Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Alexa and Dave on -- Christie Blatchford: Toronto, City of Sissies

By: Christie Blatchford
Dec 10, 2011 – 2:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Dec 10, 2011 3:59 AM ET
Source: The National Post
Mark Blinch / Reuters files

Where have all this city's manly men gone? It was in Toronto recently, while temporarily resuming my semi-charmed kind of life there and briefly ditching the other semi-charmed half in Kingston, that I realized how much in need the modern male of the species is of some toughening up.

The bull terrier and I were on a long forced march on the toney part of Yonge Street, in Rosedale.
There were a couple of boys, maybe 10 years old, maybe 12, walking ahead of me. Coming towards them was another small knot of boys about the same age.

The two groups met, and immediately began hugging each another, one at a time. The trustees and ding-dongs at the Toronto District School Board would have been ecstatic; I was mortified and appalled.

This was about the time that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was all over the airwaves, with his anti-bullying crackdown, and poor old Doug Ford, a Toronto councillor whose brother Rob just happens to be the city mayor, was caught out (by the Toronto Star, of course, the newspaper in such a permanent state of nervous Nellie-dom about the Fords, forever crying in front-page headlines “The world is ending! Again!”, that it renders the boy who cried wolf a reticent little beggar by comparison) shilling for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, which of course was made legal in the province only this year by, wait for it, the government of Premier McGuinty.

Mr. Ford’s sin, through an assistant, had been to ask the TSDB to consider circulating a little brochure about WFC community involvement. “A terrible idea,” one trustee immediately said, noting that “schools are all about peacemaking now.”

That’s quite true: In Toronto, actual education routinely takes a back seat to anti-bullying messages, gay-positive education, recognition assemblies and social justice.

In any case, it already has been a bad month for Doug Ford.

Just days later, while attending a meeting about possible cuts to school nutritional programs, he offered to kick in $1,000 to help a particular program. So shocked were his fellows and Toronto taxpayers at the sight of a local politician offering to reach into his own pocket to pay for anything, they rose up as one to protest that this too must be dead-wrong.

(It reminded me of the time, years ago, when his brother was just a councillor and also got in trouble for not spending enough on his expenses. The nerve of those Ford bastards, not sucking the municipal tit for every last drop! That’s just wrong! But I digress.)

‘I have no particular fondness for gratuitous roughness in games, no time for bullies at all, and as a downtowner, I live surrounded by gay men, who, like most women, I adore as a group’
I think that part of the reason it’s a bad time to be Doug or Rob Ford or anyone like them is that they are too big, too pink, too football-y, and therefore too potentially violent and too-old school manly for a lot of city folk.

Toronto likes its men delicate, slender and arch, not sportif unless le sport in question is maybe badminton, and if those little boys I saw on Yonge Street are any indication, Toronto is even now about to achieve perfection in this coming generation.

Do not mistake this as a plea for head-banging in sport, a defence of bullies, or a veiled anti-gay message. I have no particular fondness for gratuitous roughness in games, no time for bullies at all, and as a downtowner, I live surrounded by gay men, who, like most women, I adore as a group.

But holy smokes, I am wearying of the male as delicate creature. I am wearying of men who are so frequently in touch with their feminine side they, not to mention me, have lost sight of the masculine one. I’m just plain sick of hugs, giving and getting, from just about anyone, but particularly man-to-man hugs.

And the novelty of being the toughest guy in the room – and by this I mean me – is getting really old.

In aid of all that, let me offer a few reminders of the way it was once upon a time and really always should be.
I remain convinced that the best way to stop a bully is not to go mewling to the teacher, who will only call the victim’s mummy, or to your own mummy, who will only call the teacher. The best way is to take the bully out for a short pounding after school – and may I make it plain, please, that I don’t mean the victims should do this, but rather others. The onus for stopping bullies lies not with the people being bullied, but with those who see it happen.

This has been true for centuries, and it is still true, and it works equally well in the locker room, the office, a bar, and on the factory floor or street.

It is possible to be a gentle and kind man without speaking in a soft, sibilant voice that makes all sentences sound to my ear as though they were composed entirely of Ss.

