Taking gender stereotypes out of the game

(Graphic by Kate Turner)
(Graphic by Kate Turner)

Masculinity is getting a new face.

Advocates are hoping to give masculinity a new definition, which includes challenging the notions of masculinity as well exposing issues of gendered violence and homophobia.

And this is exactly what Adam Lawrence is trying to do.

The former manager at the diversity and equity office on Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus, Lawrence sought out a few years ago to look at issues of masculinity. A group of students wanted help, and he looked into it.

“It was sort of a hot topic at the time,” the now dean of students at the Brantford campus said. “And we started to think, ‘how do we engage men at Laurier to be the leaders in sexual assault prevention and gendered violence and these tough discussions?’”

The conversation continued for Lawrence, even creating a group called Laurier Men Advocating Change (LMAC), but while people were interested, nothing could get off the ground.

And in recent years, the initiative has resurfaced with the help of Laurier Athletics.

“Through some of the conversations we were having and the conversations I was having with other people, Peter Baxter started to think, ‘hey, this is something we could be doing in Athletics,’” Lawrence said.

Baxter, the director of athletics and recreation at Laurier, emphasized the importance of sport in creating a positive environment.

“Essentially, it’s a problem in sport culture, and sport can’t be separated from regular society like it has,” Baxter said. “But there are certain things that sport is that it has the ability to influence others. It’s a powerful platform for change.”

Baxter said that the definition of a man for a lot of people is that they are athletic, strong, full of charisma with sexual attraction, sexual conquests and a large income. What Baxter and Lawrence hope to achieve is to erase the general stigma associated with the male persona.

“I guess, with football, they assume we’re all supposed to be big, strong guys that are not afraid of anything and can only do certain things,” said Chris Ackie, a third-year linebacker for the Laurier men’s football team. “Only do manly things. Or watch manly shows. Anything that would be girly, other people laugh at you. Because you’re supposed to be big and tough.

“It shouldn’t be that way. If I want to do something, I’m going to do it.”

“The reality is, to be a man, there are only really two things you need to have — positive relationships and a commitment to the cause. Doing things for others,” Baxter said.

Both Baxter and Lawrence hope to engage the entire Laurier community in promoting a project — whether it is a service program or a conference — that can help erase the assumptions surrounding masculinity.

“I think this is somewhere where we can look at men around campus that are linked to certain groups and say ‘do you want to be a part of this and how do we filter this information to the vast majority of men’?” Lawrence said.

Baxter said that the initiative could also reach out to women who are stuck in socially constructed stereotypes.

“Some of this is good discussion for women, too. Because women live under a few myths themselves,” he said.

Ackie mentioned that while stereotypes exist, his team accepts individuality.

“Especially on our team, we’ve got some characters,” Ackie said. “So we could make fun of them, but we don’t mean it. We’ll laugh a bit, but at the end of the day, they’re still my boys, whatever they do.”

“A lot of guys need to feel comfortable amongst talking to other guys,” Baxter said. “And the issue that anyone has in this topic is getting guys to express their emotions. But I have faith in young people that they can, and change this thing.”

The issue with the pilot project that Lawrence and Baxter would like to create is a lack of financial help and resources. They currently lack a “hook” —something that will draw in people that are willing to make a difference.

“I’m going to be honest with you. Right now, Peter and I are focused on doing something, but it’s just about finding the money for it,” Lawrence said. “Then it’s ‘this is what we want to do, this is what we have the funding for, this is how we can bring the speaker in’ and then it will be how do we bring people around the table to figure out what our focus is going to be.”

While the project is still in the works and does not have any set timeline, Lawrence emphasizes what his goal is with this initiative.

“To engage men in issues of masculinity, gendered violence and stereotypes of men, and to have those conversations and to start to get rid of the stereotypes. Break free of the stereotypes,” he said.

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