- The Manly Modern: Masculinity in Postwar Canada
Chris Dummitt's The Manly Modern is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on postwar Canada. It explores the link between masculinity and modernity by focusing on the relationship between manhood and modern risk management and risk-taking. Dummitt's argument hinges on the notion of the "manly modern," an ideal that emerged as a result of the "success of the technocratic structures and values of industrial modernity in establishing themselves as the status quo in Canadian living" and a desire to "reaffirm gender divisions . . . in light of the relative lessening importance of other patriarchal controls in the family and economy" (p. 2). The manly modern, Dummitt argues, "updated patriarchy."
The manly modern is explored in five separate essays that examine distinct but overlapping areas of postwar life for men in and around Vancouver (and, for this reason, the book really should be subtitled "Masculinity in Postwar Vancouver"). Chapter 2 examines a 1947–1948 Royal Commission to investigate claims made by Great and Second World War British Columbia veterans that the government was giving veterans "the 'dreaded run-around'" (p. 40). The failings of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Canadian Pension Commission lead to Dummitt's main point: bureaucracy, discipline, and expertise, subjects associated with high modernity and the advance of the welfare state, each became "crisis points of a modern masculinity" (p. 40). The logic of veteran entitlement "rested on two contradictory premises: that men were the ideal moderns because of their risk taking; and that they were simultaneously the victims of modern bureaucracy and expertise" (p. 51).
Chapter 3 examines one of the worst industrial disasters in the history of postwar Vancouver: the 1958 collapse of Second Narrows Bridge (since renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in recognition of the 18 workers who perished). Titled "Men at Work," it examines how, in the aftermath of the collapse, public discourses about masculinity and forms of knowledge, in this case the knowledge of the professional planner versus the expertise of skilled workers, reveal how manly modernism was classed. A fascinating analytical treatment of the Workers Compensation Bureau shows how it depoliticized and neutralized "workplace violence" (industrial accidents), a necessary manoeuvre for making British Columbia safe for high modernity's various construction projects.
Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to take masculine-defining risks like military soldiering or bridge-building, white-collar professionals who benefited most from manly modernism got their fix by scaling the nearby mountains, and they brought the modernist management project with them (p. 78). This peculiarly postwar aspect of organized mountaineering distinguished it from the rugged masculinity of Victorians Theodore Roosevelt and Lord Baden Powell. Chapter 4 examines the British Columbia Mountaineering Club, a uniquely west coast organization that enjoyed three decades of continued growth in this period. By the early 1970s it claimed 300 mostly male members, many of whom competed [End Page 238] to be the "first." Modern mountaineering was, Dummitt argues, a civilizing mission: "when the climbers went to the hills, the modernist project went with them" (p. 86). Dummitt concludes that the modern manly ideal was defined in a "doubled way": it was grounded in both rules-based, rational modernity and its opposite, the primal and experiential traditional man (p. 97).
"Before the Courts and on the Couch" explores the medicalization of normative masculinity by examining Vancouver's 24 capital murder cases. An analysis of medical, legal, and governmental records show that almost all the players involved in capital cases, including members of the public who weighed in on such matters, largely accepted the mental health paradigm that regarded crime as a by-product of bad families. Dummitt characterizes the integration of mental health expertise with the criminal justice system as a much more amiable process than I found in my research on criminal sexual psychopath cases. This opens up a new question: because the mental health approach was regarded as a more compassionate way to deal with offenders, was mental health expertise more welcome in cases determining commutation of...