ManTalks steps away from hyper-masculine, macho culture.
Years ago, when he was struggling with addiction and depression, Connor Beaton felt like he had nowhere to turn.
While men have innumerable spaces for social interaction—bars, locker rooms, golf courses—these aren’t places that invite deep, emotional conversations.
And, at the time, Beaton didn’t have a group of friends he was comfortable opening up to. He felt like men were supposed work through things alone—to not ask for help.
“I felt like I was a huge failure because I was struggling and I couldn’t figure it out by myself,” he says. “I felt like I was alone in being broken in some way. Or that I was failing as a guy.”
When he came clean to a close friend, the friend told him that he’d had his own struggles: he’d tried to commit suicide a month ago. Beaton realized other men were experiencing challenges, but not talking about them—“the things we need to talk about in order to fully show up in our lives,” he says.
This led Beaton to create ManTalks—a series of monthly events in Vancouver that feature speakers on subjects ranging from overcoming adversity to making connections, all with one overarching goal: making better men.
ManTalks is hosting its second-ever event in Toronto tonight. The talks will happen quarterly in the city.
Beaton describes it as TED Talks meets Oprah for guys.
“We find men in the community who are making a difference in the world and give them a space to tell their life stories and share some of their life’s biggest challenges and lessons.”
ManTalks also strives to reduce social isolation and suicide rates among men.
“We focus on building a community around positive masculinity, instead of the mainstream GQ and Men’s Health and Esquire, which all perpetuate the same old macho stereotypes,” Beaton says.
These magazines perpetuate notions of traditional masculinity, Beaton says. They focus on how you should look, how you should dress, and “how to be a stud.”
“Not talking about what to do if your partner leaves you or how to be a single dad,” he says. “They don’t really talk about meaningful things are going to help men show up and be better husbands or create better levels of equality in the workplace.”
ManTalks is not a men’s right activist group—Beaton is clear about that.
He says some people, upon hearing the name, have assumed that there’s a tie to that movement before they learn what the organization actually does. Once they do and see that women are welcome at events—typically, about half of attendees are female—that concern dissipates.
Women also work for ManTalks.
“I do not bring people in who are associated with MRAs,” Beaton says.
There’s a fine line between something like ManTalks, which doesn’t minimize women’s plight and focuses, in part, on how men can be better to the women in their lives, and “pro-equality” organizations that, in creating discussions about men’s issues, tear down women.
One such example is the billboard the Canadian Association for Equality erected last year in Toronto. It featured a woman screaming at a man and read, “HALF of domestic violence victims are men. NO domestic violence shelters are dedicated to us.”
CAFE doesn’t identify as a men’s rights group—its website states that it is dedicated to “achieving equality for all men, women, girls and boys”—but many local media outlets have described it as such.
Last fall, I attended a CAFE event in downtown Toronto that featured fathers talking about parental alienation and their struggle to get shared custody of their children.
To me, this seemed like a valid issue—one both men and women face.
Jeff Perera, a Toronto public speaker on healthy masculinity, runs the website Higher Unlearning—a place for conversations about what it means to be a man.
He says events like ManTalks, which aim to do this, are a good thing.
“The world is a man’s space,” Perera says. “The world is a man’s locker room, if you will. The idea is not to duplicate those spaces.”
It’s about providing a different kind of space, one where guys can connect with other guys on a deeper level and talk honestly and openly about the answers to questions like: what should being a good guy look like? How can we be better men?
“When it comes to being a man—this is universal, I think, in every culture around the world—the first rule about being a man is you don’t talk about it,” says Perera. “You just do it.”
“Being able to empathize or express emotion, those things are seen as so-called feminine traits. And they’re devalued amongst men. So the problem we have a lot of men who are basically like islands.”
Social isolation is something many men face—Beaton cites a study that found half of men over the age of 19 can’t identify a best or close friend.
Perera knows it can be scary to open up. He says men aren’t raised to ask for help—they’re taught to believe it’s a sign of weakness.
“It’s so to the core of my value as a human being on this planet, as a man, is if I am a solution or a conqueror or I’m victorious or I achieve things or I have all the answers,” he says of the messaging men receive.
“It’s vital for men to learn how to nurture themselves and each other.”
For groups like ManTalks, Perera adds, it’s important for them to be transparent about what they do.
“It’s not about men’s rights. It’s about furthering our humanity and us as men contributing to the larger conversation. It’s not us versus them. Women in our lives are teammates. They’re not things we’re supposed to conquer or trophies.”