Across the country, Canadian men are grappling with the mores of the
Getting in touch
Cory Bretz’s wife, who is expecting their first child, will have three socially acceptable options as a mother. “She can stay home and that’s a good thing,” says Bretz, 30, a federal government employee in Vancouver. “Or she can go back to work part time or full time and be a progressive woman.” As for himself, Bretz says he has only one socially acceptable option: full-time work. He could stay home and care for the child, he concedes, “but I’d be really stepping out”—forsaking the male breadwinner role that endures long after women began expanding the options available to them.
Two decades after the launch of modem feminism, men are forming their own movement The men’s groups have been dismissed as drum beaters doing silly things in the woods. But Bretz, a member of Vancouver M.E.N. (Men’s Evolvement Network) and the Wisdom Council, says drumming and other rituals are a small part of what those organizations do. They are primarily support groups in which men talk about their feelings without pressure to conform to male stereotypes. If men are going to change their roles in society, Bretz maintains, they must first find out more about themselves—“and that’s a feminine characteristic.” The group, he says, has changed his life. “I’m much more able to engage in a relationship. I have a sense of peace and calmness.”
They sport the same paisley ties and pressed dress shirts they have always worn. But make no mistake: the four supervisors
slurping coffee in the bus drivers’ lounge at the headquarters of the Halifax area’s Metro Transit Division are changed men. In fact, when purchasing manager Peter Ross, 38, tells a visitor, “We were always sensitive guys,” the table explodes with laughter loud enough to startle the nearby bus drivers out of their card games.
It was no laughing matter when Metro Transit’s manager resigned two years ago after several female employees accused him of sexual harassment. The manager denies the allegations, and the case is still before the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
But the incident led to a crash course in gender politics that has left many in the mostly male organization confused. ‘We went from no rules,” says support services supervisor Moss Mombourquette, 42, “to not being sure if we could compliment a female coworker on how she looked without overstepping the bounds.” Adds Mike Harden, 33, a quality-control analyst: “For a while, it seemed we had a target painted on our chests and it was open season.”
They feel a bit less beleaguered now. “I think we have a much better idea of what we can and cannot say and do,” says operations superintendent Brian Taylor. Guidelines for behavior were laid out in an updated sexual harassment policy introduced in December, 1992. And the supervisors attend annual sem-
inars designed to “sensitize” them to social issues. Most, in turn, are required to pass those lessons on to their subordinates. “No question,” says Mombourquette, “we have a new appreciation for what women have to go through in the workplace.” But they also have a new sense of wariness. “The warning signals are always on,” says Ross. ‘You just want to be extra, extra careful all the time.”
The locker room at the Granby Arena is cluttered with hockey gear and ice skates and bursting with pregame bravado. The visiting Sherbrooke Faucons are lacing up for a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game against the hometown Bisons. There are 22
strapping young men, ranging in age from 17 to 20. And they are starting to taste the glories accorded gladiators in the country’s national sport—a country that sets them up as role models, and fawns over them as virile young men.
When the subject of women arises, the reaction is as instantaneous as it is predictable—knowing smiles and much wisecracking. ‘When you’re a hockey player in a small town in Quebec,” shrugs Etienne Beaudry, 18, a left-winger, “that means that you live with temptation—big temptation— as far as women are concerned.” That situation, the players insist, is not as enviable as some men might think. “Sure, it might be a little easier for some of us to get laid,” concedes defenceman Pascal Trépanier, 20. “But if you’re interested in something more than sex, then it’s probably harder for us to get involved in a serious relationship with what used to be called a ‘good’ girl.”
Another defenceman, 18-year-old Charles Paquette, nods agreement. “Hockey players have a bad reputation,” he says, as he pulls on a jockstrap. “It scares a lot of girls.” Beaudry has the last word on temptation. “You can’t always give in,” he says. ‘We can’t escape the fact that we’re role models in the community for a lot of kids, both boys and girls.”
