The #MeToo movement has created a chance to talk about how boys learn to be men, says a professor of masculinity studies.
“This is a teachable moment right now,” the University of Calgary’s Michael Kehler, who is directing a four-part lecture series on the topic, said Wednesday.
Kehler said the Twitter movement that has accused dozens of prominent men of sexual misbehaviour has opened a window to talk about daily interactions between boys and girls, men and women.
“How do we create agency among boys to speak up and speak out, or, 20 years down the road, among men to break the silence or what I say is a culture of complacency?”
Kehler said the conversation about the treatment of women has to get beyond blame.
“That’s a non-starter — (that) all boys are perpetrators, all boys are contributing to sexual assault, because it’s not all boys and it’s not all men. But we need to acknowledge that there are different ways of being men.”
Boys are taught early about acceptable modes of masculinity, often with consequences for their later health. Boys whose bodies don’t match the lean, muscular ideal may never pick up habits of physical activity — an attitude that can start in the high school locker room.
“Sports is one context in which boys come to know about what it means to be sporty, not what it means to be healthy.”
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Nor are all sports considered equally masculine. Aggressive, physical team sports such as hockey and football are at the top of the masculine pecking order, said Kehler.
“We know there’s a hierarchy of different kinds of sports. If a boy’s a swimmer, then that’s less valorized in this hierarchy than if a boy was a football player.”
Men’s bodies are increasingly subject to sexual objectification, said Andrea Waling, a researcher from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who is to deliver a lecture on male body image and the distribution of unsolicited pictures of male genitalia.
That has consequences such as increased steroid use and eating disorders, she said. “It’s becoming more serious.”
But men don’t suffer the stigma of such objectification as often as women, said Waling. Male strippers, for example, aren’t looked on the same way as their female colleagues.
“It’s a very mixed experience for men,” she said.
Both genders need attention if either is to make progress, she suggested.
“Everything that I do in my work always has a feminist underline,” she said. “We still need to do so much work on supporting women, women’s equality, women’s body image.
“We don’t want to dismiss women’s experience, we just want to think about men’s experiences alongside what women are going through.
“I’m always thinking about women in relation to men. I think we need to focus on both.”
Waling is to speak Thursday on the University of Calgary campus. The other lectures are to be held later this spring.