Glasses should be worn only by people who can’t see, not as props.

Gay, as I’ve mentioned, is entirely fine. Fey is a pain in the arse.

I know men have feelings too. I just don’t need to know much more than that. On any list of The 25 Things Every Man And Boy Should Know How To Do, hugging is not one of them. Killing bugs is. Whacking bullies is. Kissing is. Farting on cue is. Making the sound of a train in a tunnel is. Shooting a puck is. Hugging is not.

Feel free to give this to your male children. You’re entirely welcome.


Alexa Tomaszewski: 

Blatchford is taking an un-journalistic and very editorial stand here. She is very much setting herself apart and alienating groups of people. This reminded me our conversation, Dave. Are these men acting like women? Are Rob Ford and Doug Ford good examples of manliness or malehood? I shudder to think what society would look like if it were full of Ford brothers. Wouldn’t leave much for us women to look at, would it?

That being said, I think the editorial piece, although very much based in and colored by Blatchford’s personal opinion and experience, raises interesting questions.

First of all, Blatchford seems to perceive her experience in journalism as being quintessentially divided at the sexes. – “And the novelty of being the toughest guy in the room – and by this I mean me – is getting really old.”

As soon as I read this line I thought to myself – is this an instance of a woman acting like a man in the field of journalism?

And Is she bitter about this experience because now these men are acting “like women”? Or are they actually womanly?

I think it's nonsense. York University is a school full of students at difference age points, of different races, and of different genders and sexual identifications. The men at my old university have been dressing ‘pretty’ ever since I can remember.

Does that make them less manly?

Not in my opinion. Why? Because they still acted tough, had exclusive boy clubs, swigged beers, farted and burped like any other man. They just had better clothes. This I attribute more to consumer culture than sexual identity.

Women for the longest time have been the leading consumers – for the home, baby and for themselves. They often shop as well for their husbands and extended families. They buy the appliances. But, it’s 2012 and more men want to and do get into the latest trend.

Do you think Glamourpuss would be around if it weren’t for the fashion magazine?

And fashion magazines have become a thing for men as well. And the androgynous look, well, that’s right in style right now. Fashion houses, magazine newsrooms and television spots are all hot to get the latest model Andrej Pejic because stylists can dress him male or female. It’s almost like anything goes these days.

Can you tell the difference? It’s a crazy, crazy world we live in.

What do you think Dave?

Dave Sim: 

I'm a big admirer of Christie Blatchford's writing. She has certainly been head and shoulders above all other Canadian journalists in deploring the suspension of the rule of law by the McGuinty government in the native occupation in Caledonia, both in her original journalism on the subject and in her book which her journalism lead too, AND in going out and promoting that book even when leftist extremists - as happened at the University of Waterloo - actively impede her ability to speak freely. In those situations, I'm sure that in metrosexual Toronto she is the "toughest guy in the room" -- in the sense of exhibiting uncommon bravery (uncommon in our age, anyway) in doing what's right and standing behind it, four-square and unflinching.

That being said, I would never mistake her for a man. Synchronistically this morning she's writing about her dog as "the most kissed dog in the country" and how she will "catch his big concrete head between my knees, nibble on his lips and looking into them, praise his beady dark eyes." One of the reasons I'm exiled from polite society is for pointing out the female inclination to view animals as people (see "Tangent"). Dogs spend the better part of their canine lives licking feces off their anuses. Every dog ower knows this and yet a vast majority (I would guess mostly women) choose to ignore this and allow their dogs to French-kiss them. I don't know what I can add to that.

On the subject of Andrej Pejic: we're really talking about two models of reality. For men, men and women are opposites in the same way that west and east are opposites. Men like Andrej Pejic are -- like gays and transgendered -- weird quirky exceptions. Nothing is 100% and that includes masculinity. To women, men and women are just  nuanced expressions of the same thing spread across a continuum and consequently view Andrej Pejic as someone of great significance. Men and women are the same basically because Andrej Pejic exists. Structurally, it's an unsound model for reality because what you're doing is making weird, quirky exceptions into centerpieces. We live in a democracy, thank God, so it is possible to build a society on that model if enough women can persuade enough men that men and women are the same, mostly the same or the same in all ways in which society most fruitfully directs itself. So far, so good. I'm the one exiled from polite society with my completely discredited view that men are men and women are women. The ones hewing to the continuum model are the ones running society. We are hurtling in that direction and have been for decades. But I do think the wheels are starting to come off for that absolutist feminist model.

