British Columbia

Where do men fit in #MeToo conversations about sexual violence?

Ryan Avola, who runs iGuy workshops in Vancouver teaching young boys to think critically about masculinity, said men need to take the initiative for change.

'There is a culture of upholding this kind of normalcy,' says iGuy workshop for boys organizer

Women are posting 'me too' on social media to indicate they have been sexually harassed or assaulted but say men need to be part of the conversation too. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

Conversations about sexual assaults and harassment have exploded across social media since the #MeToo campaign exploded on the internet Sunday evening, with thousands of women sharing their stories.

Some argue, however, the onus shouldn't be on women to prove the problem remains widespread — men should be a part of the conversation as well.

Ryan Avola, who runs iGuy empowerment workshops in Vancouver teaching young boys to think critically about masculinity, said men need to take the initiative for change.

But starting those discussions can be a challenge, Avola told CBC Early Edition host Rick Cluff.

"There is still a lot of backlash from men, young men too, when we start to deconstruct ideas of masculinity and especially violence against women," Avola said. "A lot of the reaction is kind of, 'well, this is the way it is' or 'this is not my problem, I don't do this. I'm not that man.'"

Open conversations

Part of tackling violence against women is talking about it openly with men and boys, Avola said.

The iGuy workshops are for boys aged eight to 12 and involve discussions about views of masculinity, societal pressures and gender-based harassment.

'When we started building those blocks about stereotypes and masculine stereotypes, we start seeing this picture of a man that is strong and tough but also maybe aggressive and loud and powerful," he said.

"That spirals into a conversation about violence — not just in our boy groups around bullying and aggression but what that means for girls in our schools and women in our lives."

Ryan Avola running an iGuys workshop, where discussions are held about stereotypes of masculinity. (Ryan Avola)

Culture of normalcy

The #MeToo flurry of stories about sexual violence in the workplace was, in part, triggered by allegations of sexual assault and harassment recently made public against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein from a number of women he had worked with over the decades.

"What we're seeing in the Harvey Weinstein conversation is: what about all the men around him who knew this was happening and didn't say anything about it? There is a culture of upholding this kind of normalcy," Avola said.

Some men have taken to social media with hashtags like #IveDoneThat to encourage taking responsibility and #IWill to pledge standing up against sexual violence.  

"The approach to ending this kind of thing or at least finding solutions, needs to be very diverse," Avola said. "It needs to be parents, adults, seniors, businesses — everyone needs to be having this conversation."

Avola is hosting "A Conversation on Healthier Masculinities" on Wednesday evening, Oct. 18. The talk runs 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Unbounce at 401 West Georgia Street.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition