Fist-of-Cuffs: A response to ‘Toronto, City of Sissies’

There was a huge response to a recent article in ‘The National Post’ by writer Christie Blatchford regarding the men of Toronto. It was a call for Toronto to stop being a ‘City of Sissies’.

In response, I am going to share two things with you: a moment and a secret.

First, I am going to share a moment.

This is a moment in my everyday life that I personally dread. Not a moment like fearing my safety when walking down a strange, moonlit street, facing a boss and his sexual harassment-laced advances, a trip to the dentist or a strange man following me into the elevator.

I dread when my car acts up or needs attention. Some light goes on, or there is a rattling sound or grinding noise, which means walking into the auto shop.

There isn’t a moment where I feel more insufficient or I am made to feel more pathetic than when I need to do something car-related.  Growing up I didn’t have the kind of father that was forever under the hood, asking me to pass the wrench and explain how the engine works. I literally could write on one sheet of paper the entire conversations I ever had with my father. The Strong and Silent type: My father, my example of a man.

Admittedly, I should take on my deficiency of automotive knowledge and learn more about the vehicle I use everyday (I just know how to drive, change the oil and gas up). Whenever I walk into any auto shop, however, is my moment of dread.

The moment the man behind the counter raises his eyes up from typing on the computer with hands adorned in grease and calluses…

Hands toughened from years of working with them
Hands manually manly
Hands hardened and thickened
Hands that don’t feel a thing

…the moment he quickly realizes my depth of automotive know-how is thinner than the worn out treads on my tires, I see a smirk. I see eyes rolling, or a subtle shake of the head.  The soft groan under his breath is a mighty roar questioning my manhood, echoing in the empty cavity where my esteem once stood. This pressure, this feeling may seem trivial, but it is real, it is potent and it needs to be discussed.



Secondly, I am going to break the man code of silence and share a secret.

There is an invisible gun held to the head of every man and boy you know.
At any given moment, at every moment of everyday, familiar cold steel presses against the head of every man’s soul. Unseen hands take turns cocking it, pressing it against the temple. The hands belong to people you know and never knew, those you despise and those you will always love.

It is a loaded gun that we as men don’t point out, don’t signal for help with, certainly don’t discuss and don’t internally acknowledge even exists. It has been pushed into our temple since birth.

The gun is society’s impossible, elusive state of manhood.
The bullets are Vulnerability, Inadequacy and Emotion.

The fact it is invisible should not lead to us dismiss its reality. The imprint from the muzzle of this cold steel is permanently pressed into the soul and is everywhere you look. The pressure to act and be a real man is there in the school hallway, your place of worship, along the grocery aisle, next to the water cooler at work, in the jokes from the guys at the gym, sitting at the dinner table, in the music you listen to and the clothes on you back.

I am not trying to compare this everyday external and internal pressure to the realties women face in everyday scenarios. This isn’t about establishing a hierarchy of pain, but acknowledging that this issue affects us all.

What I am suggesting is that we can no longer ignore or minimize the searing impact that taunting and reinforcing ‘Man Up’ philosophy has on men.

Every one of us was meant to embrace our whole, full humanity. Yet, enforced ideas of what being a man is leaves every boy and man wrestling to supress themselves. We are raised to value an unattainable standard, and devalue anything ‘less than’, which is any aspect of our humanity labelled ‘feminine’. Men are left feeling they are not given permission (from others or from our own self) to discover our handcuffed array of emotions. Denying or forced to deny sides of our self, we are the walking dead, numb and emotionally illiterate. This leaves us numb to the very fact of the gun pressing on our soul. The sound of the resulting trauma inflected on the world is muted by a silencer, but the impact resonates like an endless echo of gunfire on women and men worldwide.

