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Understanding male violence…

November 26, 2016

I have been asked to write an op-ed piece for our local newspaper re: Dec 6th commemorations concerning violence against women.

Here is my blog-form version of ideas I am exploring.

I am looking for feedback, thoughts, ideas, before I create my newspaper piece.


(Last spring) I’m sitting on the patio of a hipster vegetarian restaurant in Vancouver with a group of young women, all recent 20-something graduates of UBC. They are celebrating their graduating year, talking about certain classes, already nostalgic for a university experience that has concluded. They talk in rapid succession about  the good profs, the buffoons, classmates, they talk about writers, novels, grad school options, the abysmal post-undergrad job market, their volunteer commitments, their periods, their sex lives, their over-achieving tendencies, their yoga classes, the food we are eating, the music we are listening to, the Alberta forest fires. A full moon is rising in the south-east, the smell of curry oozes in from the Indian restaurant next door.

Most of the young women have septum rings, all are tattooed, are middle to upper middle class (their parents are, not them – it’s the end of the year – they are flat broke – well mostly – “flat broke” in a middle-to-upper-class-we-are-still-eating-in-a-popular-restaurant-and-drinking-sangria-liberal-arts-kind-of-way).

They have done well, decent to high academic achievers, ready for the next phase of their lives.

I’m here with my partner, the only male in the group.

I drift in and out of the edges of conversations, I look at the artwork on the walls, watch people pass on the street, imagine what our waitresses’ 38D’s would feel like in my hands.

I realize the conversation has stopped. Everyone is looking at me. Someone has asked me a question.

“I’m sorry? I didn’t hear.”

“Why are boys such dicks?”

My partner leans into my ear, “I may have told them that you ran anger management groups for young men, and that you were a youth councilor for 20 years. They want your take on young men.”

“Well,” I say, “I think there is a short answer to that, and a long one.”

“What’s the short one,” one of them immediately asks?

“Our culture,” I say. “It’s a collective effort. We raise the men that we want. We get the men that we raise. The long answer is much more complicated. I’d need a lot more sangria.”

But then someone’s phone vibrates, a text comes in about meeting at another bar, others check their phones, new plans are made, the topic is forgotten.


But the question follows me around like a shadow for the rest of our visit to Vancouver.

At my sister-in-law’s graduation, when I realize that 70% of her graduating class are female, I ask myself again, “What’s wrong with our men?”

The question followed me all summer… When I look at the fact that female sexual assault accounts for 10% of all Canadian crime, I ask myself, what’s wrong with our men?

It’s not the first time I have been asked this question. As soon as some people discover that I have facilitated anger management groups for young men sent to me through the courts, that I have facilitated teen father support groups, worked with male young offenders, was a crisis councilor in a youth homeless shelter, and taught high school in Toronto – people often ask me, “what’s wrong with our young men?”

“Why are they so violent?”

“Why do they assault and rape?”

“Why are they under-achieving?”

“Why are they so immature?”


What do you want from men?

Have you thought about it?

Do you know?


The statistics of male violence perpetrated against women in Canada are staggering. Just reviewing the numbers leaves me with a form of PTSD. How can they not?

A woman is killed every 6 days by their partner in Canada.

More than 500,000 Canadian women reported a sex assault to the police in 2014. This despite the fact that 70% of sex assaults go unreported (that’s another million victims).

The Department of Justice reports that 1% of all sex assault charges end in a conviction. 1%!

50% of women report that they have been the victim of male violence.

80% of all sexual assaults victims under 18 are girls.

The Department of Justice estimates that spousal violence costs the Canadian economy about $7.4 billion per year.

Shall I go on?


“What’s wrong with our men?”

Where to start? How do we unravel the weaves of this rope?

When Sandra Jansen recently dropped out of the Alberta PC leadership race because the c-word and other gender specific expletives were written across the front of her application, some of the men told her to stop being a whiny baby. That she just needed to “get tough”.

Where to start?

Let’s start with 3000 years of patriarchy.

How do we move forward when most of our politicians are men?

Let’s start with the cultural norm that men are in charge – of the home, the family, politics, the workplace.

Let’s start with our culture – that boys are taught that they need to be strong, aggressive, leaders, tough, heterosexual, athletic… fill in your own blank _______________.

Let’s start with how we raise our boys. What do our fathers want of their boys? Just as importantly, what do our mothers want our boys to be?

Let’s start with the fact that while 80% of sexual assaults victims under 18 will be girls, let’s also address the fact that the majority of physical abuse to victims under 18, will be aimed at boys.

Let’s start with a school system that went from being male-centered, to female-centered; that has lost about 80% of its male teachers over the past 25 years; that is reluctant to incorporate discussions about violence and consent into the curriculum (despite the fact that research has shown that this is the most important first step in reducing sexual assaults); that perpetuates notions of hierarchy, power, and control.

Let’s talk about neo-liberal economics that has taken millions of jobs out of circulation, with no alternatives for economic success (poverty is a major co-indicator of domestic violence).

Let’s start with the bullshit notion that “boys will be boys”, that they are evolutionarily hardwired for violence, territoriality, warrior needs.

Where to start?

How about we start with ourselves. Today. How will I treat the women around me? Will I slut-shame my daughter for the clothes she chooses to wear? Will I dismiss a women’s complaint because I have white penis privilege, and her problems will never be mine? Will I blame my female friend for being provocative in a bar – what does she expect when she acts so overtly sexual? How often do I objectify, and therefore dismiss, women around me?

When my daughter was 8, she was punched in the stomach by a boy because she could run faster than him. He got mad, and so he punched her.

Unfortunately for the boy, my daughter was by then in her third year of tai-kwan-do, so he got dropped by a sock to the jaw.

Then she went to the teacher who sat with the boy and deconstructed why his actions were unacceptable. Then she had the parents come in for a de-brief as well.

My daughter later told me that the boy eventually apologized.

We start with education. We educate ourselves, we educate in the home, we educate in the schools. We demand that our politicians lead by example, that they challenge rape culture, that they open up their male privilege to equal access, change our curriculum to include a look at sexual violence, fully investigate the fact that 1,100 Aboriginal women are missing (and implement the recommendations that will come out of that investigation), and fully fund the more than 400 women’s shelters currently needed across the country to house and protect women and children from male violence.

Let’s start there.



One Comment leave one →
  1. November 27, 2016 2:50 pm

    Great start. Good question “Why are boys such dicks?”
    My next question to that is, “Why do we (society at large) allow them to be dicks?”
    In my experience, in Western culture, that question seems seldom asked. Why do we sacrifice ‘self’ and allow others’ aggressive behaviour to go on, unchallenged? I’ve taught my kids to respect themselves, and those around them and by respecting themselves, to expect the same from those they interact with. Being confident in this mutual respect also gives them permission, and sets teh expectation, that it is totally appropriate to challenge inappropriate behaviours. I have to admit that this has resulted in me being challenge more than a few times and I’m glad to see they have that confidence.
    To be asked the question directly, “Why are YOU being such a dick?”, stops the conversation quickly and teh response is often, “I had no idea I was being a dick.” Hopefully followed by, What did I just do/say to make you think that?”
    Now we have a conversation. I real face to face, let’s figure this out conversation. A rare commodity, nowadays.

    So keep honing this article, I’m looking forward to teh final product. It asks a larger question, in my opinion, “Why is it passively OK to be a dick? Or is it?”

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