What’s Behind the Masc?

What’s the difference between girls and boys? Looking at a thesaurus will give you a good idea. Under feminine you will find words like: girlish, softdelicategentle, and graceful. Under masculine you will find words like: virile, manly, muscular, strong, strapping, well built, robust, brawny, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous, rugged, and unwomanly. On paper it would seem that girls and boys are very different, but in reality they are both humans capable of the same emotions and capacities. Yet as a society we do not let that be the prevailing idea, we choose to box each other up and apply these antiquated, sexist, and patriarchal values that are extremely destructive. We are slowly killing our boys with these unattainable and wrong constructs of what it is to be a man and the fear of being thought of as a woman or of having feminine characteristics. We are slowly but systematically turning our boys into angry, abusive, sexist, depressed, violent, and emotionally depleted rapists, murderers, and fathers. We are dehumanizing them without even realizing what we’ve done.

Recently, the Faculty of Communication and Design created the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change. The centre’s pilot project is Refashioning Masculinity which aims to create a society where we’re all free to be ourselves and can equally value each other in all our diversity. They are using the power of fashion to re-imagine men’s gender identities and foster their diversity. As part of this project the centre held a screening of the film The Mask You Live In. The film follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The film illustrates how society can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

Gender norms are a part of our society, whether we like it or not we are constantly applying them and labeling each other and our actions as either male or female. This creates the idea that girls and boys are different and therefore should act unlike one another. This also seems to build on the idea that there is something wrong with you if you don’t stay true to these gender norms, if you don’t wear and exemplify your label. But what is wrong with a boy who cries or a boy who shows his emotions and knows how to live with them? In my eyes there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with how society and individuals respond to that boy. Bullying and abuse is generally what follows when a boy shows emotion. Interestingly, if a young boy cries there doesn’t seem to be an issue, it is only as that boy ages and grows that he is expected to shut off his emotions with the exception of anger. We teach boys that they are not allowed to have emotion and this only leads to the death of self.

How is it that boys are taught not to feel? Our society holds ideals of what a man is and these ideals slip into parenting style and peer relationships via mass media. We teach our boys through example, we show them exactly what a man is and how to act like one. Unfortunately, we show them that a man is someone who cannot love and is entitled to respect. Someone of power who dominates over others and uses violence to win, never falling prey to feminine or weak character.

Looking first at parenting style, boys are expected to grow into men and mothers and fathers are the ones who will take them there. This results in a twisted parental fear that if they allow their sons to show emotion they will not become men, but will instead turn into sissies that will not survive adulthood. This may result in emotional neglect and shaming of sons from their parents, a form of abuse that leads to depression and poor self-worth and -esteem. This may also lead to physical abuse as a way of “training”, to dehumanize boys so that they can become “tough” and exude masculinity. Abuse may also been seen as a way to stamp out “wrong” behaviour. Parents often only have their own upbringing to use as a source of reference when raising their children and external influences such as internalized homophobia and sexism alter parenting style. This means that boys who become men who become fathers may treat their sons the way they were treated by their fathers, to pressure them into the way of masculinity. If a man was raised in a culture of abuse and has lived a life where he has not been able to express emotion and has developed mental illness he may abuse his own children as a result, teaching them his ways. Thankfully, this is not the way all boys are raised, parenting operates on a spectrum. However, even those boys who are raised with love are exposed to society and media which alter their view on the world and on themselves.

When boys enter the school system they become a part of their own micro-culture and peer groups which reinforce male and female gender norms that they learn either at home or from media. Boys pressure each other to be more masculine, to not act like a girl. Boys are pressured to fit the social constructs of masculinity out of fear of social isolation and alienation, but even when they accept these constructs they become isolated in their own minds with the inability to reach out. This further removes the emotional language from boys and harms their mental health. With this we see higher rates of depression and suicide among young boys. As boys age and force their emotions inward they become more likely to commit suicide than girls. Additionally, this inward channeling of emotion and snubbing of expression build up to the point where boys act out in violent ways. In media, including video games, music, film, TV, and pornography boys are shown that violence is a successfully and accepted way to handle anger. With this learned idea in mind combined with built up aggression and distorted emotional and mental health boys reach for violence rather than help.

This article may seem an extremist point of view, but it is not untrue. Why is there on average one school shooting a week in the United States? Why are 90% of the shooters male? These men are othered into “mental health” and the gender link is ignored. Perhaps the reason these boys have mental illness and explode in violent ways is because that is what they are trained to do, that is what they are taught is acceptable. If you feel any negative emotion channel it into anger until you can no longer withstand it, then express your anger with violence on others. Rather than, if you feel a negative emotion show it, ask for help and take off your mask.

