Spencer Cole is working with Salmon Arm’s PEACE program, whose services include providing counselling and supports for young people regarding school bullying, dating violence and domestic violence. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Giving boys options to masculine stereotypes

High school presentations aimed at helping students see effects of social media and advertising

Real men score.

These words are printed across a photo of a man presumably getting out of a pool, his image framed by the legs of a woman who stands on the deck above him wearing a bikini and high heels.

This is a cologne advertisement – and an example of one of the ways that masculinity is portrayed in advertising and on social media.

Spencer Cole makes this observation explaining he hopes the presentations he and Colleen Making are giving will help boys develop their own, healthy definitions of what being masculine means.

That’s because characteristics which often make up the stereotypical mould for men – such as being muscular, unemotional and aggressive, can create impossible expectations, unhealthy practices and unhealthy relationships.

Colleen Making is co-ordinator of the SAFE Society’s PEACE program (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling and Empowerment) in Salmon Arm, formerly called Children Who Witness Abuse, and Cole has recently joined her.

He co-facilitates presentations with her at the high school and is doing some one-on-one counselling.

The PEACE program, which operates throughout B.C., provides counselling and supports for both boys and girls regarding school bullying, dating violence and domestic violence, as well as supporting parents.

Related: Working to stop violence

The high school presentations are part of a provincial pilot project and so far they’ve tackled topics such as assertiveness and consent. They’re now onto a two-part lunchtime series on masculinity, which is being held at Salmon Arm Secondary’s new wellness centre.

In the series they talk about gender expression, men’s health, breaking myths and stereotypes of what a man should be, as well as advertising and how that affects body image.

Gender expression, which is only a small portion of the presentations, touches on the conventions that deem a boy must wear only blue, for example, and be a ‘manly’ man.

They talk about some of the stereotypes promoted in advertising, which show men as the bread winners, as stoic and as physically strong. Romantic settings in advertising will portray men as sexually aggressive, while women are depicted as available to men. Often a woman is not shown as a whole being, says Cole, but just as parts – her breast, her hand, her legs.

“I want them (the students) to be more aware of the information that they’re taking in from commercials and advertisements and I want them to develop critical thinking in that area,” Cole says. He credits Dr. Melissa Munn and her Men and Masculinities course at Okanagan College for much of the material he’s learned.

Making is pleased that funding has been made available so Cole can work part-time with the PEACE program.

In 2009, one of the Silverbacks hockey players assisted her and was well-received.

“It was so positive for the students we worked with…,” Making says. “People really responded well to the dynamic of a female and a male voice teaching those classes. And I think for some of the younger boys, having a positive role model who was caring and connected to them had a lot of power.”

Making says Cole is now building a client base working with youth in order to help decrease her wait list.

Cole explains that as a child and as a teenager, he went through some rough times in middle school and high school, but received help from teachers that made a difference.

“So I would like to give back. I want to be somebody who can make a positive impact on a child’s life like somebody did for me.”

Salmon Arm’s PEACE Program works with young people from three to 19 years who are exposed to or impacted by violence. It now has an approximate six-month wait list or about 25 families waiting.

Making says the wait list has formed because funding from the provincial Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General is inadequate. While most of the 86 programs throughout B.C. are full-time, Making is part-time, paid for only 25 hours per week. Cole gets fewer hours.

She says they will, however, be doing summer groups as camps this year, which will specialize in anger.

Making says she always promotes the PEACE program as a worthwhile one that provides prevention and education to individuals and to other professionals in the community. And now it’s needed more than ever.

“In these challenging times with so many outside influences – social media and the ongoing kind of bullying that happens on social media… It’s difficult. It’s a challenge.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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