How Ontario Schools can Draw-the-Line to End Sexual Violence
Last year in Arianna Lambert’s grade 4/5 classroom, it started with a conversation about hugs. “We talked about why you should ask someone ahead of time,” she recounts. “It got them to think about how we actually impact the way people feel around us by going too close.”
Age-appropriate conversations like this one are taking place in many Ontario classrooms. They represent important stepping stones for building a culture of consent. Or, in other words, a culture where it’s recognized that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs—whether we’re talking about a hug, sexual activity, or anything else—and asking for consent is normalized and promoted.
White Ribbon--the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls—understands that bringing discussions about consent and healthy relationships into classrooms is key to stamping out the attitudes and behaviours that fuel sexual violence. What’s more, it’s not enough to create a culture where, as individuals, we don’t commit or condone sexual violence. To solve this pervasive problem, we all need to learn to be active bystanders: safely and effectively intervening when we see sexual violence taking place. That’s where Drawing the Line on Sexual Violence—A Guide for Ontario Educators can help.
Schools are in a unique position to help end sexual violence.
One in three Canadian women will experience some form of sexual assault in her lifetime—with young women being especially at risk. Female youth aged 12 to 17 are eight times more likely than male youth to be victims of sexual assault or another type of sexual offence. Meanwhile, Indigenous girls, LGBTQ youth and women and girls with disabilities run even higher risks of being sexually assaulted.
With unparalleled access to young people from all walks of life, teachers have a key role to play in helping students learn how to recognize and respond to sexual violence. That said, as a subject, sexual violence and consent can be intimidating to broach.
“When I first heard about the topic, I was a little bit apprehensive,” says Sean Lambert, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board and a contributing writer of the guide. “But once I got together with the team and knew the support we would have from White Ribbon, I understood it was good work.”
Draw-the-Line brings discussions about sexual violence out into the open.
Draw-the-Line is a bystander education campaign created by the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres and Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes, who later partnered with White Ribbon. The campaign provokes discussions about sexual violence in our communities and provides strategies bystanders can use to intervene safely and effectively.
In 2016, White Ribbon saw the need for school-based resources on the same topic and, working alongside Ontario educators, developed tools to help teachers foster the next generation’s ability to navigate healthy relationships, understand consent and prevent sexual violence. Since then, more than 5000 copies of the guide (which is available in both French and English) have been distributed.
The resource helps students prepare for real-life situations.
Students discuss how they might react to the situation as teachers walk them through lesson plans that draw on expectations from the Ontario curriculum. “It becomes much more personal than a resource that might say ‘here are three tips…’” says Arianna.
According to Grace Guillaume, a first-year student at the University of Guelph who has volunteered with White Ribbon, it’s also a great way to practise for the unexpected. “When you encounter a situation in which you want to intervene, it often catches you off guard,” she explains. “You second guess yourself. But when you have these different examples of possible scenarios, you think of what you would do and should do. Then, when you encounter a real situation, there’s less processing. You can identify it more easily, and even though there’s not one exact right way to approach it, you already have an idea of what you can do.”
“I like the fact that there are also stories and links to videos about topics like cyberbullying,” adds Arianna. “It helps students understand those situations in ways that are relevant to their own lives.”
The resource can support more than just classroom discussions.
Some schools and students have used the campaign in creative ways. “Last year we created a show called My Being,” says Emily Guitar, a grade 12 student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. “It’s an interdisciplinary show where we talk about rape culture, especially related to youth. We had 50 performers and 20 visual artists involved.”
The student-led group framed their show around the Draw-the-Line resources. They put on two performances for a total of 400 audience members, and students are planning a similar show for this year. “Last year we talked about the overall community aspect. This year, we plan to talk about how we can work to diminish sexual violence without justifying the actions of the perpetrators,” explains Emily.
Arianna can also see potential in taking the messages of the Draw-the-Line resource outside the classroom. “I think that (school-based) clubs could be a really effective way to do this,” she says. “It could allow for a broader conversation in a school that doesn’t necessarily have teacher buy-in.”
Male allies are key.
The resource guides also contain a section on engaging male bystanders—something that’s central to White Ribbon’s vision for ending sexual violence. Until recently, education initiatives have largely focused on how women can protect themselves, rather than on how men can be part of the solution.
