthy masculinities look like. On campus, faculty have an important part to play, as do student athletes.
"Usually teenagers and young males are still trying to solidify their personalities," comments Araque. "They look up to faculty and athletes as examples of masculinity. If they see an athlete or faculty member promoting healthy masculinity they should be able to follow that positive behaviour."
Sports teams, especially, carry a great deal of influence among their peers. Unfortunately, they also tend to be breeding grounds for toxic masculinity. "Male athletes tend to form group norms," says Chevrier. "You don't want to be the bro who speaks out against a sexist or homophobic comment because there's likely to be backlash."
"Having this kind of workshop gives people the tools to start those conversations," he adds. "So, if it does happen, you'll know how to approach the situation. Hopefully this knowledge gets passed down from one school year to the next, and those will become the new norms."
How can campuses get involved?
When it comes to promoting healthy masculinities and providing education about gender-based violence, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
This fall, White Ribbon will be taking its Draw-the-Line workshops to 10 new colleges and universities. Find out more at dtl.whiteribbon.ca.
Those involved in athletics might also want to watch "Changing the Game," a conversation with former Canadian Football League linebacker Chuck Winters that will take place June 6th. It's a great opportunity for coaches and athletes to get educated about healthy masculinities and gender-based violence, then to act as mentors by taking those messages and attitudes back to their teams.
For tips and resources about how to promote gender equality, healthy relationships and healthy masculinities, and to learn how to be a good role models for boys and young men, visit ItStartsWithYou.ca.
To root out toxic masculinity, we need to keep the conversation going.
As for York and Georgian, they're determined to carry on the work they've done through Draw-the-Line, but those involved recognize that change won't happen overnight.
"York is committed, but change takes time," says Brulé. "These programs should not be one-offs. Gender-based violence prevention programs need to be continuous. They have to be centre stage. If not, these attitudes and behaviours won't change."
Meanwhile, at Georgian, the Athletics Department is talking about hosting a second workshop on the topic. "Professional development for students on how to handle this is really beneficial," comments Chevrier. "It not only helps them in school but will also provide guidance in the workplace. It will even help them to eventually have these conversations with their children."
And, in that way, one male ally and one conversation at a time, we can work toward ending gender-based violence not only on our campuses, but in our homes, workplaces, schools and communities.
White Ribbon is the world's largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls and to promote gender equity, healthy relationships, and a new vision of masculinity. Starting in 1991, White Ribbon asked men to wear white ribbons as a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.
SOURCE White Ribbon Campaign
For further information: Véronique Church-Duplessis, 416-920-6684 x21, [email protected]