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The Dalhousie University dentistry building

Andrew Vaugha/THE CANADIAN PRES

Thirteen Dalhousie University dentistry students involved in a misogynist Facebook group have been suspended from clinical activities, segregated in remote classrooms and face further disciplinary action. The Globe spoke with experts about shifting toxic gendered dialogue, without overpolicing men and conversation in general.

Jolting empathy "If I were sitting down and talking with these guys, I would ask them, 'Hey, so what did you mean when you posted this? What did you think it would mean if somebody read it?,'" says Charlie Glickman, an Oakland, Calif., sexuality educator. He asks the men in his seminars, "If you would be upset if some other guy said this about a woman in your life, then why are you saying it about someone else?"

Acknowledging shame

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"Some guys get very thoughtful about it and introspective," says Glickman of the questions he poses. "Other guys go into a shame spiral. Part of the difficulty in talking to men about this is that when people get called out on stuff they sometimes go into shame. And men frequently do not have a lot of shame resilience. … I try to have these conversations with guys in a way that challenges without shaming them. That's a very fine line to walk."

Aiming institutionally

Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, believes the dialogue can be nudged institutionally, pointing to a well-publicized year-long experiment at the Harvard Business School that attempted to explicitly change gender norms on campus by altering the style of debates in classrooms, providing private coaching to women and installing stenographers in class to help prevent biased grading. "The social stuff was much harder to shift," Rosin said.

Social norming

Colleges and universities across North America are now attempting to model new social norms: "They're trying to normalize an opposite kind of behaviour: normalizing dissenting, or driving people home, or helping women who seem obviously drunk. That's not a hopeless endeavour: It's what happened with drunk driving and seat-belt laws," Rosin said.

Avoiding thought policing

Rosin argues that policing personal conversations would be extremely draconian, unrealistic and ultimately fruitless. "You don't have to drum sexist trash-talking out of every corner – unless it starts to affect the women who study and learn with you or affects the people who will be your patients. Insofar as it affects people's comfort at the institution and their performance, it's everybody's business."

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