Barbara Kay: At the Vimy centenary, a rare (and dwindling) chance to celebrate male courage

Tuesday April 11th, 2017

Bringing in the wounded Canadian soldiers from the battlefield. Apr. 1917/Vimy Ridge
Canada. Dept. Of National Defence/National Archives of Canada

The Vimy Ridge centenary dominated Canadian commentary this past week. It was stirring to read the many eloquent commentaries on this watershed event in our evolution as a nation. Some of the reportage of the ceremonial aspects of the weekend was written by women. But virtually all the editorializing on the event was delivered by male writers.

In fact, it’s generally the male journalists who have the interest and historical knowledge to editorialize on any war. Where are the female opinionists when it comes to war? Few and far between. War and the all-male culture of military combat does not interest most women writers. They don’t identify with it or sympathize with it, or even study it.

(Former Comment section editor of the Post Matt Gurney came to the Post’s editorial board with a Master’s degree in military history, which has served him well. He’s written countless superb editorials on military affairs. Matt told me that in his military history program at Wilfrid Laurier University, which was a subset of the broader history department, there was but one woman — and she from Poland, where the harsh realities and importance of military history are imbued with mother’s milk. )

We are constantly told that one important measure of an equitable society is proportional gender participation in elite professions. Opinion journalism has lagged in that respect behind professions like medicine and law, where equity has been achieved or — according to law and med school rolls — soon will be over-achieved in some areas. Women opinionists account for about 20 per cent of legacy media (what you are reading now) and a higher percentage, though still quite a bit shy of 50 per cent, of new media.

But lawyers and doctors don’t choose their clients and patients, who are equally well served by either sex, while opinion journalists do choose what they want to write about. And so, if equity in numbers is achieved in the Comment section, will male readers be well served? Because what young women writers mostly want to write about is gender and other social justice issues, a logical outcome of several years spent in leftist campus hothouses, where straight white men are looked upon with suspicion at best.

Thus, it is only on such occasions as official war remembrance ceremonies like the Vimy centenary, and of course every Nov. 11, that open praise of manhood is permitted. Only then do we see and hear glowing tributes to the traditional male virtues of honour, gallantry, steadfastness, stoicism, brotherhood and chivalry. Most of the year, men — not as individuals but as representative of their sex — are far more likely to be portrayed negatively: as misogynists, predators or man-children. 

But when these moments pass, all these fine masculine qualities are forgotten, and the male-bashing begins again with nobody to defend living men leading ordinary lives. The women writers (who do not themselves suffer the least disadvantage for being female) go back to complaining about how tough it is to be a woman, and how awful men are. The male writers who wrote so movingly about the heroes of Vimy Ridge go back to their other concerns: budgets, economics, climate change, corruption in high places. 

The sad fact is that in general, men are not well served in opinion journalism by either male or female writers. Male writers may feel a masculine kinship with other men in real combat, but they don’t feel any sense of brotherhood with men who are under siege in the culture wars. Maybe they don’t want to feel the wrath of the sisterhood, which can happen when male writers defend men’s rights. Or maybe they simply accept the fact that it is men’s lot to suffer more violence, endure the brunt of parental disenfranchisement, take on the crappiest jobs (24 of the 25 worst jobs as rated by the Jobs Almanac that rated 250 were 95-100 per cent male: boiler-maker, lumberjack, sheet-metal worker, etc), cope with joblessness, kill themselves at three times the rate of women, suck up having their lives ruined by false allegations of rape or child abuse, and in general, be considered “disposable” by society, in Warren Farrell’s memorable description of men’s social role.

Who is left to praise living men in legacy media? Women who have resisted the excesses of feminist anger and the misandry that floods the culture. Some of us are older and were educated before the word “misandry” had to be invented. And there are some admirable young women journalists who beat against the current with heroic intellectual independence. But if present gender trends continue in opinion journalism, men can expect to see their legitimate grievances even more expeditiously swept under the commentariat rug.

National Post

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