Mister Mom—the very phrase pokes fun at fathers who stay at home to care for their kids. But men who tie on the apron strings say there is nothing amusing about the social disapproval they sometimes endure.
Three years ago, Ken and Judy Toews of suburban Ottawa decided that their two sons, then one and seven years old, were suffering because both parents were too busy with their careers. Ken, now 36, quit his planning job at an Ottawa defence contractor because Judy, a 37-year-old teacher, was less likely to be laid off. When he resigned—after 17 years of continuous employment—Toews was on the verge of panic, wondering if he had done the right thing. “It’s been a sweet and sour experience,” he says now. “My father and a number of older relatives think I’m a bum. They say Judy should stay home. But I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” According to informed estimates, less than one per cent of Canadian fathers fit the Mr. Mom description. But Toews speaks warmly of the intensity of his new relationship with his children. Raising his youngest son from infancy, he adds, has created a bond between them that is “weirdly powerful.” There are also more tangible benefits. We used to eat very poorly because we were always rushing,” he says. “I’ve found that I enjoy cooking, and now there are always homemade cookies or muffins in the house and good food at every meal.”
Despite those rewards, Toews still struggles with negative feelings. “In our society, your identity is your job,” he says. ‘When I was employed, I felt like a somebody. Bringing up children is not something that society values.” In other words, Toews now empathizes with stay-at-home mothers. “I get so angry because I see how little these women are appreciated. When their husbands are rude to them, I find myself shout-
ing at the men.” In fact, Toews says, looking after others has altered his own character. “Constant giving generally doesn’t suit the male psyche, which is more self-centred,” he muses. “Looking back, I can see that I’m a much more caring person than I was.”
Where boys will be boys
John (“Not my real name”) and his friend Paul (“My wife would kill me if she knew I was here”) are sitting in the Zanzibar Tavern, one of Toronto’s oldest and busiest strip clubs. The two business executives, both around 40, insist that they were just walking along Yonge Street after a Maple Leafs hockey game and wanted to get in out of the blistering cold. “A place like this gives you something to look at in a bar, to make it a little more interesting,” says Paul, adding that he rarely goes to strip joints. John, glancing at the young woman gyrating around the bar’s brightly lit stage, says: “It’s a place to just get away from everything else.”
While the winds of political correctness blow outside, the Zanzibar, and places like it, offer a sanctuary where boys can still be boys. White plastic casts of reclining nudes line the walls and ceiling; dancers in Gstrings and halter tops stroll among the patrons offering a table dance—a one-on-one striptease—for $6. The only nod to the mores of the 1990s is in the men’s washroom, where the plastic grates in the urinals bear the words “Say no to drugs.”
What’s the appeal? “Some guy lonely,” says a dancer who calls herself Butterfly and whose English still bears the inflections of her native Thailand. “Some guy have wife at home, but wife no make him happy—sometime his wife no turn him on any more.” A certain form of gallantry applies at the Zanzibar—no touching of dancers and no abusive behavior are the rules of the house. “Because there’s no contact, it’s safe sex,” explains Foxxy, a long-haired dancer from Toronto. “The dancer is in control. Some guys come in to pick up a girl—but that’s the last thing you’ll get here.”
What the patrons do get is male-female interaction on the fantasy level. As the evening wears on, the customers, from partying preppies to sad-eyed retirees, drink and ogle the women. Near closing time, Vixxon Steel— billed as Miss Wet T-Shirt Ontario ’92—cavorts onstage in a purple rhinestone outfit. As she removes her bra, a man runs to the stage with a $5 bill clenched between his teeth. It is Paul—the guy who rarely goes to strip joints. Giggling like a schoolboy, he places the bill deftly between Vixxon’s ample cleavage. Bending towards him, she rewards her newest prince—with a kiss.
PATRICIA CHISHOLM and JOE CHIDLEY
in Toronto, JOHN DeMONT in Halifax,
BARRY CAME in Granby and ADRIENNE WEBB in Vancouver
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