With a focus on promoting awareness of violence against women, Western’s Man|Made program is taking steps to help male students give better shape to the meaning of healthy masculinity in their lives.
Through formatted discussions, the four-week program – which takes place once per semester – tackles a range of topics from how to engage in healthy relationships, navigate intimacy and understand consent.
“As women, when talking about our feelings and about sex, those are all normal things we want to explore. As for men, there seems to be extra barriers to that being OK,” said AnnaLise Trudell, Manager of Education, Training & Researchat Anova, a non-profit agency in London that shelters and counsels victims of sexual violence. Anova runs the Man|Made groups at Western as well as Fanshawe College.
October 22 – 29 is Consent and Sexual Violence Awareness Month (see special event on campus below).
While some participants may be required to attend the Man|Made program, it is open to all males and none are identified within the group by their reason for attending.
“We talk about what is sexual violence and what is consent, but we go deeper in talking about things like how drunk is too drunk,” said Trudell, a Western PhD student in Women’s Studies and Feminist Research. “Let’s just be real about that conversation, so there aren’t right or wrongs in that. We talk about all the forms of what we think is sexual violence, (such as) sharing a sext of your girlfriend with your buddy, or commenting on a girl’s ass.”
She said the sessions, always facilitated by a male and female, delve into the pressures around masculinity and the projected need to have a strong sex drive; porn and its affects and men and women; and why some young men are prone to commit sexual assault.
While its disturbing to learn 14 to 31 per cent of undergraduate men will commit a sexual assault, another 48 per cent of men between 18-25 think having sex with a women too drunk to know what’s going on isn’t sexual assault, just drunk sex.
“Most of what’s happening is not men intentionally wanting to cause harm, and I fundamentally believe the vast majority of men are good humans who don’t want to be that douchebag, but that’s your intent, to have sex, and what is that felt like the next morning by her?” said Trudell.
“I’m assuming you don’t want it to feel like that, so how do we make sure that doesn’t happen? I need to make sure there’s a line. I need to start having conversations. If I even think someone might be too drunk, I’m just going to get her number and try again tomorrow, is a famous line we use. It’s making that alignment between intent and impact.”
This past summer Matt Forbes, a third-year BMOS student, took part in a special non-mandated Man|Made session for University Students’ Council leaders, councillors, Sophs and some members of the Mustangs football team.
Forbes admitted his expectation was it would be another program that would go over all the simple concepts every student his age has been told since the beginning of high school. He quickly realized it was nothing like that at all.
“I very much took the program and used it as an outlet for me to express my feelings and ideas around sexual violence and prevention and what it means to really embody the attributes of a man, and a good man, at that,” said Forbes, who is now a co-facilitator in the program with Trudell.
“I left the program with a large impact on the way I spoke, not just in public but with my friends and family and the way that I treated the people around me,” he added. “I became very cognisant of violence around me and really took the time to evaluate, and hopefully manage to prevent, sexual violence in my spaces and community.”
Danielle Carr, Western’s Sexual Violence Educator, said it would be great there weren’t people on campus whose full-time job is providing sexual violence prevention education, but the role is important.
“What having it says to our campus, and our community, is we recognize there is a big problem in our culture and that it extends to our campus, and that sucks,” she said. “But what we’re going to do is provide programming, support and resources to folks who are affected by sexual violence and provide an opportunity for our students to unlearn some of these dangerous cultural beliefs that we all live in and breathe.”
Carr added stats around campus sexual violence haven’t really shifted “since, ever – like the 1950s.” But providing opportunities for students to feel safe to come forward and know their campus is responding is vital to changing that culture.
“I’m really proud to be part of a campus that isn’t going to continue to say, ‘it doesn’t happen here,’ because, unfortunately, it does happen everywhere and the longer we stay quiet about it the longer it’s going to take to get that dialogue progressing and having more prevention opportunities on our campus.
“The change is we are having these conversations. While the numbers haven’t changed the interventions have, the prevention work, the dialogue and the stigmatization around this is definitely changing and hopefully, eventually, it will lead to a change in the statistics,” added Carr. “The hope is it spreads from there and is a way to both celebrate and deconstruct masculinity, to look at the harmful pieces and some of the wonderful pieces of it. The way we educate male students should be different.”
In his role with the program, Forbes is optimistic he can be a voice towards eliminating sexual violence on campus.
“We’re in university, it’s no secret there is a hookup culture and students are having sex. On the other side of every single story there is another person, and there is no excuse to not treat them with the respect and dignity of a human being – man or women,” he said, adding Man|Made and Anova is about promoting heathy and fun sexual interactions without violence.
It is essential men understand there is nothing that can excuse violence, Forbes said.
“It’s important to have a program like Man|Made on Western’s campus because it’s a really good space for guys to get together over a meal and talk about the stuff they don’t normally get to talk about in class, at the bar or on a chill Friday night,” he said. “By no means is it an easy topic but, from my experience, everyone has a story and it’s a good thing to have people to share it free of judgment.”
Heading into the third-year of offering the program at Western, how does Trudell measure whether or not the message is getting through? How do we know change is happening?
“Empathy,” she said. “I’m not going to dictate that we can change a whole mindset or a whole behavioural pattern in four sessions, but I am seeing nuggets of new thinking that we can keep enhancing, hopefully through other messaging moments.
“I am a public educator who engages more than 8,000 people a year in prevention, and these Man|Madegroups are the ones that give me the most hope. This is where we can actually solve the issue, getting at the crux of the problem.”
Consent and Sexual Violence Awareness Week is October 22-29:
Monday Oct. 29: The Ghomeshi Effect: Dance Theatre Performance addressing Sexual Violence in Canada, Paul Davenport Theatre, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m., http://www.events.westernu.ca/events/student-experience/2018-10/the-ghomeshi-effect.html