Montreal dads step up to new challenges in age of #MeToo

Some men balked at a Gillette ad that went viral this week, saying it attacked masculinity, but according to Montreal's Assault Prevention Centre, the attitudes displayed in the ad still exist — and need to change.

Gillette ad asks men to behave differently, which rubbed some the wrong way

Leah Willett, centre, with her friends Mia, left, and Beatrice are all taking martial arts training at Gracie Barra in Saint-Henri. Leah's father, Jon Willett, says the confidence she gains will better protect her from bullying and harassment. (Submitted by Elsa Sery Dromart)

When David Singleton addressed the issue of consent at a workshop he was giving at a Montreal high school, one father piped up to tell the instructors he disagreed with them: he wanted his son to "be aggressive." 

"'I want him to go out and, whatever he wants, I want him to just take it,'" Singleton recalls that dad saying.

Singleton co-ordinates the children's program at Montreal's Assault Prevention Centre.

So he wasn't that surprised when he saw the angry reaction of some men to a Gillette ad that went viral this week.

The ad shows scenes of toxic masculinity and asks, "Is this the best a man can get?"

The Montreal Assault Prevention Centre offers workshops, and David Singleton, centre, is one of its co-ordinators. (Submitted by Montreal Assault Prevention Centre)

Singleton said the attitudes called into question by the ad — and the one he witnessed in that workshop — are still at play. 

"I don't think that was an unusual kind of attitude for a father to take with his sons."

However, he says, said power structures are realigning, and for men, that means they are being asked to give up a certain amount of privilege in order to have better relationships with people.

"But on the surface, it doesn't seem fair, in a sense," Singleton said.

Viral ad after year of #MeToo

The Gillette ad follows the impact of last year's cultural phenomenon, #MeToo.

Singleton said in 2018, the centre started fielding calls and visits from fathers who would walk in, cash in hand, to enrol their daughters in self-defence training after the hashtag took off.

"We had fathers coming in paying directly for a course for their daughter," he said. "That never used to happen."

Some dads, however, are taking other routes to ensure their daughters can set down healthy boundaries.

Jon Willett has his daughter Leah, 9, in training at Saint-Henri's Gracie Barra, a martial arts school with courses for children as young as three.

Mia, 8, and Leah, 9, learn martial arts at Gracie Barra in Saint-Henri. (Submitted by Elsa Sery Dromart)

Willett says he believes the martial arts training will make his daughter more confident — and better protected from bullying and harassment.

"If she does find herself in, maybe, a situation that she doesn't feel comfortable in, she'll have not only the mental confidence to be able to get up and walk away from it, but also have the physical skills as well," Willett said.

Men stepping up

The Gillette ad put responsibility squarely on men to behave differently — and that's a message self-defence instructor Béatrice Châteauvert-Gagnon agrees with.

Châteauvert-Gagnon said that when she started leading workshops a decade ago, the media was focusing on the idea of feminists have gone too far — portraying men as victims of modern feminism.

She welcomes the idea of fathers taking an active interest to end toxic behaviour.

In her experience, she said, boys and men tend to tune out advice from women.

"I can say as much as I want to a man or boy, but are they going to listen or hear me?" 

"If we want boys to change, and learn and grow with us, maybe men should step in at this stage," Châteauvert-Gagnon said.

Béatrice Châteauvert-Gagnon, left, has been a self-defense instructor at the Montreal Assault Prevention Centre for about 10 years. (Submitted by Béatrice Châteauvert-Gagnon)

Parents need to be active in teaching respect and consent, Montreal child psychologist Julia Daki said 

"Often the boys I work with know what not to do, but have no idea how to approach a girl they like."

She recommends ensuring boys socialize with girls at an early age, so that they are able to navigate those dynamics better when they start dating.

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