- By Jon Farmer

These are stressful times. As we move through the second month of physical distancing, continue to adapt to changes in our personal and professional lives, and process difficult news from local and international events it is not surprising that many people are struggling. COVID19 is a new and immediate danger but our necessary responses are also amplifying the underlying threats in our society. One of the most pervasive and longstanding issues is men’s violence.

The mass shooting in Nova Scotia is a clear example of men’s violence. The evidence of preparation suggests that it was planned and intentional, evidence of the murderer’s belief in his right to destroy the lives and properties of other human beings. Nova Scotia’s most recent shooting joins a long list of Canadian attacks including the Quebec Mosque shooting, Toronto van attack, and Montreal Massacre to name only a few. These murders, and the many others not listed have a common theme: they were perpetrated by men.

Men’s violence is a problem in Canada and national tragedies like the Nova Scotia mass shooting are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are countless private tragedies as a woman or girl is killed every 2.5 days in Canada. From November 2018 to November 2019 there were at least 37 women and girls killed in Ontario alone by their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons, or former partners. These are not random coincidences. They are the product of specific beliefs and risk factors.

Unfortunately, the efforts necessary to reduce the impact of COVID19 can also increase the risk factors for domestic violence. Communities around the world have reported increases in domestic violence during lock downs from China to the United Kingdom. A recent article from the UK reported that calls to domestic abuse helplines have increased by 120% and traffic to their websites is tripling. Ontario domestic violence crisis lines and police services have also reported increases in calls for service over the last month. Grey Bruce is not immune to this crisis.

Financial stress, social isolation, confinement, and increases in substance use all increase the risk of domestic and intimate partner violence. When stresses increase and the usual social supports are not available, conflicts become more frequent and more serious. The risk factors are like fuses and the more we add, the more likely an explosion. But a risk factors is not a cause. Many people face stresses without hurting other human beings. So why are men hurting and killing their partners, each other, and themselves at such high rates and what can we as men – and a community at large – do about it?

Men’s violence is not biological; we learn it. Men are taught to use violence to solve conflicts as boys and it’s our responsibility as men to unlearn these lessons. Violent male characters like cowboys, G.I Joes, and James Bond have shaped every living generation of men. In our personal lives most of us are also pressured from friends and family to ‘be a man’ or ‘man up’ in ways that teach us that the worst thing possible is to appear weak or feminine. Most men grow beyond these narrow ideas of manhood. Many never do.

That second group of men never learn how to express their feelings, reach out for help, or show compassionate and caring support. They fear vulnerability and seek it’s opposite; supremacy and power over others at home, work, and play. Through that set of beliefs, every interaction is a win-lose proposition for a man. He is told that he is ‘either first or last’, that he needs to ‘wear the pants’, and that he ‘shouldn’t be anyone’s bitch’. In that world, anger and revenge are the only responses to even the slightest perception of criticism. For those men, losing is not an option; they need to put down, shut up, or eliminate their opponents in any way possible.

novascotialoveLike any toxic substance, that idea of masculinity kills and it is time to remove it from our environment. This is work that only men can do. It is our responsibility to do the personal work that will allow us to be kind and caring men. We need to learn how to show our emotions and work through them; to stop blaming other people for our behaviour; to listen and negotiate through conflicts without intimidating; to be trusting, supportive, and equal partners to women; and to raise boys who do not fear vulnerability but instead recognize it as the tender place from which we grow. This is work that we must do as individuals but that we cannot do alone. We must encourage all the men in our lives to do the same and to challenge them when they support the deadly status quo. As we grieve for the murdered in Nova Scotia let’s commit to addressing the root of what killed them. We can’t put it off any longer; men’s violence is literally a life and death issue.

At the Men’s Program we work to support men who want to heal and find non-violent ways to live their lives. Whether you’re looking to develop positive skills as a father, find alternatives to violence in your relationships with women, or heal from the abuse you suffered as a child we are here to help. Contact the office at 519-372-2720 for more information.

Jon Farmer is the supervisor of the Men’s Program Grey Bruce





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