- Ontario Boys: Masculinity and the Idea of Boyhood in Postwar Ontario, 1945–1960 by Christopher J. Greig
All too often we read in the newspaper of a crisis of masculinity, and time and again we need to be reminded that the so-called crisis of masculinity is not new, not by any stretch of the imagination. Christopher J. Greig’s Ontario Boys aptly demonstrates this fact and explores the “crisis of masculinity during 1945–1960” by focusing on the construction of “ideal boyhood” in Ontario. The book is divided into a preface and five body chapters.
In the first chapter, the author “discusses the home and family in relation to the larger social context of Atomic Age/Cold War anxieties.” In the second and most successful chapter, the focus is more on the question of boyhood as a kind of ideological construct. In that chapter we see a rich and nuanced reading of sport culture and gang culture, and the intersections therein, which provide a space for the development of a “collaborative masculinity.” The third chapter turns its attention to “heroic masculinities”: the boy who saves a number of others, or the boy who gives his life so another can live. The fourth chapter thinks about the idea of the “bad boy,” that boy who stands in contrast to “good” or “normal” boyhood. The final chapter brings the preceding chapters together, reflects on “our current concerns about boyhood,” and explicitly calls into question the rise of anti-feminist writings on men and boys. However, in this chapter the author misses two of the most prominent Canadian academic voices, Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson, who have now produced several volumes on “misandry.” Indeed, a critique of their work would have been very valuable in this chapter.
Throughout this work readers are confronted by the idea that the ideal boy in Ontario during the period of 1945–60 “was assumed to be white and heterosexual and to have well-adjusted, Canadian born, happy and healthy parents whose task it was to ensure social stability by developing appropriate gender identities in their children,” a definition that in many ways conforms to Erving Goffman’s: “in an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports.”14 Truthfully, this reader wonders what happened in 1961. What has changed since that time? Or what changed in 1944 that facilitated this period of fifteen years in which this was the ideal? It would seem that this ideal of boyhood still rings true today. [End Page 552]
In many ways the answers to these questions are found in the book’s assumption, perhaps even thesis, that the crisis of boyhood is not new: “Anticipating what has become a standard theme in twenty-first-century boy crisis rhetoric, postwar public commentators elevated a father’s relationship with his son above the boy’s relationship with his mother.” What, then, are we to do with this work? Does Greig imagine the work as a “chapter” in the “boy crisis,” a localized study of one iteration of the crisis?
The challenge of this work, perhaps, like the challenge of boyhood studies, is the implicit and explicit assumption that boyhood studies and masculinity studies function synonymously. How, for instance, do we envision and think about the growth of masculinity as a lived experience that runs in tandem with the process of aging? Surely we agree that the boy’s masculinity is different from the adolescent’s, the adult’s, the senior citizen’s, and so on.
Throughout this work we are reminded, as is so often the case, that the “boy crisis,” or the “masculinity crisis,” is almost always predicated on effeminophobia, a culture’s persistent fear of the feminine, and more particularly the feminization of what were once masculine subjects. However, the word itself, richly debated in queer theory, does not emerge in...