Written by Mr. Ian Mendes of TSN 1200 in Ottawa. Ian is a passionate sports fan, father and member of the Ottawa Community. In his career as a sports broadcaster, he has worked tirelessly in support of the local charities and community organizations. We are grateful for him and the interest he has taken in the young men in our city.

When my daughter was in Grade 7 two years ago, she had a troubling incident at school.

A boy inside her classroom was making lewd comments to her and another female student. He talked about having an erection and his comments made the girls so uncomfortable, they switched seats.

Their substitute teacher that day wasn’t too happy that the girls simply got up and moved on their own.  So the girls ended up getting in more trouble with the teacher than the boy who made the inappropriate comments.

The girls decided to speak to a guidance counsellor at the school, to relay their frustrations over the incident. My wife and I even came into the school to speak with a vice-principal to corroborate our daughter’s story.

In the end, the school decided against disciplining this boy – citing this simply as a case of ‘he-said-versus-she-said.’

My daughter was deeply disappointed with the outcome.  She felt like this was a pretty clear-cut case of sexual harassment inside the classroom and it wasn’t handled in a fair manner.

I tried to comfort her, by letting her know that this wouldn’t be the case for the rest of her life.

“Don’t worry sweetie,” I said naively. “Seventh-grade boys don’t run the world.”

Without hesitation, she replied, “Yeah dad – but someday they will.”

And that cold, harsh response left me speechless.

She was absolutely right.

Middle-school boys don’t run the world in the year 2018, but they will certainly wield a significant amount of power by the year 2030. And if we don’t do anything to curb their attitude and opinion towards women now – we don’t stand a chance of doing that down the road.

So that’s why I was very excited to hear about the ManUp program.

The amazing thing about this initiative is that it was completely devised by young men in our community at Longfields Davidson-Heights secondary school. These are high school students who are the agents for change, trying to stamp out sexual assault and domestic violence at the earliest possible age.

These young men are trying to rid the world of toxic masculinity – a plague that has afflicted our society for as long as anybody can remember.

For too many years, we’ve blamed females for being the targets of sexual harassment and assault.

“She shouldn’t be wearing a short skirt like that. She’s asking for it.”

“She shouldn’t have been drinking. She put herself in a bad spot.”

“Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t by herself.”

But the time has come for us as men to shoulder the responsibility for the issue of sexual harassment and assault. It’s time to end victim-blaming and start attacking the problem at its root cause – which has always been toxic masculinity.

I’m disappointed in myself for not taking a bigger interest in this earlier in my life. As men, we shouldn’t wait until we have daughters to make women’s rights and safety our priority. Feminism is a human rights issue – not a woman’s issue.

And if men don’t make significant changes to the way we view women, the feminist movement can only go so far.

But the problem is that in my age group – 35-to-45 – most of us are already set in our ways. It’s very hard to re-wire the human brain when you’ve spent the majority of your life listening to condescending things about women. Most guys in my age group grew up saying disparaging things about females – especially when it came to the sports realm.

“You throw like a girl.”

“You left the putt short, Alice.”

“They are so soft – they should call them the Sedin sisters.”

When you’ve grown up hearing about how women are inferior, you tend to view them as a weaker sex.  And as such, you feel like you have some degree of control over them. While I would love to shift the viewpoints of men in my demographic, I understand that might be a considerable challenge at this stage of the game.

Instead, I’m hoping we can stamp out inequality at the earliest possible age, so that the female leaders of tomorrow don’t have to deal with the same hurdles as their predecessors. And the time to tackle this problem is when the kids are in middle school and the early years of high school – around the time they are learning about sex education in the classrooms.

As adults, we should be concerned that our provincial government might be taking us down a path where things like consent and online sexual behaviour may no longer be taught in the school system. So it makes the work of the ManUp program even more important – especially when you consider a lot of this is being done on a peer-to-peer basis.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of attending the ManUp Inspire conference held inside the Ottawa city hall chambers. I saw young men from dozens of schools come together to listen to messages preaching positive masculinity.

I witnessed firsthand how powerful it can be for a teenage boy to stand up in front of a couple hundred fellow students and talk about why it’s wrong to treat women as sex objects. One young man spoke up about how he called out a group of friends for creating a rating system for the girls in his school – based on their looks, physical characteristics and whether they were able to have any sexual contact with them.

What’s inspiring about this ManUp program is that these are young men who want to eliminate disparaging terminology about women from their vocabularies.

Also in attendance at the conference that day was Glenn Canning – the father of Rehtaeh Parsons. The teaching of Rehtaeh’s tragic story should be mandatory in the curriculum of every high school in this country. Rehtaeh’s death was caused by the perfect storm of alcohol, sexual assault, cyberbullying and mental health.

I will always be struck by one thing that Mr. Canning said to that group of teenage boys inside city hall. With tears welling up in his eyes he said, “If Rehtaeh had just one of you guys from the ManUp program with her on that fateful night, she would still be here. She just needed one guy to step up and do the right thing.”

Mr. Canning’s powerful words resonated with every single person in that room – most notably with the hundreds of high school boys in attendance. I truly got the sense that most of the boys walked out of that conference with a better understanding of the concept of positive masculinity.

Our hope is that by educating these young men at an early age, we can avoid some of the narrow-minded thinking that has led to a negative perception of women in our society.

Is it a perfect solution to a problem that has plagued society for decades?

Of course not – but it’s certainly start.

And I’m truly honored and inspired to lend a hand.