‘Mas­culin­ity con­fes­sion booth’ to hear sins of the stu­dent

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - JOSEPH BREAN

An anti-vi­o­lence cam­paign at the Univer­sity of Regina has set up a “Mas­culin­ity Con­fes­sion Booth” so pass­ing stu­dents can ab­solve their per­sonal guilt for pro­mot­ing “hy­per­mas­culin­ity,” an ex­ag­ger­ated view of male­ness in which emo­tion is sup­pressed un­til it ex­plodes as anger.

“Come and share your sins so we can be­gin to dis­cuss how to iden­tify and change our ways,” reads the an­nounce­ment from Man Up Against Vi­o­lence, a cam­paign that aims to pro­mote healthy mas­culin­ity, largely by talk­ing about the toxic kind.

Both male and fe­male stu­dents may con­fess their part in the so­cial con­struc­tion of neg­a­tive male gen­der norms, but men are es­pe­cially en­cour­aged, said Roz Kelsey, a pro­fes­sor of ki­ne­si­ol­ogy and health stud­ies who founded the group as a stu­dent-run project in 2014, and now chairs it.

Even just talk­ing about what so­ci­ety ex­pects from men can seem “emas­cu­lat­ing,” she said.

“Men talk­ing about this will have a whole lot more va­lid­ity, per­ceived va­lid­ity any­way, about the mes­sage it­self,” she said.

A key theme in the cam­paign is the free­dom of men to feel, dis­play and ex­press emo­tions other than anger, and many of the pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als show pic­tures of men with tears on their cheeks.

“If you can’t emote as a man, if there is no room for that, to learn as you grow, or re­dis­cover, then the only way that you deal with any emo­tional tur­moil is through anger, and that’s the di­rect con­nec­tion that we see in vi­o­lence. It is no won­der that if some­thing isn’t go­ing right in your re­la­tion­ship and the only thing you know how to ex­press is anger, I mean anger man­i­fests it­self in vi­o­lence,” Kelsey said.

“So many things that we do seem to re­in­force this idea that men are not al­lowed to do things, they’re not al­lowed to have full ex­pres­sion, and we are all part of that. I know that when I look back at how I’ve re­acted to some things grow­ing up or as a young woman, I re­mem­ber mak­ing men feel as though they should be ashamed, some­how, for go­ing out­side of that box. And I feel guilt about that. I think that it’s re­ally im­por­tant that I ex­press that and say, ‘You know what, I own that. I am part of this. We are all part of this is­sue,’ ” she said.

The cam­paign will host a press con­fer­ence Thurs­day with Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Safety Ralph Goodale, dur­ing which a re­port on gen­der­based vi­o­lence will be re­leased.

“The trav­el­ling Con­fes­sions of Mas­culin­ity Booth will be there!” the group says.

A spokesman for Goodale would not say whether the min­is­ter will con­fess his own sins of mas­culin­ity, but said he is at­tend­ing “to ex­press sup­port for ef­forts to ad­dress sex­ual as­sault and vi­o­lence both on cam­pus and around the coun­try.”

As a pub­lic­ity stunt, the con­fes­sional seems vul­ner­a­ble to the crit­i­cism that it cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ates a Catholic re­li­gious prac­tice for an un­re­lated pur­pose, much as a no­to­ri­ously can­celled yoga class at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa was seen to ap­pro­pri­ate an­cient In­dian spir­i­tual prac­tices.

The U of R’s mas­culin­ity con­fes­sional is re­ally just a cur­tained-off area with a camera, where pen­i­tents will be asked “prompt­ing ques­tions,” and their an­swers pos­si­bly used in fu­ture pro­mo­tional videos. There is not a con­fes­sor, as such, but peo­ple may speak to each other in the con­fes­sion booth, Kelsey said.

They can re­main pri­vate and anony­mous if they wish, and penance will not be re­quired, al­though the whole event, like the sacra­ment, is aimed at a kind of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

“Un­less you do some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent and a lit­tle bit con­tro­ver­sial, no­body wants to talk about it,” Kelsey said. “So, yeah, con­fess to your sins if you want to call it that, or con­fess to your guilt, or do some­thing. But we’ve got to get peo­ple talk­ing.”

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