“Throughout history people have made sexual violence a women’s issue,” says Grace. “It creates an environment where men aren’t reviewing their actions or their reactions to sexual violence.”
“I think it makes a huge difference when men and boys get involved,” comments Emily. She explains that when they do, it no longer feels like just a woman’s issue, but an issue that concerns all of us.
And when all genders become part of the solution, we all benefit. Safer communities and healthier relationships are just the start. When men and boys become allies to end sexual violence, they can also gain a healthier, non-violent sense of self—something which can lead to an increased ability to identify and express emotions, a decrease in risk-taking behaviours and even improved mental health.
How can you start a conversation at your school?
“Prior to writing the resource, I didn’t feel I had the expertise. I wouldn’t have known where to start,” Sean admits. “Teachers need good resources and a lot of good information.”
Although the current iteration of White Ribbon’s Draw-the-Line campaign in Elementary and Secondary Schools is coming to a close, the Drawing the Line on Sexual Violence guides are available for free download from the White Ribbon website. Furthermore, e-modules to support educators in the use of the guides are coming this month. White Ribbon continues to offer workshops for educators and students.
It’s also important to remember that, with the right support, any educator can tackle the material. “My mistake was thinking, I don’t teach health,” says Arianna. “All teachers could use these activities. They don’t necessarily have to happen in health class.”
Most importantly, keep in mind that by reaching out for information and support you can increase your comfort level with the subject. That, in turn, will help students to feel more at ease. “As a teacher my job is to make sure everyone is comfortable having these discussions,” says Sean. “If I can do that, it becomes less taboo.”
And when a topic like sexual violence loses its taboo, empathy for victims increases, people begin to take more responsibility for their actions and reactions, and big changes can be set in motion. “Just being presented with opportunities to have discussions around this is going to change lives, save lives, and make a change in our society,” Sean concludes.
December 6th marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. It’s a day in remembrance of the 14 female students who lost their lives in the École Polytechnique Massacre and all women whose lives were lost to gender-based violence. White Ribbon was created as a response to the massacre in 1991 by three men who felt men needed to speak up against violence. We reached out to a male ally that has been connected with us from the beginning to get his impressions about December 6th and his commitment to work to end violence against women.
After a busy TTC trip, down to the lower concourse level at Queen’s Park and through the glass doors, we found ourselves in a boardroom in one of Toronto’s office towers. Ready for a conversation about remembrance, allyship, gender-based violence, privilege and work culture. We met with Nirav Patel, Director of Human Resources, Corporate Groups, at Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
A warm welcome, a supportive white ribbon fastened on a blue suit and we are off to a very inspiring talk. Nirav starts by telling that OPG hosts a yearly breakfast, generously donating to White Ribbon and the cause of raising awareness about men’s role in ending gender-based violence. I was curious to know how Nirav got involved with White Ribbon and it goes back to the very beginning of the Campaign.
“It was 1989 and I think everybody saw in the news the tragic massacre that took place at École Polytechnique. I was in 8th grade, I was probably about 13 years old and many of us came to school confused. It was probably the first time in our generation's history that we saw this type of massacre in such a graphic and unjust way and we were trying to make sense of it. Why were women only targeted? Why did the shooter feel that he needed to come into a school, a place of learning, a place of safety and do this? And what did this mean for us moving forward? Why did this happen and what do we need to do to change this?”
Nirav was fortunate to have two teachers who facilitated a dialogue about the massacre: “this was some heavy stuff that we were talking about. And nobody talked about gender equity or violence against women in the way we might do today.”
The dialogue had started, and a few weeks later Nirav and his school took a trip downtown to participate in a march: “the White Ribbon movement began. It began with men coming together, Jack Layton bringing the troops together, saying we should create awareness. We should observe this as a sad issue, but we should also use this as a catapult to make some changes. We wore our white ribbons and that’s always sort of stayed with me.”
As Nirav entered high school, they took actions such as collecting donations for women’s shelters. Then “in the workplace the dialogue just sort of,” Nirav pauses, “not stopped, but you know, nobody really talked about this in the workplace back then.”
