Do You Even Cry, Bro? - Canadian healthy masculinity programs

April 09, 2020 , Written by Leslie, Education Program Assistant, SVSPO

I must have been around seven or eight-years-old the first time I saw my father cry. He was on the phone; a friend or relative had passed away. I remember the moment vividly: his silent, choked sobbing, the sight of restrained tears rolling down his old face, the feeling of his shoulder rounded into a slump when I placed my small hand on him. At the time, this scene unsettled me. I had seen my dad angry before; I had seen him frustrated, disgruntled, unsatisfied, tired. But I had never seen him cry. I did not know that he could cry. I had never seen a man look so vulnerable. More than ten years later, this is a memory that I reflect on when I think about masculinity.

More often than not, society teaches boys and masculine-identifying kids that they must have traits that we associate with extreme masculinity: emotional and physical strength, unwavering stoicness, heterosexuality, obsessions with sex. These are traits of “manliness.” Boys and masculine kids will display these traits if they are to be thought of as real men. If they stray out of this rigid box, they are the things that are not associated with masculinity and men: weak, emotional, gay, feminine.

These ideas of masculinity are toxic, and they happen to align with hegemonic masculinity. Discussed in the previous blog post, hegemonic masculinity is a fantasized masculinity that is so pervasive that we unknowingly subscribe to it. What is more, by subscribing to the rigidness of this fantastical gender expectation, people perpetuate it, and we allow the idea to thrive1.

People are socialized to not think that expressions of emotion and vulnerability are universal, human experiences. Rather expressions of emotions tend to be gendered. This is true of expressions of anger. Despite the fact that all people express anger, we are more likely to gender expressions of anger (that do not involve tears) as masculine and male: moments of argument or yelling, acts of breaking or destroying things, acts of violence. Folks also often gender the act of crying. People can cry for several reasons – fear, sadness, frustration, happiness – and anyone can cry. But many tend to have a hard time stomaching the sight of boys, men, and masc folks as people who can cry because they tend to gender the act of crying as feminine and female.

As a result, lots of folks do not view the act of boys, men, and masculine-identify folks crying to be normal. In our lived experiences, relationships, or media, how often do we see boys, men, and masculine folks genuinely getting praised for being sensitive, for being emotionally engaged? On the flipside, how often do we see boys, men, and masc folks getting ridiculed for being “soft,” passive, sensitive? How often to do we see boys, men, and masc folks getting belittled for crying?


Leslie’s Top 3 Canadian Healthy Masculinity Programs:

Nowadays, there are several organizations that host programs that challenge toxic masculinity. These programs encourage men and masculine folks to engage in emotional vulnerability with a group of other male and masculine peers. They strive to give men a safe space to talk about their feelings and to involve men in anti-violence activism. Here are some interesting programs that are based in Canada:

1. UBC Sexual Assault Support Centre’s (SASC) Men’s Circle

The Healthier Masculinities program at UBC SASC hosts the Men’s Circle – a twice a month discussion about consent and masculinity made by men and masc-identifying people, for men and masc-identifying people. Alex, the coordinator of the program, is extremely knowledgeable about masculinity (if you recall from my previous blogpost, he referred me to several great resources!). Men’s Circle is a great chance for men and masc folks to engage with other men and masc folks in healthy talks about gender, relationships, and vulnerability.

2. The Man|Made Program

This is a program coming out of London, Ontario. The Man|Made Program engages men in conversations about vulnerability, consent, and relationships. It focuses on the idea that men do not want to commit sexual violence, but many are not engaged in conversations about sexual violence and masculinity. The appeal of the Man|Made Program is that it can sometimes be offered in partnership with postsecondary institutions’ curricula. At Western University, the Man|Made Program facilitated as a series of collaborative workshops with the institution’s Student Experience’s Health and Wellness program.

3. White Ribbon

Based in Toronto, the White Ribbon Project is an anti-violence organization that focuses on engaging boys and men in the fight against gender-based violence. White Ribbon organizes Toronto’s annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event wherein boys and men are encouraged to walk a mile in high heels to raise awareness to gender-based violence. Their website is the home of a pretty great blog page. On it, members of White Ribbon discuss their relationship to gender-based violence and masculinity, and many give testimonies about their participation in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. If you enjoy reading the SVSPO’s blog, you should also check out theirs!


This blog post introduced some healthy masculinity engagement initiatives in Canada. I was relieved to find that there are several Canadian healthy masculinity programs that run throughout the year. A number of them are targeted towards children and teenagers which is good; masculine-identifying youth and boys are submerged in toxic masculinity early on in their lives. But the role that these programs play will be important for all masculine folks of all ages. Should people choose to fight gender-based violence, boys, men, and masc folks must be involved. That is not to say that anti-violence activism and work cannot proceed without the involvement of boys, men, and masculine people; rather, all people live in a world wherein gender-based violence affects everyone in one way or another. One prime way to end it is to address it and involve people of all genders.

This is part two in a two-part series about masculinity. To read part one, click here.

Leslie, Education Program Assistant, SVSPO.

1The hegemonic masculinity that I refer to throughout this blog and the previous is one that is also white, able-bodied, cisgender, and heterosexual. Hegemonic masculinity looks different in different places and cultures. And though as the world becomes more globalized, the hegemonic masculinity referred in this series of blog posts is contextualized by settler colonialism, whiteness, and the “West.”