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Photo courtesy Michael Kehler

U of C professor researches what it means to be a man

By Ashar Memon, February 1 2018 —

What does it mean to be a man? That’s the question Michael Kehler, the new research professor in masculinities studies at the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education, hopes to explore in his role.

Kehler, who was appointed to the position earlier this academic year, said that he hopes to create an open dialogue for rethinking what it means to be a man.

“We all know the rules, we all know the norms that exist,” he said. “What this is about is challenging those rules and norms so you rethink the daily-ness of being a boy and a man.”

In mid-January, Kehler hosted the first of a four-part speaker series called Rethinking What it Means to be a Boy, a Man. The next part of the series will be held in March 2018 and will bring scholars from around the world to Calgary.

Kehler said that his area of research is particularly important now in a climate where movements against sexual harassment and abuse are gaining momentum around the world.

“I want to be optimistic to say that I think that we are in a crucial, historical moment with #MeToo and #TimesUp — crucial and historical in the sense that there’s momentum and a possibility for change,” he said. “It’s really important to engage boys and men in a dialogue that is open and progressive, that is respectful in rethinking how we project and represent masculinities.”

Kehler said that historically if men didn’t prove a dominant, heteronormative masculinity, they may have been considered less “manly.” That view, however, is changing.

“What we’ve seen over the recent decade is a greater public acknowledgment of masculinities plural and that means we are more and more acknowledging that there is diversity within and among men, that not all men behave or subscribe to these very narrow and limited ways of being boys and men,” Kehler said.

To create lasting change and open dialogue, Kehler said that boys and men must not feel that they are under siege or are being cast as a uniform group. By doing so, Kehler believes that healthier relationships can be enabled across genders.

“We need to continue to push forward in creating spaces where boys and men can be respectful of difference among each other — and not push some boys and men to cling to that which they’ve always known, which is how to be a stereotypical heteronormative boy and a man,” he said.

Kehler added that he wants to use his research to work with agencies in implementing change. He said his research and activism don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

“I feel the passion of my research has the potential right now to allow me to straddle different spheres, one of which is being an activist,” he said. “I’m excited in the sense that research can inform my activist agenda to create change.”

Kehler will also speak at Make it Awkward, an ‘Inclusivity Summit’ held in Edmonton in early February that aims to empower people to stand up to discrimination.

The professorship in masculinities studies is partly funded by the Silver Gummy Foundation, a Calgary-based charity that aims to cultivate respect for all genders, according to its website.

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