Again Nirav felt lucky to have a mentor that at the time encouraged him to do something about that. She told him to get creative, start small and go ahead and do something. He had her full support: “A few men got together and we decided to host a breakfast in and around the timeframe of 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, and we had male executives cook breakfast for the staff, they flipped pancakes, employees were invited to walk in and make a donation to a woman’s shelter that specifically supported women leaving abusive relationships. And we signed a pledge together to not tolerate violence against women and be advocates for gender equity. And then we had some speeches. That’s sort of how the event started and it’s been about 15 years and we are still doing it.” The funds now raised at the breakfast support White Ribbon’s efforts to end gender-based violence.
Much has happened since 1991. But much is yet to be done. For a long-term solution to ending violence, men must embrace their responsibility. Or in Nirav’s words: “In general, men must have courage.” Courage to stand up and speak out: “If you hear a joke that’s inappropriate then don’t laugh along, stop it and have a dialogue. It could be starting with ‘hey that’s not cool and here’s why it’s not cool’ or ‘I don’t appreciate that’. And as simple as that sounds, it’s something that men don’t often do.”
Many men don’t know how to intervene or support someone who has experienced violence. They feel it’s a women’s issue and don’t know what to say. “I think the many masks that men carry - being stoic, being strong, not showing emotions - really need to be removed. All of those things have perpetuated the society that we live in now, where we have so much gender-based violence, where we’re experiencing women talk about harassment and sharing their stories. We need to have more dialogue to end the tragic stuff that takes place.”
When it comes to the workplace, it’s also about having a dialogue to create a culture of respect. It doesn’t happen overnight, as Nirav tells me: “I think it needs to be fostered, I think it needs to be promoted and I think it needs to be talked about.”
In Nirav’s organization their code of conduct guides the behaviour: “It tends to be a roadmap in terms of a way to behave and something to adhere to to a certain extent. We want people to work safely and go home to their families every day without suffering any injuries. A lot of that goes to feeling respected and valued at work. The goal is to have a conversation about what respect looks like and sometimes having those specific conversations with specific teams help set the norm for the organization.”
In the #MeToo era it is especially important to have these conversations: “I think most men, I’m not speaking for all men, but most men should know or ought to know what appropriate behavior is. I think what happens is that a lot of men feel powerful and they feel like they can get away with it. With the MeToo movement, things have been called to light. It’s important and I really respect all women that have come forward to share those very personal stories. I think it has taken a lot of courage for those individuals to come out, but the good thing is that it’s created a dialogue for people and it’s created a call to men to be more mindful of their behavior, the language they use and how to be more respectful.”
Furthermore Nirav urges men to be open to coaching: “when women come to you to say ‘hey you didn’t handle that really well’ or ‘can I offer a different lens on something’, we should take feedback as a gift, especially when it comes from a woman on some of these issues related to gender equity specifically.”
Nirav has so much more at heart about allyship, being a role model, ending violence against women, men’s privilege and men’s need to be advocates that one blog story is not enough. Look out for our podcast and video coming soon!.
We encourage and invite other men to organize steps and donations to support the cause to end gender-based violence. Think about the kind of ally you want to be in your workplace, community, and personal life. Follow Nirav's example and take small steps to make a difference.
Check out our website for more tips, information, and resources and reach out to [email protected] on how to get involved in your workplace.
by Malene Nørby Pedersen
“A wife is like the other half of yourself. If you think about some decisions and you don’t know whether to go with it or not, she is the one there to tell you if it is right or wrong. She is like part of you,” Omer says.
He calmly clears his throat, folds his hands and introduces himself to me as a guy who works at George Brown College supporting the IT team and enjoys life: “I have travelled to several places”, and he prefers hiking rather than sitting at home he tells me.
Omer is also one of fourteen male allies who work to address violence against women and girls in immigrant and refugee communities. In partnership with Neighbours, Friends and Families White Ribbon started a 1-year project in March 2018 to engage men and boys from immigrant and refugee communities to prevent gender-based violence: “Immigrant and Refugee Communities - Neighbours, Friends and Families” (IRCNFF).
White Ribbon delivered an interactive training in September to prepare the fourteen male-identified participants on the key role they will play in raising awareness: the importance of recognizing the warning signs of violence against women and girls and promoting bystander intervention in order to support survivors and prevent domestic violence.
