Per­era dis­cusses the path to gen­der equal­ity

The Casket - - Health & Wellness - SAM MAC­DON­ALD sam­mac­don­ald@the­cas­ket.ca

Jeff Per­era in­tro­duced him­self at a talk at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Re­gional High School in Antigo­nish as “an ele­phant hunter.”

Not the big grey pachy­derms, he clar­i­fied, but the ele­phants in the room that are the un­com­fort­able, but nec­es­sary con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der that he wants to en­cour­age.

Per­era, quick with his wits and a vir­tu­oso in the sub­tlety of metaphors and analo­gies to prove a point, was a speaker who has done two TED talks, and has cu­rated the first four What Makes a Man con­fer­ences and worked with the White Rib­bon cam­paign.

He spoke to a crowd that filled half the AV au­di­to­rium about the way so­ci­ety has to go, to reach gen­der equal­ity.

Although the con­ver­sa­tion Per­era started was not an en­tirely com­fort­able one, he took to it with an air of op­ti­mism, in­di­cat­ing that the way for­ward was one where men and women col­lab­o­rate. One where men un­learn un­healthy mas­cu­line roles and act with com­pas­sion and em­pa­thy in the pur­suit of gen­der equal­ity.

“In this day and age the con­ver­sa­tions are about the di­vides, the seem­ingly larger and larger di­vides be­tween us, amongst us, within our com­mu­ni­ties. The di­vides that are com­ing up in the head­lines of our sto­ries … I say the di­vides amongst us re­flect the di­vides within us,” Per­era said.

To bridge those di­vides, Per­era said it’s im­por­tant to find the mid­dle ground, and treat the con­ver­sa­tion of gen­der equal­ity like a potluck – a feast where ev­ery­one brings some­thing to eat.

Per­era com­pared the un­com­fort­able way peo­ple sit with prob­lems that arise in gen­der roles to the way peo­ple try to ig­nore the blink­ing lights and beep­ing as­so­ci­ated with car prob­lems – im­ply­ing it’s a bad idea to just dis­miss those prob­lems.

"That mo­ment of dis­com­fort, when some­thing comes up is a mo­ment you have to lean into – es­pe­cially young men and boys. It’s good to feel un­com­fort­able, be­cause it means you care," Per­era said.

“The ul­ti­mate ques­tion you can ask your­self … is ‘Am I the kind of per­son that some­one would want to be stuck in an el­e­va­tor with?’” Per­era said, us­ing anec­dotes from his life to il­lus­trate his point.

Per­era touched on a num­ber of top­ics, many of them per­tain­ing to what men and boys can do to help achieve equal­ity. Th­ese in­clude lis­ten­ing to see “the things you can’t see,” con­sid­er­ing is­sues through the per­spec­tives of oth­ers, and find­ing the root, sys­temic causes of the in­equal­i­ties in so­ci­ety, rather than just re­spond­ing to the symp­toms of those is­sues.

Per­era spoke about how lim­it­ing and ex­tremely dam­ag­ing mod­els of mas­culin­ity and fem­i­nin­ity are, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to one an­other, not­ing that the mes­sage for girls and women in so­ci­ety is of­ten, “know your role, shut your mouth and act like a lady.”

Mean­while, Per­era noted men and boys are ex­pected by so­ci­ety to de­rive a sense of iden­tity through re­press­ing their emo­tions, re­sort­ing to de­struc­tive, vi­o­lent and dys­func­tional mod­els of mas­culin­ity that re­duce women and girls to tro­phies and de­val­ued props to the at­tain­ment of power.

“Mas­culin­ity is a lad­der we’re try­ing to climb to this im­pos­si­ble ideal of be­ing a man. It’s im­pos­si­ble, hav­ing all the an­swers,

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