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“The work just has to start.”

When Jay Boast read Nancy MacNeill’s “call to action,” on Facebook earlier this week he was inspired to stop waiting for “a perfect way to deal with this issue.”

“You can’t tackle a problem until you admit that there is one,” he said. “I think it comes with just trying to figure out the ways in which you’ve been affected and impacted by toxic masculinity and what it would take to let go of some of that.”

Nancy MacNeill, a lifelong Yellowknifer, posted to Facebook Monday about the normalization of abusive behaviours.

She told NNSL Media that often in conversations about sexual and gender based violence involving men is kind of like “them coming onto my turf.”

“I think in order to create some ownership over this problem, we need to kind of say, this isn’t our terms anymore. We will give you the information and the support that (men) need but you need to start defining what this looks like for you and how this can work for people like you.” 

A version of Nancy MacNeill’s call to action for men, posted on condo building in Yellowknife.
Craig Gilbert/NNSL photo

“I am calling on men in Yellowknife to create a group/coalition/organization with the goal of ending gender-based and sexual violence in all its forms,” MacNeill said in the post. “Tag in, gentlemen. All eyes on you.”

In the NWT, 38 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual behaviours in a public space, according to 2018 data that Statistics Canada released last month.

Boast is responding to the call and working to set up a venue for men to meet and “take on the work that she’s laying out.” He says it is difficult to organize a gathering considering the pandemic but hopes that he will be able to announce a location in the coming days. 

He imagines that in the first meeting, the group will read MacNeill’s letter and use it “as the blueprint that I think it is.” Boast says he wants to then ask every man who comes out why they came, what their goals are, and ask them “to be committed to doing the work with themselves.” 

“I think it comes with trying to figure out the way In which you’ve been affected and impacted by toxic masculinity and what it would take to let go of some of that,” he said. “I’ve already started having those conversations with women in my life and it can get uncomfortable pretty quick. But I think you have to have a mental resolve to want to change and in order to change, you have to hear what’s wrong.”

Boast says equally as important as acknowledging the problem is talking about strategies to actively call out sexism and bad behaviour with friends and family. Boast stresses that he’s not an expert and has no formal training in the topic, but wants to set off a chain reaction with what he calls “the coalition of the willing,” – though he recognizes the challenges in using the military term, given the nature of the military and the toxic masculinity with which it can be associated.

William Greenland is a traditional counsellor with Arctic Indigenous Wellness and former facilitator of A New Day – a healing program for men who have turned to violence in their relationships. He says that solutions come from working to understand the root of these behaviours and engaging in conversations about them. 

He says to ask yourself, “why do I behave this way, why do I get angry?”

He says resources for men to “feel comfortable and feel free in expressing themselves,” are often few and far between. Often, Greenland says, those who turn to domestic violence say things like “she made me do it,” or “if she hadn’t said this, then I wouldn’t have,” that’s why he says “it’s important to help men understand what it means to take responsibility for their actions.”

On a large scale, Boast sees the issue as comparable to the way drinking and driving was taken on. At one point, he says it was something “people turned a blind eye to,” eventually it became a larger part of mainstream conversations and lead to “societal change in behavior over time.”

Boast says “the coalition of the willing,” starts with a group of men who come out because they want to do something. To be “brutally frank,” he says, “I think that guilt will be a motivator for some people. I certainly know that there are a number of things that motivate me. But I’d be lying if I said that guilt wasn’t part of it.”

“Whatever it is that motivates people, I think that’s fine. And that it’s just a matter of getting past the guilt and turning it into positive behavior.”

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Natalie Pressman

Natalie is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program. She has since held contracts working with an NGO in Vietnam and with Journalists for Human Rights in Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent...

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