Omer finds it important to raise awareness in the immigrant and refugee communities. He encourages them to be open-minded to remedy the issues concerning violence that prevails in these communities, stressing that he wants to let people understand the need to: “respect each other even if they have different cultures and ideas of religion or different backgrounds.” Omer continues: “whenever I get annoyed I just go lay down somewhere in nature, like hearing the wind or the birds or whatever in the place you are in. Mostly I do that in parks. It’s like you feel you get out of the situation, the problems go away from your body, and you can just leave it there.” In this way Omer copes with difficult situations and he encourages other men to do the same or find their own ways, so that things don’t escalate to violence.
During his travels, Omer witnessed violence against women and children - sometimes even parents with their kids, he adds. It motivated him to join the IRCNFF project: “When I heard about the program I felt like this is the chance for me to make a difference in this world.”
At the training with White Ribbon the participants were taught different things. A focus during the training was given to the early signs of violence: “being depressed, trying to run away from or avoid something. Some of the scenarios we saw in videos in the training, for example, a woman in a supermarket, where a guy came out of nowhere yelling at her. So the scenario was that the girl tried to avoid him, but the guy wouldn’t let her go. So the way to react in this case is you either go in between them or you call somebody with authorities to help stop the situation,” Omer explains. The manbox was another point of discussion and illustrated how men are expected to be and act as powerful, dominant, fearless, strong and emotionless, traits that perpetuate gender inequality and fuel gender-based violence.
Omer wants me to forward one last message:
“The only thing I can say to you guys is try to understand, try to respect each other and try to avoid any violence.”
To learn more about White Ribbon's work to engage Immigrant and Refugee male-identified youth and adults, visit our webpage. Be sure to check back on our website in February 2019 for new community resources!
How to talk to men who are abusive: http://www.neighboursfriendsandfamilies.ca/how-to-help/how-to-talk-to-men
The Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY 1-866-863-7868 crisis line for abused women in Ontario. The service is anonymous and confidential and is provided in up to 154 languages.
Helpline staff can support you in helping the abused woman or abusive man. They will discuss the warning signs of abuse you have seen and give you practical advice on ways to help.
For more information about the services of the Assaulted Women’s Helpline visit: www.awhl.org. In an emergency, call your local police service.
“Continue Supporting Girls’ Education”, that is my message”, Shukri shared in a meeting with White Ribbon staff last week, where we discussed ways to engage men and boys in supporting girls’ education.
Today is the International Day of the girl child and we, at White Ribbon, would like to take this opportunity to echo the need to strengthen global efforts to empower girls and ensure their human rights. In line with this year’s theme, With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, we are sharing Shukri’s success story: a story that can inspire refugee girls’ journey to a better future.
boys can do more to ensure that girls feel comfortable at schools. In addition, she stated the importance of community and block leaders embracing solidarity, as well as introducing daycare facilities to support child-headed households to go to school. While giving us these great inputs, Shukri remembered a story.
In Hagadera Refugee Camp, she liaised with the father of a 15-year-old girl, who planned for his daughter to be married to a man in the United States. The father made a living off collecting firewood outside the camp and selling it inside. It was however not enough to provide for his 15-year-old daughter and her younger siblings. The way out for him meant sending his daughter away to marry.
Shukri and another male community mobilizer had a conversation with the father to convince him that marriage was not the only way. They showed him their own example: as recipients of scholarships from WUSC they were given the opportunity to better their own future and that of their families. The same chance for his daughter would benefit not only her well-being but also the entire family as opposed to dowries which are only of short-term help, adding that investing in girls’ education will also contribute to the community at large. Shukri wished to emphasize this:
Since the inception of the project in 2014, White Ribbon has delivered a number of training initiatives in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps together with community mobilizers to engage men and boys to support girls’ education. The goal is to contribute to a positive change in communities’ attitudes and enable supportive behaviours towards girls’ education.
It’s been quite the Spring (now summer!) here at White Ribbon. Our team has been on the road and connecting with community partners locally, nationally and internationally.
Entering our fourth year collaborating with World University Services of Canada, and phase 2 of the Kenya Education and Equity Project (KEEP), Community Engagement Managers, Kaoutar and David are co- facilitating a training in Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee Camps. Engaging Community Mobilizers, we are supporting community-led actions plans and solutions to redressing barriers in sustaining girls participation in school. Look out for a blog on their experience soon!