The result is fathers who have been home everyday of their children’s lives yet could not be more distant. The result is men who would rather die than go see the doctor, and so they die. The result is boys being called ‘faggots’ or Christie Blatchford’s preferred term: ‘Sissies’.The result is heterosexual boys face homophobic bullying because they don’t fit the narrow mold. The result is men and young men trapped in endless cycles of substance addition to suppress what they aren’t emotionally able to deal with. The result is young men who won’t back down, no matter what. The result is men who are ready to die over a pair of shoes which they value more than their very own lives. The result is men with disabilities made to feel a heightened level of inadequacy. The result is guys who rather approach women with aggression and violent bravado because they cannot compute vulnerability. The result is severe impacts and financial costs to our Healthcare systems. The result is LBGT communities facing a denial of their right to existence, nevermind equity. The result is women in Canada and across the world subject to devaluation, discrimination and subsequently all forms of violence.

Many men are raised to be the wrong kind of strong and don’t seek or ask for help. If we are not raising men to value their health, and in turn value themselves, how then can we expect men to extend respect to the earth, to fellow sisters and ever fellow brothers?

The gun is pressed so tightly against the souls of men, yet we are in denial as a society. People like Christie Blatchford continue to cock the hammer & would have you believe a return to this idea of manhood is the cure. It is simply the reinforcement of the poison that is destroying our existence.

The day Blatchford’s article spread across Toronto was the same day Ultimate Fighting Championship landed in town. UFC is a display of brute force and ‘manliness’ within a cage. Sports can be a space where brute dominance, physical ability and unyielding aggression are wed in an unhallowed trinity. The world of sport can also give way to joyous scenes of men in unconcealed celebration. There is always that ironic moment where the steel arena gives way to overwhelming human emotion….men fashioned as modern-day warriors in full embrace or wash in pure exposed sorrow, hugging one another, standing in tears of joy or defeat. You will even see UFC fighters hug trainers and even opponents after a bout. Apparently even UFC fighters aren’t manly enough for Blatchford’s ideal state of manliness.

Masculinity has more sides than the Octagon.

When I think of mixed martial arts fighters, I think of the discipline and how they train. The Makiwara is a padded post used as a tool for striking endlessly in martial arts training. Using the Makiwara allows you to find your way around addressing resistance to your energy & your force. You learn to train your body to generate power and be most effective when facing resistance. The misconception is that the goal is to make your fist numb and hardened therefore, powerful weapons.

I think of hands like those at the auto shop, hands that are trained to be tough but left numb. I have soft hands and a soft heart, I decided to stop apologizing for it and regretting it.

I am a man.

It is time to stand up and provoke the freedom to be a full, whole complete human being. Find the Freedom to Be Who You Are. I give hugs, Christie, full all out hugs. I am a man.

They say the size of your actual heart is the size of your clenched fist. To open your heart is to open the clenched fist.

Open up.

Let go.


Join us at ‘What Makes A Man 2012. Higher Unlearning: The White Ribbon Conference’ happening February 10th-11th at Ryerson University. Info coming soon! Follow @WhatMakesAMan_ for details! 

About Jeff Perera

Jeff is a volunteer workshop facilitator for the White Ribbon Campaign, the world’s largest effort to engage men in ending violence against women, and founded a chapter at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada working to further a gender-inclusive environment. Jeff’s awareness-raising initiatives to create inclusive spaces for people of all walks of life have earned him numerous human rights & equity awards. Jeff was the event director of TEDxRyersonUWomen, the only TEDxWomen event in Toronto,  and is co-director and curator of the annual discussion-focused ‘What Makes a Man’ White Ribbon Conference at Ryerson. He has organized & spoken at numerous events across Toronto and facilitated many sessions and workshops with the National Film Board of Canada, University of Toronto, the annual ‘YWCA Common Ground’ Conference and across Taiwan including at the ‘Garden of Hope Empower Women’ Conference in Taipei, Taiwan. At the 2010 TEDxRyersonU conference at Jeff delivered the TEDx talk ‘Words Speak Louder Than Actions’  discussing gender equity & gender roles, the impact you make as well as the impact words have on our everyday lives.

