The Bigger Picture
We know that many men will never use physical or sexual violence against women and most men believe in equality between men and women. 97% of men in Ontario believe they can personally make a difference in promoting healthy, respectful, non-violent relationships (White Ribbon, 2012).
Men’s violence against women and inequality towards women has its roots in the ways we have historically regarded women and men. Women were denied such basic rights as the right to vote, to pursue a career, to own property or to pursue higher education. Some countries still deny women these basic rights.
Even though laws and social policies have changed, inequities persist generation after generation because of the messages we give children about how we value women and men.
Many boys and men are taught to hide their emotions. They have been taught that feelings make them weak and feminine. But feelings are a part of being human.
When we try to suppress feelings, they often re-emerge in the form of aggression and violence.
Many boys grow up witnessing violence in the home or directly experiencing violence themselves. Although this leads some boys and men to refuse to use violence themselves, it has taught others that the use of force is normal in personal relations.
The messages we receive as children stay with us as we become adults. As adult men, we have an opportunity to share our positive beliefs towards gender equity with the boys and young men around us. Growing up believing in gender equity is strongly correlated with positive attitudes and behaviours towards women and young girls in adult life (White Ribbon, 2012).
Sexism, gender inequality, violence against women, and homophobia are tied to how boys are socialized from a young age to accept strict views of masculinity. When boys and men step outside of expected masculine behaviour, they often experience demeaning and homophobic language and actions. It is important, then, to challenge homophobic comments and bullying among young men, to recognize and affirm sexual diversity, and to advocate for men and boys to freely express alternate and healthy forms of masculinity.
It is critical that we teach young men to set boundaries and respect the boundaries of others, to develop an understanding of what consent means and how to respectfully navigate intimate relationships without harming themselves or others. 96% of men in Ontario believe that it is important that a woman be as happy as a man in sexual relationships and 97% believe that when there is consent, both partners in a relationship have the right to initiate sex equally (White Ribbon, 2012).
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