We are continuing our work with UNFPA Vietnam on an engaged fatherhood programme with young and expectant couples to promote healthy relationships and prevent gender-based violence in the home, and community. Together, we are creating a national program geared towards creating a strong foundation of communication, trust and awareness of how parents can foster gender equity in their parenting.
We are excitedly planning for next phase Draw the Line (DTL) in ten new post-secondary institutions in Ontario. If your school has not yet engaged with Draw the Line- we would love to hear from you! This next phase focuses on the creation of a unique sexual violence prevention metric for colleges and universities to assess their performance in this area, and communicate to their community this is a priority. Missed the Facebook Live event with Chuck Winters on the role of sports in ending sexual violence? Catch up here.
We have just concluded the first full year of DTL activities in elementary and secondary schools. We distributed thousands of resources and helped hundreds of educators and students strengthen their ability to prevent sexual violence in their community. We are now preparing for more workshops and activities for the fall.
A big kudos to all walkers, volunteers and fundraisers who participated in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes on May 30, 2018. We have surpassed our goal of $200,000 which will enable White Ribbon to carry out more awareness-raising activities to promote healthy masculinity, and male ally-ship.
To Quebec! We are working closely with partners to support a social marketing campaign to enhance awareness on roles men and boys can play to end gender-based violence. Recently, White Ribbon gave the closing keynote address on our work with men and boys at Justice Canada’s Victims and Survivors Federal Symposium.
Internally, we are putting the finishing touches on our strategic plan, marketing and communications #MeToo strategy, and having further discussions on how we can articulate and exemplify key organizational values. Look out for an update to our website on these strategic directions and values soon!
It’s been a fast and furious spring and start of summer, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This Spring, David Garzon, White Ribbon’s Community Engagement Manager, sat down with Chuck Winters, former Toronto Argonaut player, coach, and anti-violence activist to discuss athletes and coaches’ roles to prevent gender-based violence and promote gender equity.
Winters now dedicates himself to harnessing that power to raise his players’ awareness of violence prevention. He invites his players to stop and think about the ideas that they implicitly learned by hearing sexist or homophobic derogatory comments as part of “normal conversations”. He asks them to pay attention to how their words and actions can be discriminatory. He asks them to reflect and be more conscious of their words and actions so that they can change their behaviours. He seeks to foster empathy for survivors of gender-based violence by sharing his own childhood experiences of domestic violence, inviting speakers to talk about their experiences, and by creating partnerships with feminist organizations in his community.
Winters is a strong believer in coaches’ ability to create change and he outlined four simple steps for those who may wish to follow his example.
Winters also had words of advice for colleges and universities to help them tackle gender-based violence. He argues that these institutions should put in place programs to support students and athletes who have had personal experiences of violence so that they can help break the cycle of violence that often reproduces itself from generation to generation. He also argues that they should make gender-based violence prevention their issue and create programs to help athletes understand that sexism and violence are learned behaviours and help them change.
White Ribbon was thrilled to participate in the very first Shelters of the Future Conference organized by Women’s Shelters Canada from June 13-15, 2018 in Ottawa. As an organization dedicated to redressing the root causes of gender-based violence, it is imperative we also understand the lived realities of survivors, and the challenges faced by shelters and transition homes.
The need is real
Over and over numerous women’s shelters and transition homes spoke about the increasing need in the community for effective, meaningful and survivor-centered VAW response. Shelters provided staggering annual numbers of 10,000-15,000 calls to crisis lines. This equates to at least 1 call every hour to a shelter in Canada.
Innovative spirits were high
Renae Hopf and Nathalie Trottier shared their stories of resilience, power and hope. Their strength and vulnerability in sharing their experience was overwhelming. Needed Kleenex. So much Kleenex. Thank you Renae and Nathalie.
It takes all of us
Together with the We Want No More Project and the Timmins Family Violence Interagency Action Committee, White Ribbon presented on key campaigns, and effective messaging and approaches for meaningful male engagement.
To the guys reading this- Strengthening Ties is looking for 50 men across the country to make a $3,000 commitment over three years to Women’s Shelters Canada. They also agree to be advocates speaking out against domestic violence. Hurry- 37 men have already confirmed. Visit the White Ribbon website for some inspiration and tools in speaking out.
