#fencegate, humour, masculinity

On Wednesday night, Daniel Dale went to investigate a piece of land Rob Ford wants to buy. I’m not going to get into the specifics because you can read them and a variety of perspectives all over the place, including here, and here. And it just keeps getting weirder.

Anyway, Dale—a Toronto Star reporter—had a confrontation with Ford. He says:

At some point, perhaps 10 or 15 seconds into the encounter, he cocked his fist near his head and began charging at me at a full run. I began pleading with him, as loud as I could, with my hands up, for him to stop. I yelled, at the top of my lungs, something like, “Mayor Ford, I’m writing about the land! I’m just looking at the land! You’re trying to buy the TRCA land!” Instinctually, I also reached into my pocket to grab my dead phone. I then fiddled with my voice recorder, trying fruitlessly to turn it on so that I would have a recording of any physical violence.

At some point, perhaps two metres away from me, the mayor did stop moving toward me, but his face remained menacing, and he continued to cock his fist and shake it. “Drop your phone!” he demanded, shouting louder than I have ever heard him. “Drop your phone! Drop your phone now!”

Every time I tried to sidestep him to escape, he moved with me and yelled at me again to drop my phone. I became more frightened than I can remember; after two or three attempts to dart away, I threw my phone and my recorder down on the grass, yelled that he could take them, and ran.

Can you guess what happened after that? I bet you can.

Dale’s fear became the subject of what I thought an incredibly unfunny joke. For whatever reason, people found the idea of Dale running away much more worthy of conversation than the angry, unbalanced public official charging at him. Tweets from people I usually respect started attacking him for being a “wuss” and said that dropping his devices was “embarrassing.” #fencegate was born and the most prominent people professed it “comedy gold.”

People are always insensitive, this isn’t news. I’d say about half my feed was reacting to Ford’s behaviour and the other half was mocking Dale’s “wussiness.” (One of the worst was someone saying that learning Dale was soft spoken and slight made the situation even funnier to her.) But I can’t help but explore the root of this comedy gold, which is little more than a man who didn’t behave in a stereotypically masculine way, who fled instead of fought. That’s it. That’s what’s so hilarious.

Please. That’s embarrassing.

I certainly hope that the people mocking him have never been in similar situations or experienced violence, or the threat of violence. I hope that they’ve never known the fear of being hit or hurt. In fact, I’ll assume they haven’t because once you’ve felt that kind of fear, you find it difficult to laugh at.

I think it’s fair to say that when someone much larger than you who has a history of lying and violent behaviour—nicely summarized here—is charging at you, it’s reasonable to be afraid. I don’t like using examples like this, but if Ford was charging at a woman and she reacted the exact same way, no one would be mocking her. But because Dale is A MAN he needs to behave in MANLY WAYS. He didn’t, so he’s a wuss. He overreacted. He’s lesser.

Just another reminder that one of the worst things a person can be is not a man—in the stereotypical sense, of course.

We could look at this as a one-off opportunity for jokes or we could think about the extreme bullying that non-masculine, queer, and feminine boys and men receive. We could think about all the gay boys who don’t fit this world’s definition of men and commit suicide. We could think about how we devalue stereotypically feminine traits (such as intuition, emotional intelligence) and cheer for stereotypically masculine ones (such as physical strength). We could think about why so many transwomen are beat up and/or murdered. We could think about why these “sissies” and “pussies” are so often the subject of violence and ridicule, and how that affects them.

But I guess none of that is very funny.