Boys are human just like girls. They have emotion, they feel and they should be allowed to show those feelings. Masculinity has become warped to the point where it no longer even stands for strength and power, it means anger and violence. A man is no more a man when he cannot feel, he is no longer human. We need to teach our boys that to be a man is to have caring and compassion. We need to remove the masc from masculinity. We can be happy, sad, angry, confused, anxious, remorseful, fearful, guilty, grieving, bored, and loving.

National Nursing Student Week 2015

National Nursing Students Week is an annual event, hosted by the Canadian Nursing Students Association [CNSA], that occurs in November intended to celebrate nursing students nation-wide in their hard work and accomplishments. It is an opportunity that allows the achievement so of nursing students throughout Canada to be showcased to the community. This year, National Nursing Student Week was from November 15th – November 21st. Each year, there is a significant theme chosen for National Nursing Student Week that reflects the nursing student population and nursing in general. This year’s theme is “Nursing the Mind,” with an emphasis on the importance of self-care amongst all nursing students.


It is no secret that nursing as a post-secondary program of study is competitive, rigorous, and extremely demanding, to say the least. Not only do nursing students face upwards of 20-25+ hours of school hours a week, on top of a heavy course load, they must also complete anywhere from 6-24+ clinical placement hours a week as well. Overall, it is quite a difficult program, making it quite easy for nursing students to overlook their own self-care and well-being. Nursing students are easily overwhelmed with their work and with school, solely focused on the care of others, making it ironic for them to neglect their own health. This week’s theme helps to emphasize the importance for nursing students to consider their own health and wellness as a top priority as well.

While it is important to work hard and be dedicated in school, it is also equally as important to take care of yourself and make time to ensure that your needs are met. That is the focus for this year’s National Nursing Student Week. The goal for this past week was to take some time out of a nursing student’s day to relax, de-stress, and do something they genuinely enjoy. Some suggestions include, but are not limited to, taking a walk for a few minutes, sitting down and catching up with some friends, reading a book, etc. This advice can even extend towards all students because it is evident that a lack of self-care is an issue that is consistent amongst a student population.

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Ryerson has celebrated National Nursing Students Week on an annual basis as Ryerson has its own chapter of CNSA. Ryerson’s chapter of CNSA conducted a variety of events in the past week to celebrate National Nursing Students Week. Some of the events included offering free snacks for nursing students on campus, information on mental health and self-care, opportunities to relax and enjoy other nursing students’ company in the nursing lounge, etc. With the focus being self-care, the events were centred on ways in which nursing students could find the time throughout their day to relax and rest; give themselves the opportunity to re-charge and clear their busy heads.

Being a nursing student at Ryerson in my third year, I am all too familiar with the chaos and intensity that accompanies my program. I have experienced the large number of demands that being a nursing student calls for and more often than I’d like to admit, I have overlooked my own needs in order to meet my academic and career needs. For a long time, I found it very difficult to find the time to allow my mind and body to rest and simply enjoy myself. This past National Nursing Students week has allowed me to reflect on what I can do to enhance my self-care practices in the future. It has taught me that relaxation and rest is very necessary in every individual’s life and that no matter how busy your day may be, there is always time for you to pause and rest. I have learned that while my academic and career goals are a priority and something I need to be working very diligently to accomplish, my own health and wellness is also a priority. I am more than just a nursing student, I am also a young person who enjoys life and wants to experience everything that life offers. I want to stop overlooking the joyous things in life and allow myself to take a break once in awhile. National Nursing Student Week 2015 has taught me that no matter how demanding and how stressful life may seem, there is always time in the day – whether that be 5 minutes or an hour – to take care of yourself, and your own health and wellness. As a nursing student, I have the responsibility to care for others – as well as myself.

Compliments and Criticisms

As of lately, I have noticed that many people (myself included at times) have difficulty accepting compliments. Accepting compliments with a simple ‘thank you’ can seem vain to some, but I think that it is the perfectly gracious way to accept them. When sincere, compliments are positive and flattering forces – something we should all strive to share more of. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed to accept some flattery – life is about give and take, and you have to receive what others offer once and a while. It’s such a shame to shoot down a sincere compliment with a “thanks – but” counter-strike, but this happens too often. “Your hair looks great today!” “Thanks – but my haircut is so bad…” or “That was a great presentation!” “No, I was so nervous and forgot to say something!” Just accept the compliment! So that is one of my recent observations and resolutions all in one – just accept it with gratitude without ruining a compliment. It is the most gracious way to respond and is not at all vain.