As an organization dedicated to preventing gender-based violence (from subtle emotional forms to physical violence), we are keen to have further dialogue and collaboration to advance gender-transformative programming that can be adapted to local contexts, together with women’s shelters and organizations.
I’ve only scratched the surface of some of the amazing experience which were shared over the past couple days, but my cup is full to the brim.
Written by Kate Bojin, Director of Programs, White Ribbon
I know we’re all still in shock of the events that took place in Toronto last month, but I feel torn in two directions and have decided that it’s in times like these when we come together that we can potentially make the biggest difference.
When I say, “I’m torn” it’s because part of me says “don’t publicize this, don’t give this loser the headlines and don’t bring attention to his alleged motivations or cause” but another part of me wants to discuss it as I feel it needs to be spoken about.
Toronto doesn’t need a new hashtag, and as proud as I am to be a Torontonian I feel that we’re already stronger, more tolerant, more accepting and more welcoming than most, as can be seen by watching the cultural mosaic of witnesses interviewed in the area.
This hits especially close to home as Christine and I have called this area our home for the last five years.
Christine was working from home that day and out running errands at Shoppers, Tims, clothing donation etc. and on the very same sidewalks that a few hours later became news around the world.
We’re horrified seeing events like this on an almost weekly basis but this one feels different, this one was home.
Chris and I know every inch of these sidewalks. The restaurants and shops seen in the news clips are places we visit daily. Mel Lastman square is somewhere we walk nightly in search of the latest stray cat Christine has found to feed.
I don’t want to spend time on the matter of “incels” or legitimize the word or the people who believe in this nonsense but do realize that their misogynistic attitude exists out there and we as a people have a responsibility to educate ourselves above it.
A few years ago, we lost a friend to a senseless act of violence and have since pledged our time to a lesser known cause, White Ribbon.
White Ribbon is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity. Since its inception in Toronto in 1991, White Ribbon has spread to over 60 countries around the world. White Ribbon asks men to wear white ribbons as a sign of their pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.
Regardless of the motives of this recent attack, I feel that now more than ever we need to bring issues like violence against women to the forefront as it is a very present issue that doesn’t always receive the publicity it deserves.
On May 30, 2018 we’ll be participating in White Ribbon’s “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes” campaign for our “Ribbons for Rachelle” team to raise money and bring awareness to this issue.
I would love your support whether it be monetarily or by joining our team and walking with us. I’d love to see some of my friends (and friends with sons!) and everyone out there showing their support.
Mike Hollinsworth and his team “Ribbons for Rachelle” are participating in White Ribbon’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, presented by Town Shoes Ltd, taking place on Wednesday May 30, 2018 at 12noon, David Pecaut Square, 215 King Street West, in Toronto. Visit the Walk website to register, participate, and or donate. Thank you for your support of White Ribbon’s work to engage men and boys in promoting healthy masculinities and ending gender-based violence.
Why I Walk, or How I Underline My Vulnerability
I walk because I have been shamed and felt ashamed as a victim of sexual violence.
I walk because living with shame is like wearing a set of prescription glasses made for someone else.
I walk because being vulnerable is human and there is no shame in my humanity.
I walk to underline that vulnerability, which I am told is “weak” and should be kept private. Rape culture, a euphemism for our shared social environment that permits and condones sexual aggression and obscures understanding of consent, is excruciatingly public and I cannot be quiet about its insidious consequences.
In early 2016, Toronto Police Service (TPS) charged a man with sexual assault after I reported a ‘date rape.’ They took my statement three times that day. They made copies of my handwritten notes detailing what happened. They photographed the bruises. They collected clothing for evidence. One year later, in early 2017, in a meeting with the Crown to discuss the upcoming trial, I was told that the behaviour of this man was “ungentlemanly” but that it was, in the words of the TPS detective, “hard to read minds.” Never-mind the statement which indicated how many times I uttered the word “no” and the brutal nude photographs they had access to—this was not a winnable case. The Crown suggested I ask the man to sign a Peace Bond instead of going to trial. I agreed (flippantly) because it was clear that my experience at the hands of this man was no longer enough. A lawyer and a cop had agreed it wasn’t that bad.
