What is a real man in the #MeToo era?

The #MeToo movement has ushered in a new era of awareness around sexual harassment and the way male privilege exploits power.

4 young men talk about how the definition of being a man is changing from their father’s generation

Ally Gonzalo, top left, Kevin Settee, top right, Levi Foy, bottom right, and Brett Stovin, say the idea of masculinity is changing but not fast enough. (Ally Gonzalo/Submitted, Cleo Curtis/Submitted, Naniece Ibrahim/Submitted, Brett Stovin/Submitted)

The #MeToo movement has ushered in a new era of awareness around sexual harassment and the way male privilege exploits power.

However, the movement is also forcing men to be critical of their own perceptions of what a man should be.

During this watershed moment, CBC Radio's Up To Speed took a walk with four different young men from Winnipeg to talk about what it means to be a man.

There are more women in the workplace, gender roles are blurring and it's becoming OK for men to show their vulnerabilities, the men say. 

But the old expectations of what it means to be a man are not disappearing fast enough. 

'My dad showed me how not to be man'

Kevin Settee, 27, said his dad was always supportive of him in hockey and sports.

"He always wanted me to be a strong hockey player. You gotta be tough, you gotta hit. That's what I remember from my dad."

Talking about sports was easy, talking about emotions wasn't — especially when it came to his parents' relationship, Settee said. His dad would sometimes get violent with his mom.

"My dad showed me how not to be man," he said.

Settee has his brother to lean on and has been encouraged to share his emotions through Indigenous ceremonies.

For young men who don't have that kind of outlet, Settee said he believes it can start "driving them crazy".

Kevin Settee, 27, says young men don't always have outlet to sit and share their emotions. (Cleo Curtis/Submitted)

The idea of being hard and giving off an image of toughness can be ingrained within inner-city youth, Settee said. He grew up in the West End and said he saw a lot of violence — from sexual exploitation to knife fights on the streets.

To stay safe, many young men think they have to stand their ground and act bigger than they actually are.

"Men have to put on a certain persona, dress a certain way, walk a certain way, act a certain way as a means of self defence," he said.

There's a culture of always being guarded, keeping defences up at all times and it turns boys into men that they actually aren't, Settee said.

"It's OK to cry, it's OK to do whatever you want to do and not be confined by this definition of masculinity or being masculine," he said.

But it can change, Settee said, and he is redefining what it means to be a man — starting with his family and the kids around him. 

'Their idea of what a man is, is macho'

Ally Gonzalo, 23, said growing up in a conservative Filipino Catholic family was tough.

"Their idea of what a man is, is macho, doesn't cry, doesn't get emotional, especially more coming from my dad," he said. 

Gonzalo said he was teased a lot growing up. His dad would make jokes sometimes about the way he walked asking if he was gay. It happened before he came out to his parents.

When he did tell them he was gay, Gonzalo said his parents were ultimately understanding. 

"If I could accept myself and announce it to them then that means I'm actually ready to let the world know and not be afraid anymore," he said, adding all of the fear hasn't disappeared.

"Well, still a little bit afraid because you never know what happens."

Ally Gonzalo, 23, says he was teased a lot growing up because he wasn't afraid to cry. (Ally Gonzalo/Submitted)

Gonzalo was always surrounded by females and never had many male friends. As he got older, he always wondered why other men thought it was so wrong to be in touch with their emotions.

Gonzalo was never shy to cry. There is no shame in being hurt, he said, if he fell down the stairs he didn't want to "man up" — he was hurt so if he felt like crying, he would.

This stands in stark contrast to many Filipinos who ascribe to other forms of masculinity, he said.

Those kinds of ideas are supported and amplified by their President Rodrigo Duterte. Gonzalo likened Duterte to U.S. President Donald Trump, saying they are both misogynists and homophobes.

"They both make inappropriate sexual harassment jokes all the time as if it's an acceptable thing. These are not OK," he said.

But many people support these figures and it makes Gonzalo wonder about why so many men share those same views.