Of course only 331 people don't believe that I'm a misogynist so there's no good reason to even accept the possibility that I might be right and the absolutest feminist model is wrong. I think the wheels are starting to actually fall off the undercarriage of the car and needs to hit the blacktop in a shower of sparks before feminists, generally, are going to start to consider revisiting any of their prejudices and presuppositions.

Okay, now, I'll ask you one. Blatchfod doesn't seem to be talking about metrosexual clothes so much as metrosexual behaviour -- straight men "mincing" their words and acting fey. It's certainly something I've noticed. As I said to you on the phone, I think it's just protective colouration. Guys who want to get laid or find a girlfriend see that women prefer gay men to straight men -- as Christie Blatchford says, like most women she adores gay men as a group. Don't you see this as patronizing and condescending? I had to smile when I read a Letter to the Editor on her article from a gay man saying, speaking personally, the feeling wasn't at all mutual. That is, gay men are gay men, not collective widgets to be set in place where feminists believe they belong -- on the feminist male-female-interchangeable continuum. What do YOU think?

Alexa Tomaszewski:

I think you're more or less right. The hegemonic powers-that-be are the guiding force in terms of where society is headed in the next few decades. For those hegemonic hierarchies to you need to have your weird, quirky exceptions to remind everyone else what "normal" is.  In some ways Andrej Pejic is a good example of that rule. He reminds us that we are part of the bigger picture, on that involves layers of power. The people at the top with the most power need Andrej Pejic because this exception to the rule gives off the illusion that we've become more accepting, when just the opposite is happening.

Christie Blatchford is a great writer. But in this case she categorizes and separates groups of people and then labels one as better or more tolerable than the other. In anthropology this type of categorization was used to separate cultures, people and religions. After decades of classification by anthropologists all over the world, modern (post-19th century) anthropology has to look at this system of classification and break it down because everything today is fluid. The continuum is pulling us all forward and is engaging each person in global communication -- globalization means society is more nomadic and cosmopolitan than ever before, notions of east and west as separate are breaking down. Could this be the same for notions of gender? Especially as the subject experiences a more fluid, undefined identity?

So yes, Blatchford is being condescending and patronizing, but more so, she's being narrow-minded. To be man or woman is scientific fact, to act like a man or woman is gender identification. We all identify in different ways, especially as the notion of "normal" becomes more and more muddied. As individuals in society we create our identity from the barrage of images we receive daily and how we act is an extension of that consumption.

Dave Sim: Hi Alexa. Let's see if this works.
    On Blatchford's main point -- where have all the manly men gone? -- I think a good illustration is when my relationship with Susan was coming to an end (she's the one you were asking about, with her forthcoming book, DAVE SIM'S LAST GIRLFRIEND) and I said to her on the phone, "What you need is a squishy feminist you can push around."  And she YELLS over the phone, "NO!"  Well, you know, at that point it's beyond comedic.  You don't yell at a real man "NO!" you yell "NO!" at a squishy feminist.  So, it's beyond comedic and it is, self-evidently, structural.  This is how the-society-formerly-known-as-Christendom has chosen to be.  As a result, if you're a man in a relationship you have only two choices: capitulate (the squishy feminist option) or leave (the manly option).  I mean, it's outside of my parameters to hit a woman under any circumstances -- the proverbial bitch slap: "smarten up".  For a dissenting view, Google search Barbara Walters' interview with Sean Connery.  Actually a follow-up where he states the case: "When you've given her the last word and she's had the last word and she goes back to it again..."
     As I say, once I realized that it was a structural problem -- that the way society has chosen to set itself up the only options are capitulate or leave and you are inevitably going to reach that fork in the road. Then it seems completely ridiculous to start down that road in the first place.  It's been fourteen years and I've never had a moment's doubt that that's the case: don't go down that road because it only leads to that same fork.