PEI

4 reasons Women's Network P.E.I. wants you talking about masculinity

The Women's Network of P.E.I. is encouraging boys and men on the Island to feel comfortable in talking about harmful expressions of masculinity.

Mental health, gender-based violence and creating community leaders

'Notions of toxic masculinity require men to be strong and dominant while ignoring their own emotion and sensitivity,' says Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of the Women's Network P.E.I. (Contimis Works/Shutterstock)

The Women's Network P.E.I. is encouraging boys and men on the Island to feel comfortable in talking about harmful expressions of masculinity.

The non-profit hosted an event on Wednesday in Charlottetown and asked boys and men from the community to take part in exercises which explored some of the potentially harmful ideas behind masculinity.

"When we refer to toxic masculinity what we mean are those traditional gender norms that society expects men and boys to perform. Notions of toxic masculinity require men to be strong and dominant while ignoring their own emotion and sensitivity," said Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of the Women's Network P.E.I.

"Toxic masculinity and gender norms lead to negative social and emotional health outcomes for people of all genders — especially men and boys," Kilfoil said. 

Getting the conversation going is important, said Kilfoil. Here are five reasons why the Women's Network P.E.I. says it's time for Islanders to talk about masculinity.

1. Mental health and expressing emotion

'We heard a lot ... about how the only emotion that men and boys are able to feel safely is anger,' says Kilfoil. (Shutterstock / FGC)

"We all are forced into these two different gender boxes, ideas in society that everybody is either male or female and a woman or a girl should behave this way and a man or a boy should behave that way," Kilfoil said.

One of the restrictions put on boys and men by these "gender boxes," Kilfoil said, is not being given permission from society to feel and express emotion.

Not feeling like they are able to express emotion, she said, can lead to boys and eventually men developing psychological and emotional issues.

"We see an increase in substance abuse related to toxic masculinity and we see high rates of depression and suicide amongst male-identifying individuals. And this can be traced directly back to the lack of space and support for men and boys in our communities," Kilfoil said.

Boys and men, due to feeling they are unable to express emotions often face more challenges in addressing their mental health, Kilfoil said.

"The double bind men experience — they often face more challenges related to their mental health because they have less space to talk about it. And they also face more barriers about trying to access help when they have mental-health issues," she said.

2. Men want to talk

Participants at a roundtable on masculinity hosted by the Women's Network P.E.I. (Submitted by Jillian Kilfoil)

"Men and boys are craving safe spaces with other men and boys to be able to talk about toxic masculinity and how it impacts their lives," Kilfoil said.

Only 55 people were originally invited to Wednesday's invite-only event, she said, but there was so much interest that the organization decided to add another 10 seats. A third of the people who attended the event were boys and men.

"With zero promotion, zero outreach and just sending emails to our closest networks we filled the room with 65 stakeholders who wanted to engage in conversation around how to talk to men and boys about masculinity and how to talk about it in a safe way," Kilfoil said.

3. Gender-based violence

'Until we give more space for masculinity to be expressed in multiple different ways we will continue to have these harmful notions and we will continue to have people doing harm to themselves and the people around them,' says Kilfoil. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

"A third of Canadian women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and that's directly related to toxic notions of masculinity," Kilfoil said.

"Until we give more space for masculinity to be expressed in multiple different ways we will continue to have these harmful notions and we will continue to have people doing harm to themselves and the people around them because they are trying to perform what is a toxic notion of masculinity."

4. Creating community leaders

Some of the men who attended Wednesday's event, Kilfoil says, even expressed an interest in learning how to facilitate similar workshops and exercises so they could lead their own events on the Island in the future. (ADragan/Shutterstock)

"This is not about blaming or shaming men or boys but this is looking broadly at what are all of those gender norms that we force on individuals in society and how can we remove those constraints that we know lead to poor health outcomes," she said.

Our intentions in this work are to support men and boys to be leaders in redefining what masculinity looks like in P.E.I.— Jillian Kilfoil

Some of the men who attended Wednesday's event, Kilfoil said, expressed an interest in learning how to facilitate similar workshops and exercises so they could lead their own events on the Island in the future.

"Our intentions in this work are to support men and boys to be leaders in redefining what masculinity looks like in P.E.I.," Kilfoil said.

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