‘Masculinity confession booth’ to hear sins of the student
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.”