One of the goals of sexual violence is the humiliation of the victim; reporting sexual violence often re-traumatizes and re-humiliates. Prosecuting this crime is a heavy and harmful burden on victims who often have no advocates. The incentives to report are low, the burden of proof is high, and the system is not equipped (nor designed) to deal empathetically or ‘productively’ with people who experience sexual violence.
I walk for White Ribbon because by the time the crime is reported the harm done is irrevocable. We must stop gendered and sexual violence where the first seeds are planted and become rooted: in schools, in the media, in political discourse, and in gender socialization, in every form. White Ribbon is doing the work of education, with programming that promotes “gender equality [and] healthy relationships and helps to counter the harmful effects of toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity as an ideological system negatively codes vulnerability: it is the female-sexed body, the feminine mystique, the “weak,” and the victim. I am all of these things in concert and in conflict.
I walk because when I do, I am reminded that I am also surviving and I am not alone. Victims keep living. We are here. We exist. We walk together. And we walk for the ones who didn’t and who cannot and we walk for a different world.
Lindsay Sidders is participating in White Ribbon’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, presented by Town Shoes Ltd, taking place on Wednesday May 30, 2018 at 12noon, David Pecaut Square, 215 King Street West, in Toronto. Visit the Walk website to register, participate, and or donate. Thank you for your support of White Ribbon’s work to engage men and boys in promoting healthy masculinities and ending gender-based violence.
A few years ago, I was speaking with one of my mentors about some of the hard times I experienced growing up, and some I am currently dealing with. He listened carefully, then asked me to be more vulnerable.
“I’ll talk about anything” I said. “What do you want to know?” He told me it wasn’t about the facts I was already sharing, it was much deeper than that – the real stuff, the stuff that makes you uncomfortable to share out loud.
He said if I wanted to have the impact I was capable of on my clients and students, and to be the kind of dad and role model I needed to be, I’d have to get comfortable with being vulnerable.
I soon realized how much I had been holding in for more than half my life – the pain, sadness, anger, and fear – all because I never learned how do things any differently. And for some reason, all the real, human emotions that men feel every day are ones we’re taught to keep to ourselves.
Sure, we can talk about sports, women, money, and power, but that’s as deep as we’re allowed to go, because “real men” don’t talk about their feelings.
I grew up watching Arnold courageously battle the Predator and John Maclean save the day in Die Hard, so my idea of masculinity was the same one so many of us learned. There’s an image we try so desperately to live up to – an image that surrounds us and makes us think that being ‘macho’ is a badge of honour when it’s really killing us from the inside out.
It wasn’t until I started talking openly about the ‘uncomfortable’ stuff that I understood how much of giant weight I had been carrying around, and how much it was holding me back. At first, I was afraid sharing my “flaws” would make me look weak, but the truth is I’ve never felt stronger. I was worried being vulnerable would push people away, but they keep getting closer. And the more I let down the shield I thought I needed to protect me all these years, the more people are thanking me, just for being honest and real.
I have a young son and another on the way. Being a dad is the greatest honour and responsibility I’ve ever experienced, and while the words I speak matter, I know the example I set matters so much more. In my work as a mentor with youth, I guide teens and young adults to be their greatest selves as they discover who they really are and how much they’re capable of – but that requires the kind of real trust that only comes with being vulnerable.
If that means being comfortable with the uncomfortable, then that’s what I need to do. And if that’s what it takes for the next generation of young men to be happier, healthier, more self-aware leaders than ever before, I’d say it’s something we all need to encourage.
As dads, mentors, and role models, our job isn’t to be perfect “heroes”, Arnold, or John Maclean, but daring to lead by example takes courage. And there’s nothing more courageous than putting down the shield, being vulnerable, and embracing who you really are.
As a role model, one small thing you can do is to participate in White Ribbon’s event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, on Wednesday May 30 at David Pecaut Square. Show your solidarity to end gender-based violence, and promote healthy masculinities- which are rooted in vulnerability, empathy and courage to get out of the “manbox.” You can register here. Walk a Mile is proudly presented by Town Shoes Ltd.
Cory Chadwick is a thought leader, speaker, mentor, and founder of The Personal Greatness Project, helping teens, young adults, teams, and organizations realize their personal greatness and thrive in a quickly changing world.
For more information, check out: www.personalgreatnessproject.com and follow @thepersonalgreatnessproject