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Culture

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Rob Ford, Daniel Dale, and Our Notions of Masculinity

A great many things have and will continue to be written in the wake of a confrontation between the mayor and Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale—about the mayor and his temper, the Star and its coverage of him, and the perpetually tense relationship between the two. But armchair psychologizing and media theory aside, there is also this: a lot of people, in comment sections and message boards and Twitter and coffee shops, are calling Daniel Dale some pretty nasty things.

Apparently, Dale defies some notion of masculinity that involves meeting physical intimidation with more of the same. Apparently, that’s a bad thing.

Dale, if you’ve never met him, is a mild-mannered, quiet, gentle guy. He is an award-winning journalist. And he has handled the media attention this situation has garnered with a great deal of composure.

None of that matters for the purpose of this point. The point would hold even if Dale was a talentless loudmouth who bungled at every turn.

What matters is that Dale had a 300-pound angry man with a football player’s build coming at him. He got the hell out of there. And for this he has been widely mocked.

We can continue to discuss those other questions about media relations at City Hall, but there should be no debate about whether running from a guy who is twice your size and has his fist raised, when nobody else is in danger and nothing but your phone is at stake, makes you less of a man.

It makes you a sensible human being with survival instincts. It means you are capable of keeping your head under pressure. It is, most of all, a sign that you have a sense of proportion—that you prize safety over some ego-driven display of bravado that can make a precarious situation worse. And if you did run when there was something more vital at stake—someone else’s safety, for instance—that wouldn’t make you less of a man, either, though it might make you less of a person.

If it were a woman who’d been sent to cover the story, it’s unlikely anyone would have faulted her for running away—it would have just been a sensible precaution. Calling Dale a wuss because he fails to conform to some kind of retrograde conflation of masculinity with brute force says everything about the name-callers, and nothing about Dale.

It also, perhaps, says something about the appeal Rob Ford continues to hold for a great many Torontonians. If Dale is somehow deficient for running then Ford is correspondingly manly in successfully intimidating him: it reinforces a conception of the mayor as strong, powerful, someone who won’t take crap—from journalists he doesn’t like, from staffers who give him disagreeable advice, from unions in the midst of negotiations. (There’s a lot more to say about the way that particular norm plays out in our political sphere—and especially about how it affects and is affected by the lack of diversity in elected officials—but we’ll save that for a future piece.)

Strength is a virtue. But it isn’t primarily one that manifests in physical action, and it takes many forms. (Self-control is one.) And it’s certainly not the domain of any particular gender.

Maybe the Star does have a vendetta against the mayor. Or maybe this is just the kind of scrunity they bring to every mayor: they sent a photographer to David Miller’s house to see if he kept his lights on during Earth Hour back when he was in office, after all. But whether he should have been working on this story or not, at that hour or not, nobody should fault a male reporter—one working on a real estate story in Toronto rather than, say, a street battle in Syria—for running from a raised fist.

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