Sheldon Kitzul is tired of hearing “boys will be boys.”
The father, leadership coach and social worker had been chewing on the idea of creating a men’s conference for some time, even before the #MeToo movement kicked into high gear the conversations around men, women, sexualized violence and the toxic role gendered expectations can play.
He mentioned to his friend, Victoria city Coun. Jeremy Loveday, that he wanted to see something where men and boys could share space to open that dialogue.
“We couldn’t pin it on any one demographic,” Kitzul says of the team behind ReImagining Masculinities, the one-day conference happening at the University of Victoria this Friday (May 11).
Folks of all genders are invited to engage in healthy, meaningful dialogue with the goal of reaching more positive and supportive models of masculinity in Victoria.
“It’s for people who are in that state of readiness,” he explains. “People wondering, ‘What do I talk to my son about? This is the world he’s in.’”
And, the world is still a place where the vast majority of sexualized violence that takes place is by men against women, he points out.
“As men, it’s our thing, we’ve got to do something about it.”
With Loveday; Sean Dhillon, chair of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre; Greater Victoria School District Trustee Jordan Watters and sexual health educator Nick Sandor, Kitzul has assembled a day of workshops, panels and discussions, as well as a youth segment with performance art and spoken word.
“Some people want to listen to people talk and some people are going to have a lot to say,” Sandor says. “It’s about making space for all of that.”
He considers the conference a community-building exercise to look at an extremely nuanced topic, as a holistic issue. This is an attempt at being a catch-all to bring together families, young people and those in the dating community, he explains. “Issues related to gender violence and masculinity travel through all those areas.”
Topics on the agenda include building a culture of consent, dismantling sexism in male dominated spaces, what represents toxic masculinity and being a man in today’s society.
The hope is that participants will explore those and other concepts, under the larger overarching issues of sexuality, racism, colonialism and feminism.
“It’s essential that we recognize colonialism,” Kitzul says. “Patriarchy and colonization are intertwined.”
He adds that the masculinity many grew up with, that we continue teach each other, police each other in and teach our boys has actually been harmful.
While tickets are selling fast for the auditorium space of just 300 people, the entire conference will also be live-streamed at consciouslivestreams.com.
“I think what scares men about it is feminism does so much work to point out those power dynamics or inequality,” Sandor says. “But it’s kind of this precarious space for men, because we know what’s wrong with traditional notions of masculinity, but we’re still kind of at this awkward stage of creating a positive alternative for the future.”