Fathers turn ‘the talk’ into dialogue on respectful relationships

Eli Hurst is 12 years old. Girls have just started to enter his thinking in a new way, and he’s “vulnerable,” says his father, Darrell Hurst.

Still, Eli’s views are sturdily progressive, despite the misogyny seeping into the U.S. presidential campaign and corners of Canadian campuses. “Treat girls with respect,” he says.

Darrell recently sat down with Eli to make good on a pledge to talk about consent, a promise he put forward as part of the #20MinutesOfAction4Change campaign.

It’s more than a hashtag. Turning a now notorious courtroom quote on its head, the online campaign asks dads to sit down with their sons for 20 minutes and to counter misogynist attitudes, wafting everywhere from Donald Trump rallies to college chants.

“It makes me nervous. It makes me scared,” Darrell said.

Fathers have been silent with their sons for far too long on “a woman’s right to say no,” says campaign founder and Toronto dad Ryan Spelliscy.

Spelliscy, who has two young sons, launched the initiative this week to push father-son chats beyond the antiquated stereotype of “the talk” toward a broader conversation on respectful relationships.

“The cliché of ‘the talk’ needs to evolve,” he said. Rather than heading “down to the lake with a beer to talk about the most basic things about sexuality,” he suggests chats that shed notions of male entitlement and head off misogyny as it’s happening.

Leading by example is key, he says. “Kids are going to notice if Dad’s constantly leering at women or treating women with disrespect.”

The campaign, unrolled on Father’s Day by the J. Walter Thompson ad agency — Spelliscy is chief creative officer at its Toronto branch — was a direct response to a letter written by Dan Turner and reportedly read in court ahead of a Stanford University athlete being sentenced for sexual assault on June 2.

Turner referred to his 20-year-old son Brock’s sexual assault of an unconscious woman after a fraternity party in January 2015 as “20 minutes of action,” for which he should not have to serve time in jail.

“That pissed off myself and a lot of other dads I work with at the agency,” said Spelliscy, part of a JWT group called Dads Who Give a Damn. He called it “deplorable language” and the tipping point in a series of degrading incidents.

“It’s just overdue. It feels like there’s been an overwhelming (number) of big cases — Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi and now the thing with Brock Turner — and it seems like every day there’s a new case of boundaries being broken,” said a White Ribbon Toronto spokesman, Clay Jones.

While derogatory remarks toward women continue to come from presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump — he’s suggested women should be “punished” for having abortions and said no one would vote for his former rival Carly Fiorina because of “that face” — incidents in Canada have piled up as well.

A Facebook “Gentlemen’s Club” formed by dentistry students at Dalhousie University in 2014 that contained sexist posts about female students, and chants promoting rape at the University of British Columbia in 2013 and Saint Mary’s University in 2014. But there’s still a deafening silence by fathers who should be raising their voices, Jones said.

A vulgar outburst by a local soccer fan into the microphone of a female City News reporter outside BMO Field in May 2015 illustrates the point. “The idea that men feel so comfortable to go do that live, on camera, is a pretty good sign that misogyny is alive and well.”

Spelliscy noted that different approaches to countering sexism suit different ages.

“If your son’s 15, you’re going to have one kind of conversation; if he’s 7, you might not, but you can be doing things to lead by example in the house,” he said.

“Even being noticeably quiet on issues, and maybe saying inappropriate things at times, can be harmful.”

JWT rolled out the social media campaign in partnership with White Ribbon Toronto, an NGO that works to end violence against women.

Retrieved from The Star, and written by Christopher Reynolds

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