What Makes a Man Conference 2014

Toronto, ON- White Ribbon is a worldwide organization that enables men and boys to join the fight for sex and gender equality by becoming allies and has been around since the 1991. Recently, they invited a whole host of speakers to Toronto, to the What Makes a Man 2014 campaign. Along with MC’s Jeff Perera and Britta Binoculars, they had speakers on feminist issues, photographers, and, the man of the hour, Terry Crews giving a rather candid interview to Nam of the CBC. He was promoting his book on manhood called Manhood: How to Be a Better Man–Or Just Live With One. I only arrived there on Day 2 of the conference–wish I could have seen Day 1–but what an amazing experience it all was.

The Twitter hashtag #WMAM2014 served for me and the majority of the people there as the main social media blogging feed. So I will take you through some of my twitter posts of the night.

Women in STEM Panel Discussion
Women in STEM Panel Discussion — correction: Lindsay Kirkham: @HisFeministMama

Ramona Pringle, Saadia Muzaffer, Lindsay Kirkham, and Natalie Zina Walschots began the day (at least, at the time I got there), with a vibrant discussion on men’s roles in Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). One of the topics discussed, which even I wasn’t aware of was Shirtgate, where one of the scientists responsible for the success of the Rosetta mission was wearing a rather inappropriate shirt for a press conference. The impact of this shirt, as explained by the panelists, was that it told women that they are a caricature and a joke, and that they do not belong in STEM.

Sid Naidu, who I didn’t even realize was sitting next to me initially, then presented his Heart and Hustle series of photographs.

Following Sid, came another panel discussion on male sports culture, concussions, and showing weakness:

They also presented the trailer to The Dark Room, which is an upcoming film on concussion injuries in sports. One of the former athletes candidly admitted that he thought about suicide during the worst of his concussion recovery due to the pain, disorientation and loneliness of being cooped up in bed, recovering for a period of many months. He also stated that what saved him was calling his then girlfriend, now wife, and confiding in her. And subsequently, the following points were made:

Then, MC Jeff Perera asked us the question:

Presenting us with a picture of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon in 1967, despite some men trying to sabotage her while others ran by, watching, others ignoring, and a few, stepping in to stop the jerks from attacking her, Perera posed us the simple question of who we are in that picture? Are we the person getting victimized? Are we the people who act as bystanders? Are we the aggressors?

He went on, to ask us, whether we are, ourselves, a nurturing safe space in which others feel comfort.

Britta B then came out with a powerful spoken word session on Domestic Violence:

And the following line shook me to the core as her shaking, booming voice said it, about the importance of speaking out against violence against women:

Then came Hamza Khan–whom I connected with later on during the break–who chatted about how our teenagers have warped ideas of success, mostly thanks to media consumption sans media literacy. He spoke about how he used to be a huge 50-Cent fan, until he read his book, in which he compared fortune to a woman you must beat into submission.

My own personal reaction to his presentation, speaking from experience, was:

And media literacy is one of the main pillars of my pedagogy.

Elliott Bayev, is a martial arts athlete, and currently trains women in self defense. His program is called FLAG, or Fight Like A Girl. He spoke about overcoming the ridiculous notion of the Reptilian, selfish, dominating, egotistical Alpha Male, and promoting the balanced, society-oriented, giving Mammalian Alpha Male, or the Higher Alpha:

Then, a graduate student from Ryerson, Tara Farahani, came out to discuss how that which is perceived to be masculine, in society, can be harmful, even dangerous. To Tara, as someone from a “traditional” household:

…meaning that, men have the privilege to choose what they wish to do, whereas women were meant to control their desires.

Probably one of the most intriguing portions of the evening–though the competition for this title is pretty damn tough–was Attiya Khan‘s upcoming film A Better Man, where she has a sit-down discussion with an abusive ex-boyfriend of hers, who agreed to the project, and, from the trailer, seems genuinely committed to changing his ways. The film requires funding, so please help out: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-better-man.

