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White Ribbon's attention-grabbing campaign paves way for 'new code of manhood'

Posters like this one popped up on Toronto streets as a part of a White Ribbon Campaign project to unveil a "new code of manhood."

TORONTO – “Feelings are for chicks,” says a poster plastered on a construction hoarding on Richmond Street.

The provocative statement, along with other stirring messages, sprung up on posters splashed on Toronto streets. There was no other information displayed except for a website be-a-man.ca.

Now the website redirects to the White Ribbon Campaign the organization behind the movement to mark its 20-year-old cause to end violence against women and unveil the “new code of manhood.”

The code is as “complex and diverse as men,” according to the campaign.

“We think it’s a way to get guys to start thinking and talking about the influences in our world that we don’t often think about the way that we’re portrayed in simplistic or violent or aggressive terms and the harm that causes not only to women or girls but people of colour, gays and lesbians and transgender folks but also the harm that causes to other men themselves,” said Todd Minerson, White Ribbon’s executive director.

“What we don’t think is that those images and stereotypes actually reflect the complexity, the diversity, the emotional and compassionate elements of men’s real lives,” he said.

The organization also redesigned its website and revamped its logo and brand to move its work forward, Minerson said.

The organization is inviting the public to add to the new code of manhood. It is also encouraging people to share a “man hug,” and share a photo using the hashtag #manhug to engage in the conversation, Minerson said.

CBC-TV personality  George Stroumboulopoulos and CBC-TV’s The National anchor Peter Mansbridge shared an embrace in honour of the campaign.

Sunil Boodram, a 32-year-old software engineer, said the new code of manhood is a stepping stone for re-evaluating the definition of a man.

“Men are constantly bombarded with pro-masculine messages via media outlets, product brands, friends or even family,” he said. “These messages obscure the way a man perceives himself and others, forcing him to be or act in a certain way that may not seem right, but to conform to the norm he may disregard his own personal feelings.”

“This code is a great starting place to get men thinking about who or what a man really is.”

Eye-catching message

Two weeks ago, posters with seven negative sentiments popped up in the city. These posters will be replaced with the new code of manhood.

“The slogans that we used in the first half of the campaign are all things that we’ve heard reflected from the men that we work with,” Minerson said. “Those are the things that men are challenged by and trying to figure out in their lives so we wanted to make sure that they were reflected.”

The lack of visible branding led to confusion and anger. Some posters were defaced with spray paint or torn down.

But Minerson said the campaign was pleased with such a response.

“It showed people and communities didn’t agree with those kind of ideas and were motivated to do something about it,” he said.

“We really feel like we had to be provocative to break through some of the negative messages that confront men on an everyday basis.”

Mixed reaction

The reaction was divided. Some were curious, while others were confused. But some were offended.

Natasha, who prefers the use of a gender-neutral pronoun and asked that only their first name be used, was outraged by the posters displayed on a west-end street.

“That campaign kind of hit me like a brick wall.”

“As I was leaving work, I saw some guys putting the posters up.”

“As a victim of abuse, I started freaking out on them because I was really triggered by them. I thought they were absolutely disgusting. There was no explanation at all,” the 23-year-old said.

Natasha said the website did not load on their smartphone and they had no computer access at home over that particular weekend. So, they were unable to see it until they returned to work.

“They’re even more troubling if you don’t go and check out the website.”

Though the website, prior to the reveal, alluded to the heart of the campaign, Natasha said it was not enough.

“I didn’t get much of an explanation, although, it did point to it being slightly more sarcastic than the posters portrayed.”

Natasha said the posters could have provided further clarity and noted that not everyone has immediate access to Internet so they might never see the website.

“Without an explanation, it just reinforces that hateful message.”

“Even just a small, little explanation on the poster saying ‘is this really what we’re supposed to be thinking?’ Anything to just signify that ‘no, these are negative comments and we should do something about them.'”

Minerson said work on the project involved a focus group that included people who were abused. The feedback was that the conversation was important to have and they were given the go-ahead, he said. He added that stronger, more direct sentiments were scrapped.

“It was tricky to find a balance between being real to what is happening out there and also not try to trigger anybody,” he said.

“That certainly wasn’t our intent but we had to find that balance between it.”

Corinne Korytkowski, who works in marketing, saw the posters on Richmond Street.

“The first round of posters definitely got my attention,” she said.

“The statements were unnerving and uncomfortable to read. I checked the website as soon as I got into the office to find out more about this campaign,” she said.

“It certainly made me question how female and male roles are defined.”

Encouraging conversation

Brynn Winegard, a professor of strategy at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University said the campaign was effective in intriguing passerby.

“This campaign, even prior to the unveiling of it being associated with White Ribbon, really wasn’t that shocking in comparison to a lot of what we see.”

“What they want us to talk about is something very serious,” she said. “They didn’t want to be silent anymore and they didn’t want to be ignored.”

“They did have to do something that was going to cut through the clutter.”

The project began a few months back with the advertising agency Young & Rubicam, who provided their services pro bono, Minerson said.

Minerson said the campaign hopes to sustain the conversation surrounding masculinity.

“One of the challenges that we wanted to do was to also have people understand that our work is much more than a two-week campaign every year.”

“Often what we hear from people is ‘well, you’re just working on ending violence against women. Why are you talking about this kind of stuff?'”

“People still aren’t making the link or connecting the dots between those challenges around masculinity and violence against women and so we want to make that more explicit in the work that we do moving forward.”

The campaign will provide tools and opportunities for men to integrate the discussion in their daily lives and interactions, Minerson said.

“We’re really excited to see if men are going to join us,” he said.

“Once we start looking critically at these ideas and aspects of masculinity, we can really make a transformative impact on our ultimate goal, which is ending violence against women and girls.”