What makes your initiative uniquely positioned to create change in your community?
By using the concept of super heroes as a way to rethink power and bust gender stereotypes this ground breaking project is working with high school-age youth (of both genders) in the lower mainland and other parts of BC to develop both an understanding of the root causes of violence against women and girls, and a “new-media literacy.” Participants will not only gain a critical understanding of the negative messages that flood youth culture in all media, but also how to create their own positive messages in a way that will be meaningful to their peers. The end goal of the project is for the youth team to help the messages they create “go viral,” using the web as a way to reach many more youth where they already are.
Using video and multi-media tools and training as part of a workshop process, grade 8 age youth of both genders are drawn into engaging with the issues in a way that is meaningful to them. Through exploring how stereotypes can contribute to dating miscommunication youth learn, in a playful way, how to “bust the myths” that may lead to violence while also gaining a “multi-media literacy” around how these messages are constructed in mainstream media.
Out of these workshops, and with their new awareness, they will create positive messages for their peers that will help model skills for healthy relationships. In our current phase ideas that have come out of the larger workshop are being turned into videos, flash animation and which will launch online with the help of our core group of youth some of whom will also be trained as media spokespeople. The project will be evaluated on multiple levels, to measure attitude shifts in the youth directly impacted, and how far their message has spread online.
Innovation: This project builds a new model to integrate much needed critical thinking skills, with message making and distribution.
The integration of education in the issues, with hands-on skills building in multi-media, supported by professionals, is what makes this project highly innovative. Ours is a commitment to a process model that treats youth as experts of their own experience, while re-presenting them as heroes to their peers, fully supported by the best video, graphic design, music and effects that can be professionally supplied to bring their ideas to life.
In addition we will have the youth involved learn how to focus test their ideas and in so doing they will they will learn not only how to make effective messages, but how to know when and why these messages work, or why not. They will have moved beyond self-awareness to an understanding of how their own friends form their attitudes, and why. This is particularly effective when dealing with the impasse (created and supported by mainstream society) between how young women and young men think, feel, and behave.
The biggest challenge to our success is that It’s not always easy to make the links between stereotypes and sexualized/gendered violence clear, and it’s even harder to model positive behavior in a way that will not be immediately dismissed as preachy and judgmental. The audience segment we are prioritizing in our messaging and approach is the ‘typical’ grade 8 boy. In the field of all things related to personal health and sexuality – he is the hardest to reach. Males are the group most often missed out with any kind of sexual health messages. So we have to work hard to do it!
Part of the challenge for us is how we take positive, role-model messages to reach male audiences without it coming across as ‘cheesy’, ‘lame’, ‘corny’ or preachy. Boy culture still very much revolves on the premise “bad boy=cool”. But we also know that if a boy feels he is being cast as the villain in the story we’ve lost his attention, and in a lot of ways his respect. If you think about extreme stereotypical masculinity, it values things like power, control and aggression. So how do we make the idea of self-awareness and effective communication – essential components of healthy relationships but which also fly in the face of stereotypical masculinity - considered hot, sexy and desirable? This is our biggest messaging challenge.
Our other challenge is in finding the right project partners, and generating enough ongoing financial support to give us a chance to experiment fully with the elements of our project we see as being effective, but needing more time to implement and evaluate.