'It's about being allies': Defining masculinity during the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp

Advocates for equality talked about gender norms and inclusivity at the Make it Awkward Summit in Edmonton, which wrapped up Saturday.

The Make It Awkward Summit featured timely talks about stereotypes and gender roles

Cameron Kizito, 13, listens to a presentation on masculinity at the Make it Awkward Summit on Saturday. (CBC)

Advocates for equality say men's roles are shifting — and it's about to get awkward.

Disrupting gender norms to create inclusive spaces was a goal of the three-day Make It Awkward Summit at the Westin Edmonton, which wrapped up Saturday.

The summit featured a variety of workshops on discrimination, racism and feminism.

Jesse Lipscombe, the summit's host and co-founder of the Make it Awkward campaign, questions the role of the modern man.

He said he loves dancing, singing and drawing — pastimes often considered to be feminine. 

"But, I'm also a jock and an athlete and have giant shoulders," Lipscombe said.

It's not easy to define the modern man, but he said people of all ages, races and genders need to discuss masculinity.

"All of us need to figure out that we can accept all the range of emotions, be all the different versions of ourselves," Lipscombe said.

Summit host Jesse Lipscombe says the conference focused on creating safe, inclusive spaces for everyone. (CBC)

Masculinities Studies Research Professor Michael Kehler presented about masculinity in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

The University of Calgary instructor said he's hoping to engage people in thinking differently about gender relations.

"We need to stand alongside women and girls as allies, as friends, as supporters. Because to remain where we are and to feel that we are being attacked, is to deny the kind of violence against women and the kind of sexual harassment that has been part of a whisper culture around masculinities," Kehler said.

Masculinities studies professor Michael Kehler discussed what it means to be a man at this weekend's Make It Awkward Summit. (CBC)

Historically, women have had less power than men, he said.

"The difficulty here is for men to think about giving up what, historically they assumed, was their power, their stage," Kehler said. "And the difficulty is in rethinking how we impose masculinity, how we enact or perform masculinities in our everyday interactions."

'Men need to be a part of the conversation'

Masculinity needs to move from a singular concept to one that's plural, and not restrictive, Kehler said.

"It's about finding the courage and the strength to be different, to speak up and to speak out about heteronormativity, about homophobia, about violence that occurs both towards and against men and women."

Kehler said his presentation at the summit was directed at all genders. It highlighted how women need to support men in joining discussions about gender, he said.

"Women have spoken up and taken the limelight and the stage, and men need to be a part of the conversation, or we'll go back to boys being boys. We'll go back to those locker room conversations if we don't have men as allies."

Kehler, a father of two, said children also need to take part in questioning traditional gender roles.

"The ways in which we talk to boys have to be authentic," he said. "We have to show vulnerabilities in ourselves as parents, as men and women. We need to show them it's okay not to be like the rest of the boys because you don't need to follow that path if it's awkward."​

Cameron Kizito, 13, attended the Make It Awkward Summit to learn about how to fight against discrimination. (CBC)

Cameron Kizito, 13, said he attended this weekend's summit to learn how to make a change in the world.

"I know that there's racism, sexism and all those other isms out there that are affecting a lot of people, and there's not very much being done about it. So I feel like this can really give me a chance to learn how to help people with those problems," Kizito said.

"We're all human beings, so if we all just treat each other the same, we'll be fine."

His 15-year-old sister, Jasmyne Kizito, agreed.

She said when she was younger, fathers in storybooks were portrayed as being strong and tough.

"[Stereotypical father figures] would never cry, which is not the definition of tough," she said. "I feel like being tough is being able to acknowledge your feelings."

Jasmyne Kizito, 15, says being tough means being vulnerable. (CBC)

She said men don't have to identify with traditional male norms if they're not comfortable with it.

"I hope that one day people can accept the fact that we are all human beings and we all have feelings, we all have emotions, and they can come together for it."