Taking shots at the ‘tough guy’ image

Paul McDonald, the muscular phys-ed teacher at Porter Creek Secondary School, holds onto a stack of postcards he says he likely wouldn't have been caught with when he was a teenager.

Paul McDonald, the muscular phys-ed teacher at Porter Creek Secondary School, holds onto a stack of postcards he says he likely wouldn’t have been caught with when he was a teenager.

One reads, “I will speak up when I see someone being violent against women.”

Another says, “I will not hit any women and I will stand up if someone else does” and “I will speak up for those who are scared to.”

But times have changed.

The cards were written by boys at Porter Creek school. They’ve been asked, by girls in their class, to pledge to stop violence against women.

It may be a weighty subject for teenage students, but it’s one that nonetheless affects them, said MacDonald who runs the Social Justice Club along with Trevor Hale at Porter Creek school.

“When I asked students in my class if they were aware of these things, a couple of the girls’ heads went down,” he said.

“There’s unhealthy relationships at any age and this is the time to start talking about it – it’s the time to get out of relationships like that.”

The postcards are part of a 12-day campaign that schools and women’s organizations in Whitehorse have launched to end violence against women.

“I haven’t seen violence against women firsthand, but I know it’s out there and it happens,” said Grade 10 student Jessica Diakow, a member of Porter Creek’s Social Justice Club.

She is one of a handful of students who, along with MacDonald, convinced teachers at her school to screen Tough Guise to more than half of the student body.

Tough Guise is a documentary that examines how North American pop culture constructs the male identity.

At the beginning of the movie a group of high school boys are asked what it means to be male.

They all give responses like “strong,”“physical,”“powerful” and “tough.” None of the boys mention words like “kind,” or “caring,” and they all recognize that if you don’t conform to the “tough guy” image you get slapped with names like “pussy,”“whimp,” and “fag.”

The documentary discusses violent images of men glorified in movies, media and video games. By showing these images and the high rate of violence perpetrated by men (the movie cites 85 per cent of murders and 95 per cent of domestic violence is committed by men) the filmmakers hope men and women can take the first steps to see how culture creates “violent masculinity” and work to end it.

“This one movie in particular is powerful because it challenges expectations placed on men,” said Julianna Scramstad, the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre program co-ordinator.

“We want boys to know that there’s all kinds of masculinities and that’s totally OK. Just because pop culture tells you one thing doesn’t mean that’s all that is out there.”

Last month, Scramstad contacted the Social Justice Clubs at both Porter Creek Secondary School and Vanier Catholic Secondary to see if they were interested in screening the movie.

She was impressed by how enthusiastic the students and teachers were about screening Tough Guise and about being involved in the ‘12 days to end violence campaign.’

The students in the social justice clubs have shown amazing leadership in having these screenings happen, Scramstad said.

When she showed up at Porter Creek school last week to drop off postcards, six of the cards were signed even before she left.

Getting people to start thinking about gender roles when they’re young is important, she said.

“We contact high schools because we need to make profound social change and it needs to happen at a young age.”

“We want to give these kids the language to talk about (the expectations placed on men) and get them to examine and interrogate them.”

Beth Ferguson, a Grade 12 student in the Porter Creek Social Justice Club, hasn’t seen the movie, but has noticed boys at her school trying to act like “big, tough guys.”

“And it’s not just teenagers, it’s adults too,” she added.

The boys who speak out against violence are usually the ones that have “different” mothers, she noted.

MacDonald doesn’t see violence directed at any of the female students at Porter Creek. But he does notice the verbal bullying.

“I hear kids say, ‘Oh, that’s gay.’ And when you ask them, ‘What does that mean?’ there’s not much response,” he said.

“We want to let boys know it’s not always about being tough – we want to emphasize being nice.”

Contact Vivian Belik at