There’s no shortage of critics claiming there’s a modern crisis for masculinity, but it’s not the first time they’ve sounded the alarm bells, according to the author of a book about efforts to develop more manly boys in Ontario after the Second World War.
“The post war period is a good example that illustrates there’s nothing new in these concerns around boys’ identity, that it’s happened in the past, it’s cyclical and will likely happen again,” says Christopher Greig, an associate professor in the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education, and author of the recently published Ontario Boys: Masculinity and the Idea of Boyhood in Postwar Ontario, 1945-1960.
The post war period was an era characterized by confusion and anxiety, Dr. Grieg said. Adults had gone through 10 years of economic depression, followed by six years of war, and were entering a Cold War era, facing the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, and the spectre of communism. Increased rates of immigration, as well as more women entering the labour force, created a sense of destabilization for many people, he said.
“People wanted to get back to state of normalcy,” he said. “One of the outcomes was to make rigid again gender roles, which offered sense of comfort and safety for people.”
Greig researched the book by analyzing the content of newspapers, popular periodicals and academic journals that influenced public opinion by offering thoughts on what sorts of characteristics typified the ideal, masculine boy. Those ideals, he said, were often fuelled by nationalism as well as a fear of homosexuality.
“There was this notion that we need particularly masculine boys, and that boys who did not live up to the standard, normative masculinity needed a quick remedy,” he said. “When boys were viewed as less than masculine or effeminate, that would automatically get equated with homosexuality. During the post war period, there was a significant fear that gay men lacked moral character and were more likely to be treasonous to the state, and so there was this significant purge in a very material way of anybody viewed as non-heterosexual from the civil labour force, from government and so forth.”
Greig said he hopes the book will force people to rethink their ideas about gender roles.
“My hope is that we can think in a more sophisticated way, not just around boys’ identity and about what it means to be an appropriate boy, but also our relationship to women and girls,” he said.