On the flipside, criticism can be equally as difficult to respond to. As of late, I have taken notice of criticism in my own life and in other’s. Whether constructive or malicious, criticism is an inevitable part of life and we can always improve on giving and taking it with respect and integrity. When faced with criticism it is important to calculate the validity. Who is the criticism from, what is the intent, is it valid? Does it matter? While some opinions matter, others do not. Consider what matters, and let everything else roll off your back. I think that malicious criticism says more about the person who expresses it, than it does about the object of criticism. Unlike the general rule of thumb that applies to compliments (just say thank you, don’t ruin it!), responding to criticism is more of a gray scale. To flare up can make you look just as bad, but to say nothing at all without defence to yourself can be just as bad. To me, it all boils down to assessing the situation and taking the high road. Accept the good with integrity and respond to the bad with an open, yet critical mind. That is my mentality for 2015 because life is too short to waste time on negativity. All the best and happy new year!

Alcohol consumption and cancer

Alcohol. I love it. And, fellow Ryerson students, I know you love it too. More than ever, drinking has become an integral part of youth culture and a common activity during social gatherings. As the days grow longer and that gloriously hot summer sun beams down on us from a cloudless sky, we are more inclined to crack open a cold one, suck back a mason jar of sangria, or sip on a glass of wine to cool down and relax.

But, like many wonderful things in life, alcohol is not that good for our bodies. In April, Cancer Care Ontario released a new report outlining a correlation between alcohol consumption and cancer, and it mentions that our demographic – those between the ages of 19 and 29 – has the highest prevalence of excessive drinking. The report also reveals that only one-third of Canadians are aware of these links, which is why it is important to raise awareness about it in the Ryerson Community.

Ethanol, the component in all alcohol, is a known human carcinogen and is believed to cause damage to our DNA. It also acts as a solvent that breaks down our cell walls, which allows for other carcinogens to penetrate into them and cause genetic damage. The cancers associated with alcohol consumption include those of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.

I know what you are thinking, readers: I’ll just switch up my tequila for vodka and I am in the clear. Unfortunately, the CCO report states that is not the type of alcohol that matters, but rather the amount you drink. The latest recommendation on alcohol consumption, established by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Canada Research, reveals there is “no established ‘safe limit’” to prevent an increased risk of cancer.

WHAT?! NO SAFE LIMIT?! I know, right? I kinda died too.

Seeing as the summer pretty much equates to a frosted mug of beer, this is not a feasible recommendation for the majority of people. But fret not, my beloved patio-goers and Bellwoods dwellers, there are secondary recommendations you can follow that let you enjoy your tall cans in the safest way possible. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend females 19+ consume no more than 10 drinks per week (1-2 drinks per day), and males of the same age demographic stick to 15 drinks per week (2-3 drinks per day).

But, there’s a catch – we have to be mindful of what a standard drink means. A 12 oz. bottle of beer (5% alcohol) is 341mL; 1.5oz. of hard booze (40% alcohol) measures 43mL; and 5 oz. (142mL) is one glass of wine (12% alcohol).

As well, the aforementioned guidelines also encourage us to plan non-drinking days throughout the week to avoid developing a habit.

As young folks, we rarely think of the future of our health because we focus enjoying the moment. But it is the habits we acquire in our younger years that impact our later years. Cancer can take decades to form before it shows itself. This means that a cancer diagnosis in midlife may have been the result of various habits in our younger years.

I am not telling you to stop drinking, but rather I am spreading the good word and empowering you to make a healthy choice. Have a few drinks, enjoy those drinks and have fun with friends, but know your limit, adhere to the guidelines as much as possible, and be safe.


Get Outside

a woman's barefeet in the grass

Having spent my childhood running through cornfields and reading in the shade of huge oak trees, I sometimes find it hard to live in Toronto. I had always assumed that my longing to feel dirt in my fingers and the grass between my toes was because of this childhood. While, it definitely plays a role, I am becoming more conscious of just how important nature is to everyone’s well being.

In 2009 a study done by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you are likely to be. This was found to be true for people living in cities which had plenty of green spaces. (Luckily, we live in Toronto, a city with tons of green spaces.) (http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1680)

So being outside makes you healthier, but why? There are several theories. One is Vitamin D intake. The more time we spend outside, the more Vitamin D we soak up, the stronger our immune system. Another theory is that being outside improves our sleep as the natural sunlight helps to set our internal clock. Rather than relying on fluorescent lights and alarm clocks, this internal clock set by nature, helps to normalize our hormones (which can have the added benefit of weight loss). (http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1680&page=2)

Even beyond our internal clock and Vitamin D, being out in nature has been proven to make us happy. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has provided proof that being outside causes “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual actives, and to social and psychological resources” (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1920068/science_proves_what_we_all_know_nature_is_good_for_your_health.html).

The dirt we walk or roll on has a part to play. Scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London discovered a couple of years ago a connection between dirt and mental health. There is a microbe found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This microbe stimulates the same neurons of your brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin is known to increase your level of general well being. So even if you don’t live close to a green space or you have allergies and this time of the year is difficult, chances are you can still get your hands dirty with an indoor plant.

