By: Gurleen Grewal
The social processes that lead to defining masculinity and manhood in ways that negatively impact men, boys, and communities perpetuate gender inequities in Canada and around the world. Canada’s efforts to promote gender equity crucially occur in the field of international development through policies like the Feminist International Assistance Policy. But, the push for gender equity also happens through the work of local non-profits. Looking at how the grassroots organizations in Canada engage men and boys to be partners in addressing gender inequities can be helpful in advocating this involvement abroad. To that end, BCCIC spoke with Canadian non-profit, Next Gen Men (NGM), to gain insight into how they communicate the many ways that men and boys can benefit from and contribute to gender equity in practice.
NGM began in 2015 with the goal of improving the health and wellbeing of men and boys by fostering spaces where they can explore healthy masculinities, gender roles, and relationships. The three founders of NGM, Jake Stika, Jason Tan de Bibiana, and Jermal Alleyne, address gender equity from a common perspective: they believe that “men can be better,” and are not “inherently bad.” Applying this philosophy to their youth programs, social events, educational initiatives, and workplace training, NGM does not claim to transform men from being bad to better. Rather, they focus on shifting the dialogue from a prescriptive point of view that dictates “what men should be” to one that underscores the spectrum of positive possibilities for “what men could be.”
The programs NGM offers for youth and for training workplace equity leaders use a gender transformative structure. This means that they directly confront harmful gender norms, dismantle the idea of a gender binary, and endeavour to show the range of gender expressions and identities. They emphasize that particular characteristics, such as demonstrating care or being a strong leader, are not innately tied to femininity or masculinity. Recognizing that affecting long-term change in entrenched attitudes and behaviours is an ongoing process that takes root by re-visiting the role of gender, NGM runs programs that are between ten to fourteen weeks. To evaluate and develop their programs they use peer-reviewed measures such as the male role norms inventory and homophobia scale.
According to NGM, the socialization of men and boys remains a powerful site for enacting positive change towards gender equity. Combining programmatic and cultural interventions, like the Modern Manhood podcasts, they seek to cultivate healthy masculinities in “the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell others, and the stories we allow ourselves to listen to” about gender. In Canada, and in the context of international development, the question of what it means to be a man remains vital to achieving gender equity. By unpacking “traditional ideas about masculinity and manhood,” NGM brings men and boys into conversations that clearly identify the stakes of grappling with questions about gender. Their commitment to engaging men and boys to reconsider and reconfigure “what men could be,” presents an essential step in building partnerships for gender equity.