The importance of relational skills in boys and male youth

Boys stand shoulder to shoulder outside.

 In 2013 through my role as director of the University of Victoria Undergraduate Student Society sexual assault centre, The anti-violence project I was given the unique opportunity to work with young male students who had caused sexualized or gender-based violence on our campus. It was working with those young men that I became profoundly aware of the impacts on all of us living in a society whose cultural practices glorified sexualized and predatory violence without impunity and failed to develop the nurturance of our most essential of relational skills.

According to the renowned therapist Dr. Alan Jenkins whose longtime work with men who use violence in their intimate partner relationships asserts “…[P]ractices of violence and abuse are ever-present in shaping the everyday transactions of cultural institutions in government, business practice, sport, international relations etc. The criteria for abusive behaviour (power differential, exaggerated entitlement, justified coercion, abdicated responsibility) in fact constitute prescriptions or recipes of competence, adequacy and success in dominant masculine culture.” (Jenkins, 2009)

Therefore, if dominant masculinity is mirroring and operating from the same harmful constructs as our political and social institutions, it is the interest of all of us to encourage a masculinity that is socially geared towards consent and relational accountability.

However, like all cultural shifts and social change, it requires pervasive, intentional, and socially attune community education. It requires cultural leaders in the dominant masculinity of sports, business, government and education to recognize their role in ending sexualized and gender-based violence and speak out against it and remove it from its cultural normalcy.

The development of social programming that encourages boys to imagine their masculinities to include relational accountability, reciprocity and equity. As a community educator and a committed anti-violence worker who believes deeply in the power of culture shifts, collective care and education for the purposes of creating spaces for learning liberation, respect, and dignity.

It is incumbent on the anti-violence movement and those committed to addressing this issue of gender-based violence to include men and masculinities in our focus when creating social programming. Programming that interweaves masculinities with consent culture; a culture that promotes intimacy, respect and relational skills, as essentially as it does literacy and arithmetic skills. It is with this vision in mind that I bring to you, Cultivating Healthy Relationships in Boys and Male Youth, an 8-week program that allows for boys to employ group exploration covering topics such as bystander intervention, consent, rejection, accountability and healthy masculinities. Social programs and educators ultimately hold the dream for their students and upcoming community members of living in and co-creating a safer, more just and inclusive society. 

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