"I want to see it from their perspective, but at the same time these are the same people who call me a f****t and call me gay, and use that in a very derogatory sense. And that has happened to me ever since I was a kid and that has plagued my existence," he said.

Society is by nature patriarchal, Gonzalo said, and he also needs to recognize his male privilege. It's all very hard for him to process, especially as a newcomer to Canada.

Gonzalo has been in Canada for just over a year and since moving here has acquired several more identities. Back home Gonzalo was just a gay man, now he's also a person of colour, an immigrant and he's still figuring out how to deal with these feelings and emotions.

For Gonzalo, what makes a real man is being true to one's self without harming anyone. But the old adages of masculinity aren't changing fast enough.

'It would always catch me off guard'

As the captain of the University of Manitoba men's hockey team, Brett Stovin, 23, is faced with hyper-masculine situations all the time.

"In hockey when you're out on the ice, you're expected to be a traditional man — you don't show feelings, you have to be tough, throw the body around, [you] might have to fight once in a while," he said.

He's no stranger to this environment. Growing up on a farm with nine brothers and sisters, Stovin said his father was stoic.

"I remember specifically times when he did show emotion, and it was rare and it would always catch me off guard," Stovin said.

Brett Stovin, 23, says the idea of masculinity is changing. (Brett Stovin/Submitted)

Hockey players and athletes are stereotyped to be aggressive and tough, Brett said, but these days his teammates are often talking openly about their emotions and feelings.

"As a leader on the team that's something I have to deal with very often. Guys come to talk to me, and it's actually more of a normal thing now to talk about it, and kind of get it out," he said. 

"If you want to be successful you can't keep those things inside. As a hockey player, if something's bothering you, then your performance is going to go down."

But it can be a hard balance. On the ice, Stovin said their job is to toughen up. In the arena, grown men often yell and hurl slurs at each other and the players. Sometimes when "guys do get under your skin," Stovin said "you drop the gloves."

"That's part of the game. Sometimes it's even a little fun."

But off the ice, Stovin said he believes that the definition of a man is changing. Whereas a traditional man was the breadwinner, he thinks the modern man is more supportive, more empathetic, and has good values. 

'I don't cry as often as maybe I should'

Levi Foy, 36, has no idea what it means to be a real man in the traditional sense.

As a queer person who often identifies as two-spirit and dresses in drag, binary concepts don't apply to Foy.

"I don't know what that means. I mean, there's certain ideas about what being a man is, but I don't subscribe to any of those," Foy said.

"Then when you really look into it, a lot of people don't."

Levi Foy, 36, says he never thought crying was weakness, but he probably doesn't cry as much as he should. (Naniece Ibrahim/Submitted)

Foy's parents never forced any mainstream traits about masculinity onto their children growing up. It was always more about taking care of and providing for people that you love, Foy said. That's what being a man was for Foy's parents — if you don't provide, you're not a man.

Whereas Foy's conception of an ideal man is somebody who is honest, open to criticism and open to having discussions about the way that they walk in the world.

Foy said that living life wholeheartedly and vulnerable is a new phenomenon for cis-gendered heterosexual men, it's not new for queer men. But that doesn't mean that Foy hasn't faced violence in the form of misogyny and homophobia.

But the public discourse is changing.

"The main contribution is primarily women who have been able to just be like, 'OK, we're going to start holding you accountable,'" Foy said.

Foy said it's important for men to feel that they can be open and talk about the shifting ideas around masculinity, but it's not going to be easy. 

"I never grew up thinking that crying was a part of weakness. That being said, I don't cry as often as maybe I should," Foy said.


Rignam Wangkhang is an award-winning Tibetan-Canadian multimedia producer with the CBC. He is currently the Community Producer for CBC Toronto, where he is helping the newsroom experiment with new ways of listening to, engaging, and reporting with underserved communities in the GTA. Previously, he was a Producer at the CBC Creator Network. He has produced documentaries, essays, and reported for the CBC from Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and Toronto.

With files from CBC Radio's Up To Speed