This week, students at a Canadian university have the opportunity to confess their dirtiest sins of machismo. Organizers with Man Up Against Violence (MUAV), an initiative started in 2014 and helmed by members of the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, are hosting events today through Thursday aimed at starting conversations about hypermasculinity and violence prevention. In addition to workshops and video screenings, there will also be a "traveling Confessions of Masculinity Booth."
"We have all reinforced hypermasculinity one way or another regardless of our gender!!" the website explains. "Come and share your sins so we can begin to discuss how to identify and change our ways!!!"
Roz Kelsey, an instructor of kinesiology and health studies at the University of Regina and MUAV chairperson, says it's not really a confession booth. Rather, she explains to Broadly, it's a place where students can come together and talk about the ways they've reinforced unhealthy masculinity without even realizing it. "If a man happens to demonstrate some kind of act that's feminine, there are times when he gets punished for that and gets policed in ways that are not healthy. It's not just men policing men, it's women policing men too."
"My confession," she continues, "would be that I have in the past actually said, 'Wow, you need to man up' … when a man has shown emotion or has not been stoic or played through some kind of injury in sport. We need to start talking about this."
Read more: How Masculinity Is Killing Men
Monday was the first day the "Masculinity Booth" was available for discussions, and they received about 20 submissions, Kelsey says. The "confessions" are recorded with permission, and the footage will later be turned into educational material.
According to the MUAV website, the initiative seeks to "raise awareness around healthy masculinity and provide opportunities for education with a goal of increasing involvement of men in the cause" and "challenge the damaging effects of socialized hypermasculinity ergo reducing violence in our communities."
In a mini-documentary released by MUAV in 2015, Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player and frequent speaker on what it means to be a man, summed up the impact of unhealthy masculinity for women: "If you think about violence against girls and women, the most dangerous place for a woman in North America today, it's not on the street after midnight, it's in her home," he says. "Male violence toward women is not going to end until we raise up a generation of men that have the moral clarity and moral courage to call out other men when they hear the objectification of girls and women."
Changing a culture takes a very long time, Kelsey says, but since the MUAV's inception, she has seen some signs of progress. According to her, more people on campus are participating in the conversations about healthy and unhealthy masculinity and how those issues tie into other topics. "We have more crossover—things like our student union addressing mental health issues and the role unhealthy masculinity plays in the suicide rate for men, the lack of early intervention in health care … We're starting to make some really important connections with that, and these are conversations we haven't ever had on a consistent basis—in society in general but on our campus specifically."
On Thursday, MUAV will host a press conference, during which the university will release the full results of a survey conducted last September as part of its Gender Violence Prevention Project. A sample of its preliminary results found that 83 percent of faculty, staff, and students believe men should speak out against violence against women.