The following is a reflection offered up from a ManUp student leader name Zizo Aldaqqaq. Zizo was a ManUp leadership team member in 2016 but considers himself a lifelong Leader and partner of our program. 

At birth, an infant’s vision is one of their least acute senses, but as they grow, their capacity to receive and interpret information increases exponentially. Infants are always seeking to understand their surrounding world, and starting as young as six months old they rely on a principle called social referencing. It can be defined as seeking information about how to react to an unfamiliar event by observing someone else’s reactions, typically a person they know and trust – like a parent. You might be wondering, how is this relevant? Let me change the scenario. A seventh grade boy enters his new school for the first time, finds a group of friends, and as they grow together so does the trust and inter reliance on the group as both a support system, and as a social reference. When ninth grade hits and the group grows more interested in girls, they look to their older brothers, popular high schoolers, and of course, the internet. To put it in the infant’s terms, girls are the unfamiliar object, and these “role models” are the trusted party that we look to for guidance. To put it in even simpler terms… It’s monkey-see, monkey-do.

High school is the pinnacle of monkey-see, monkey-do behavior. This pattern of observatory learning thrives so well in high school due to the population density, and repeated exposure to seemingly countless scenarios of what works to attract the attention of girls. Put simply, high school students see the same guys for 4 years, get the attention of more girls than they could imagine, by doing what exactly? Here is where it gets interesting.

Up to this point, I have said nothing negative about the monkey-see, monkey-do behavior in high schools, yet it is automatically associated with a negative connotation due to the typical outcome. We as people are inherently lazy, and even with exposure to respectful, empathetic, and intelligent guys who attract girls, those are values and characteristics that require a certain degree of focus, responsibility for your actions, and most importantly, it takes WORK. People generally don’t like to do work, it’s hard.

It is also important to note that the positive aforementioned characteristics are not explicitly observable. Imagine that 9th grader, waiting to go into class, eyes wandering until they fixate on a conversation 15 metres into the 12th grade hallway. It’s a typical exchange, guy and a girl, clearly flirting with mutual interest. Our 9th grader’s first thought will not be on how that guy treats her, as it’s impossible to determine what they were talking about. But in that 5 seconds he witnessed, all he was able to perceive was the guy’s haircut, jewelry, clothes, shoes, maybe even the way he talked. That 5 seconds is all it took for that image to fixate in his mind, the image of what he believes girls want. With no other influence to counteract, we cannot blame the 9th grader for growing up thinking that a nice haircut and outfit, along with some jewelry will get him success in relationships. That’s all he has ever seen. This is where ManUp comes in.

Then we add a list of other external influences such as exposure to pornography and music that normalizes the degrading of women, and what’s the result? A misconstrued concept of masculinity. Guys wouldn’t act like this if they didn’t truly believe it was attractive, so ManUp works not to bash these guys, but to help them build values and characteristics that improve their quality of life and success in finding meaningful relationships.

ManUp can show you the truth behind the rest of that 5 second conversation you witnessed. ManUp isn’t afraid to have those conversations that address what values we think girls and women find attractive. ManUp isn’t afraid to speak about gender based violence and sexual violence and how it exists within our very communities. ManUp gives you access to guys who went through those 4 years of high school and had all those thoughts you’re having right now. Forget just 4 years – ManUp gives you the chance to speak to men who finished high school, finished university, people your age or maybe even younger who all had or will have these same thoughts at one point in their lives. You are almost never the first person to come across a given situation; ManUp gives you that precedent of guys who had to make the same decisions, and are now looking back to help set the youth on a good or better path.

Fast forward a few years to University. The faces you see are no longer the same faces in the hallways you see every day, and each interaction becomes more meaningful. You begin to see and understand that those who have found successful relationships full of mutual trust, love, encouragement, and honesty, are those who dug deeper than 5 seconds of a conversation in 9th grade. It’s the guys who took the time to be accountable for their actions, who are respectful, who are MASCULINE in every way imaginable. In my experience, often times it’s someone who has come across ManUp or a similar positive reinforcement of positive masculinity in their lifetime.

This is the cultural shift towards positive masculinity that ManUp is working to spread, by having the thought provoking conversations that rid the mentality of toxic masculinity, replacing it with honest values. Nobody is asking boys to quit being masculine, instead masculinity is encouraged. Moving forward, we just need to ensure it’s the right kind of masculinity we’re encouraging.

We aren’t telling anyone to DO anything, simply because if we did, it would not work. People are told over and over to be kind and respectful, but until they see it having some sort of positive outcome, they stick to what they SEE works. This is why the monkey-see monkey-do behavior is so powerful, because if we can shift the role models of our communities to embody a healthy model of masculinity, the rest will fall in place. That’s why having these conversations is so important. That’s why ManUp WORKS.

By Zizo Aldaqqaq

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