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OPINION: Let’s show our sons how to have healthy relationships

Tara Jeffrey One of my son’s favourite things to do right now is play with his big sisters’ dolls.

Tara Jeffrey

One of my son’s favourite things to do right now is play with his big sisters’ dolls. I watch with delight as he wraps them in blankets and gently presses his 16-month-old lips together for a kiss, and I don’t think twice before letting him clutch gleefully onto his ‘baby’ while we’re out in public.

I’ll weather a comment or two about his choice of toy, in exchange for knowing my little guy is learning some basic fundamentals of how to be a loving and nurturing human.

And we need a lot more of that right now, don’t we?

“We live in a culture where men are taught that being kind and gentle is showing weakness, when it is in fact, the opposite,” said Allan McKeown, who launched the White Ribbon campaign in Sarnia-Lambton 25 years ago, to encourage men to become allies in the plight to end violence against women.

“Strong men are not afraid to be kind and compassionate and to treat women equally -- that is a sign of strength and healthy masculinity.”

Boys are still exposed to the harmful messages they must ‘suck it up,’ that it’s not ‘manly’ to cry, he added. “It suppresses the natural instincts to be nurturing and loving husbands and fathers.”

His words are relevant in light of the current social climate as women come forward to publicly describe experiences of sexual harassment and violence.

“It’s not really surprising that women are now finding the courage to speak out against this kind of abuse that they’ve been exposed to for centuries -- in the workplace and in society,” McKeown said. “I think everyone would agree that we need to have a healthy society where men and women are considered equal, and that’s the only way to eliminate violence.”

Sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not on the decline. The vast majority of incidents go unreported, and the risk is much higher for women who are aboriginal, single, unemployed or have disabilities.

“It’s a problem in every community; no one is immune,” said Michelle Batty, executive director at the local Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre and Women’s Interval Home, where 2016-2017 numbers are up across the board -- from crisis calls and counselling to child witness program and emergency shelter.

She pointed to a ‘blame the victim’ mentality that is still alive and well.

“People are so judgmental about the myths we’ve been trying to debunk over the years -- where she goes and what she’s wearing -- that type of thinking is still very prevalent.”

There is still a long way to go, but McKeown says he has hope.

“I think there’s been a huge shift in our culture for men to take on parenting roles and get involved more intimately with their children; not afraid to be nurturing fathers,” he said. “I see that in my own son and his friends.”

It starts at home: time to stop perpetuating those messages of toxic masculinity and instead, show your boys how to foster real, healthy relationships.

And for goodness sake, let them play with dolls.

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