You may have heard about the sensation writer Christie Blatchford caused in her recent National Post piece, “Toronto, City of Sissies“ over the last week. It is a strong opinion piece that has drawn much ire from many people, especially – and obviously – those that live in Toronto.
Ms Blatchford writes that men and boys need to “toughen up” and take on an antiquated gender role, destined to die by the next generation. Her article seems to look at the world through the eyes of the controlling class that was in place during her youth – the days when uptight white men controlled everything from religious views to industry to social practices, and of course, women and women’s sexuality.
It was a time when women, who competently operated everything when men were away at war, were expected to settle into the gender role of the happy, obedient housewife and mother, when the men, returning from the war brave and stoic, got back into the driver’s seat and took over with military sharpness.
The post WWII period was a time of rebuilding countries and social systems, when men and women were segregated into gender roles in order to regenerate the population. Even clothing reflected this – Christian Dior’s “New Look” of the late 1940s sculpted women into hourglass figures, and according to my costume professor in university, symbolized the regeneration properties of women – the rounded puffy skirts of Dior’s line represented and exaggerated women’s hips, thus drawing men to them and thus begetting an increased population – hello baby boom generation.
It seems to me that Ms Blatchford chooses to remain living in an old school world where women were thought of as girls and both sexes lived under strict gender expectations, and they were not allowed to cross the line. As the 50s mentality dictated, acting anything remotely feminine was a boy’s ultimate sin (for reasons that I still can’t put my finger on).
Ms Blatchford proclaims she is tired of men being in touch with their feminine sides because they have lost their handle on masculinity. She is “mortified and appalled” at the sight of school-aged boys greeting each other with hugs, instead of having a switchblade rumble, I guess.
Humans showing their humanity evidently makes Ms Blatchford uncomfortable, so please stop it, you’re causing the black and white gender lines to blur!
Behaviour expectation is about controlling the masses so the masses conform to the wishes of the ruling class. The most effective way to control people is to keep them in fear – fear of punishment, fear of ex-communication, fear of pain, fear of shame, and so on. Fear is a very potent behaviour modifier. We are controlled by threats of fear and consequences communicated to us in various ways, one of them being language.
“Toronto, City of Sissies”
Each generation has its own language that defines it and every generation has its own arsenal of derogatory language to keep people in line with the ways of the ruling class and generally keep them feeling bad about themselves. Queer, stupid, fag, lezbo, dork, geek, and fairy are the ones my Gen X friends and I remember, for example. None of them are cool; all of them hurt.
In keeping with her era, Ms Blatchford chooses “sissy” as her insulting term. “Sissy” (American, 1840-50) is one of those generational terms that we don’t hear much these days, but it has several meanings. It started out as a term of endearment towards one’s sister, or a diminutive of Cecelia, Frances, or Priscilla, but turned to something derogatory to describe an effeminate man, a man who does not conform to the traditional masculine role, a man who is interested in feminine pastimes or clothing, a man who is afraid, or a man who cries. “Sissy” is used in subversive sexual cultures involving erotic humiliation and bondage. Interestingly, the term sissyphobia is thought to be a combination of prejudice of women and homosexual males.
Knowing this, “Toronto, City of Sissies” seems rather an odd title because Ms Blatchford practically falls over herself gushing about how much she loves gay men (…”as a downtowner, I live surrounded by gay men, who, like most women, I adore as a group”).
So if this is true, how is it that Ms Blatchford, a solid representative for the generation that demanded strong, silent men’s men, betrays her 50s mentality not just liking but adoring gay men? Surely gay men are sissies too, Ms Blatchford!
Violence as communication
I agree with Blatchford when she says, “the onus for stopping bullies lies not with the people being bullied, but with those who see it happen.” However, I don’t agree with her idea that “taking the bully out for a short pounding” is a solution.
“This has been true for centuries,” she insists, “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.”
Pain, like fear, is another good motivator. A punch in the chops (or “assault” as it’s known nowadays) is a good way to get someone to see your way. Corporal punishment kept people in line during these darker days of modern masculinity when men and boys were not allowed to talk about their feelings (only girls do that!); they talked with their fists instead, in the hopes of teaching wordless lessons, symbolic of the ridiculous masculine stoicism of the generation.
What I think Ms Blatchford overlooks here is that “short poundings” don’t do well helping people understand why they’re getting pounded, and I expect that arbitrary poundings are painful, possibly maiming, and surely confusing, producing anger and/or depression in the pounded. Doesn’t she know how this works? Hasn’t she read Bukowski’s Ham On Rye? Humans are reasonable when they’re treated reasonably, I find.
In her generational wisdom, Christie Blatchford understands the way boys and men are “supposed” to be. She offers us “a few reminders of the way it was once upon a time and really always should be,” recommending that boys engage in ”killing”, “whacking”, “shooting”, “kissing”, “farting” (on cue, no less), and “making the sound of a train in a tunnel” (hello Dr. Freud). ”Hugging is not” on this list.
I’m just plain sick of hugs, giving and getting, from just about anyone, but particularly man-to-man hugs.
Not sure why this bothers her, or why she’s letting it get to her. She could simply turn her head away from the sight of a man expressing his warmth, fellowship, and affection to his friends.
Ms Blatchford says, “I know men have feelings too. I just don’t need to know much more than that.” This makes me think of emotionally immature males who are squeamish hearing about the inner workings of the female reproductive system – they just don’t want to know about it.
The people of Toronto have got into a bit of an uproar about Blatchford’s article, so much so that someone started a Facebook group, Christie Blatchford Needs A Hug. One member wrote, “…our whole society could definitely use more hugs. Affection makes us stronger, isolation only weakens society.”
Every one of us was meant to embrace our whole, full humanity. Yet, enforced ideas of what being a man is leaves every boy and man wrestling to suppress themselves. We are raised to value an unattainable standard and devalue anything “less than,” which is any aspect of our humanity labelled “feminine.”
Men are left feeling that they are not given permission (from others or from our own self) to discover our handcuffed array of emotions. Denying or being forced to deny sides of our selves, we are the walking dead, numb and emotionally illiterate. This leaves us numb to the very fact of the gun pressing on our soul. The sound of the resulting trauma inflected on the world is muted by a silencer, but the impact resonates like an endless echo of gunfire on women and men worldwide.
I’m not getting too excited about the Blatchford article because it originates from a place of obsolete thinking, and the world has changed too much to return to such a rigid existence. Toronto, next time you see Christie Blatchford walking her bull terrier around Rosedale, stop, embrace her, tell her you love her, and bring her up to speed about the modern world. Tell her about the internet and digital communication, about newly discovered species and advances in medicine, and don’t forget to break the news that Elvis Presley died 35 years ago.