A Better Man, a film by Attiya Khan
A Better Man, a film about Attiya Khan
Attiya speaks about her personal experience with an abusive partner
Attiya speaks about her personal experience with an abusive partner

This was the only part of the evening, when I was there, that I realize now, that I did not tweet. There’s a reason for that: it hit home.

Then came some words of wisdom from Chuck Winters, former football player:

Then, Randell Adjei, from Rise Edutainment did a spoken word piece on the need to change the education system to promote love and equality.

Finally, Nam from CBC came out to introduce and interview Terry Crews.

He of course arrived in pomp and style, with Punjabi Dhol players preceding him, and a stage of dancers doing a hip-hop/bhangra fusion dance, which mister Crews joined in on:

After the awesome entrance, Mr Crews got down to the nitty gritty right away. He discussed how men define themselves by their wins and losses–so much so that they become their wins and their losses. The subsequent loss of self-esteem can be devastating. He gives the analogy of a $100 bill; you may crumple it, step on it, tear it, spit on it… whatever. But the value of that $100 bill will remain the same; you can trash talk it into thinking it’s only worth five bucks, but that doesn’t mean you can reduce its inherent value. He then delved into psychopathic behaviour, such as the one that Pimp Culture promotes, mirroring emotions to gain someone’s trust only to benefit from that trust for oneself–this part hit home as well, having had a close family member deal with this.

I can certainly relate to his story about wanting to hurt his father–though he actually did cross that threshold, whereas I never did–in revenge for his mother and the abuse she suffered at his hands. He said something which had long confirmed my suspicions and made me glad that I never went down that road: he was still empty and angry, and felt even worse after that incident.

Terry ended the evening with a quip about cherishing everyone, even the guy who cuts you off in traffic. And apparently it was Britta’s birthday, as well:

So, she got a theatre full of people singing to her, including Terry Crews.

All in all, a great evening. Thank you to everyone who made it happen. Looking forward to #WMAM2015

See you then!



2 thoughts on “What Makes a Man Conference 2014”

  1. Thank you for engaging in these issues by attending and writing about this conference. It takes a lot for someone to let down their guard, leave their pride and ego at home, and open themselves up to learning about toxic masculinity, how it negatively effects us all and some of the ways that we perpetuate it in our personal lives. Admitting that we don’t have all of the answers and that we make mistakes is hard, but understanding the difference between “I made a mistake” and “I am my mistakes” is an introspective analysis in shame vs. guilt that is often not engaged. As Mr. Crews mentioned, the result is that we build our identities solely on our wins (which make us feel unproportionally superior to others) and our loses (which makes us feel unproportionally inferior to others). Both extremes have detrimental consequences to our personal lives because neither are accurate manifestations of what contributes to our goodness/worth as individuals (our humanity), and because both are set in relation to external validations of self identity (i.e. “others”). Seeing wins and losses as mere contributions to self identity opposed to what solely makes up our identity allows us to take accountability for both and not play the victim role when things go awry. One of my favourite Terry quotes yesterday was “it’s easy to play the victim; you never run out of people to blame”. He went on to say that he believes that every man at one time or another is either a “fool, a victim or a King”. The realization that there is no one to blame (including yourself…props to self-love!) regarding the set of circumstances that you find yourself in at a particular moment in time is the first step to moving away from “victim” and into “King” – it allows you to take the situation as it is, without judgement, into your own hands and steer your life for yourself without the need for validation from others. What everyone else thinks or says suddenly becomes irrelevant because you know you (you got you), flaws and all. I think getting to that place requires vulnerability, intentional self reflection and intentional work to un-learn some of the unhealthy societal norms we’ve let guide our existence and I once again commend you for your bravery in that respect – it takes an unrivalled amount of strength and courage and that, my friend, is “manhood”.
    How amazing is it that we get to explore these topics as a community – Thanks White Ribbon Campaign! Let’s keep the conversation going ❤

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