While Toronto may not be one of the top ten park filled cities in the world, we do have a large number of parks to enjoy (http://www.frommers.com/slideshows/818821-the-world-s-10-best-cities-for-parks#slide837064). From High Park, Edwards Gardens, Dufferin Grove, Allan Gardens, the Islands, Rogue Park, Guildwood, to Woodbine and Humber River, the city is full of places to get outside, enjoy nature and improve your health.

To see a complete list of Toronto parks to enjoy click here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Toronto_parks


Five Ways to Boost Your Immune System

A circle with immune system written inside. There are six other circles with arrows pointing to immune system. Inside these circle are the words, bacteria, Parasites, pollution, toxins, fungi and viruses.

Winter is coming. Well, actually it’s here. And with winter comes winter colds. It’s is impossible to avoid people who insist on sharing their germs. Transit, school, work, the grocery store, they are everywhere. If you can’t avoid them, you can at least boost your immune system and use some natural remedies to keep the winter cold at bay.

  1. Wash your hands. Sounds easy. I know, I know you are all saying that you already do this. But do you really? When you get home, before you eat, before you pick up your laptop? Washing your hands before you eat might make you feel like you are five again, but it is one of the most effective ways of keeping colds at bay. If you don’t always have access to soap and water you can use hand sanitizers. I don’t like to use those chemical laden ones so I make my own. All you need is coconut oil, it’s full of natural anti-bacterial properties, tea tree oil and whatever essential oil you like. (Rosemary is really nice)
  2. Cut down on the alcohol and increase the greens. Alcohol acidifies the body. Alcohol also increases the amount of sugar in your system and that reduces the ability of the white blood cells in your body to fight off infections. Not to mention how poorly you sleep after a night of drinking. Increasing the amount of greens you consume will help to counteract the acidification from the alcohol. Greens are also chock full of vitamin C.
  3. Shake it up. Movement and exercise reduces stress and boosts your immune system. It also leads to a better night sleep. Try rebounding. Rebounding is jumping on a mini trampoline, not only is it super fun, but it also helps to shake up and detoxify your lymphatic system.
  4. Make love more often. Believe it or not, there are several studies showing that having healthy sexual relationships also boost the immune system. A study in 2004 showed that the close contact of sexual encounters reduces the risk of colds. Having sex 1-2 times a week increases anti-bodies which help to combat the common cold. One more reason to make love not war.
  5. Get your vitamin D. It’s up to you how you decide to do this. Go out for walks or get a suppliment either way it’s important to make sure you are getting enough. Our bodies fight off infections using T-Cells. Vitamin D has been found to activate T-Cells. So it is vital to make sure you are getting enough. It’s generally recommended to take suppliments during the winter months. If you are unsure what your Vitamin D levels are, ask your doctor for a blood test.

My Movember Rant


November has begun and everywhere are men with fuzzy upper lips.  I have nothing against mustaches, but I wonder if growing them is just a way to deflect from the issues that this event is supposed to raise?  I know several men who have participated in this event for the past couple of years, but none of them have been able to tell me about the risk factors or symptoms of prostate cancer.  This is not, I think, because men don’t care about prostate cancer, but rather men are socially conditioned not to talk about their health, their prostates and to be uncomfortable with the digit prostate exam.  Look at the case for women, we get paps yearly, uncomfortable mammograms later on, we personally check for lumps and we talk about all of this.  The difference being that women are expected to talk about this.  Men on the other hand, raise money, keep quiet and grow a mustache.

One thing I never hear from these cancer campaigns, be it Movember, or Run for the Cure, is anyone talking about prevention. I suspect that they have this information on some website associated with the campaign, but it should be in the forefront.  I understand the desire to look for cure, but what about preventing some of these cancers from occurring instead?  What about instead of growing a mustache, stop eating red meat or meat all together as it has been linked to prostrate cancer?  How about increasing your exercise level?  How eating less diary? What about adding more soy to your diet? Or, how about (most telling of all) talking to your doctor about your risk level? (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/prostate-cancer-prevention/MC00027)

I know, I know, mustaches are fun and change isn’t.  Mustaches are manly and taking care of your health isn’t.

I saw a news clip the other day about Movember and one public figure mentioned men’s mental health.  Who knew that Movember was evening raising money for this?  Again, why not just talk about this as an issue?  Because mental health is not manly.  Men don’t talk about this.  Remember Bell’s campaign for mental health called “Let’s Talk”.  Who was the spokesperson?  Clara Hughes.  Anyone surprised that they didn’t have a man talking about mental health?

Okay, so lets all grow a mustaches.  I get it they are fun and it’s one time a year that a man can grow something totally outrageous and doesn’t get judged harshly, but TALK too.  Talk about mental health, talk about prostate cancer!  Get the blood test!  Change your diet, your lifestyle.  You wanna raise awareness about these issues?  Then do it!