Watch Jeff’s TEDxtalk Here

Follow @jeffperera

email Jeff at



33 responses to “Fist-of-Cuffs: A response to ‘Toronto, City of Sissies’

  1. Thank you for that, Jeff. I’ve been trying to adequately compose myself to write a response to that atrocious article for the past 24 hours, but you’ve done beautifully. I will be sure to share this with everyone I know. Much love, Laura.

  2. Very well written Jeff 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!

    Everything you wrote and everything Christie wrote reminded me of the little boys I work with. I’ve heard them talk about how one boy isn’t strong compared to another who would show his strength by beating someone up. Some of these conversations have led me to try and explain that if they really wanted to show me they were physically strong then they should go pick up a rock because beating up someone is weak. I can factor in their age in not understanding how physical strength could be a weakness at any point but it also comes down to how they are already being socialized.

    I’m angry that someone would be able to publish this waste of space in a newspaper. Everything I would want to say about would just sound as unintelligent as the article (ie: swearing, growling etc). I hope not many people are taking this piece serious and doing what she suggests: showing the article to their sons.

  3. Yes! Well said sir. I am struggling to teach my young son in a way that supports who he is while breaking a cycle of abuse. Thank you for speaking out!

  4. Like Laura said, I’ve had a hard time putting into words how disgusted I am with Blatchford’s article, your response is exactly how I feel, thank you so much! I was feeling really hopeless until I read this, now I know at least everyone isn’t demented 🙂

  5. I was so infuriated at her article that I couldn’t wait to read your response. I left one of my one illustrating the feminist concept she was obviously ignoring in her misinformed assertion that there is a correct/normal way to express gender.

    Thank you so much for this response. It’s probably the most coherent ossification of how I feel, as a man, about being a man.

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  6. Very well written.
    Ms. Blatchord seems to forget that there is more to being a whole person than outward appearances.
    To me, a man is someone who is aware and in touch with his emotions, all of them.
    A man hugs his children and kisses his wife (or partner.)
    A man defends those who can’t defend themselves.
    A man cries at sad, sappy movies, laughs at funny ones, and cheers at UFC.
    A man hugs his friends because that’s what friends do.
    Lastly, a real man isn’t concerned with the opinions of those who would confine them to little boxes. They just aren’t worth the time.

    • Thank you for this. While reading it, it occurred to me to wonder about what we say about women or “real women”.

      I first considered the phrase “A man defends those who can’t defend themselves” and mentally constructed “A woman defends those who can’t defend themselves”. I promptly concluded that while a woman would probably be praised for standing up for someone weaker, society doesn’t explicitly expect her to do so, in the same way.

      I then looked at all of the other phrases, and concluded that (in general) we don’t state expectations like this about women. We may have them (eg. we expect women to hug their kids and kiss their partners) but we never state them in lists like this.

      I have read countless lists of things men must do or not do, and feel or not feel. I recognize that your list is personal, and it is certainly more reasonable than most, yet it is still such a list. Your list does not confine men to a “little box”, but it does confine us to a big box, and that’s still a problem.

      If we’re going to work towards achieving gender equality and freedom of personal expression, we have to take away all of the boxes and all of the lists, and accept that manhood isn’t defined by any characteristics at all. I realize that it’s scary to do this, but I feel it has to be done.

      (I felt suddenly inspired to write a longer article on the subject, if anyone is interested: )

  7. I’m going to venture that Blatchford,selling her soul, is spouting off like this to sell newspapers. So, the upside is actually enlightenment and a coming together of “without judgment” minds. Your counter-article is articulate, from the heart, and will resonate within me always. Your gun to the temple analogy totally hit home for me, as a very visual/visceral person. Thank you for this. I will continue to love, hug, kiss and be me. That’s how it starts.

  8. Bravo, Jeff. I especially love what you say about UFC fighters. Some think of them as brutal manly men who just like beating people up, when a lot are, as you say, highly disciplined, hard-working athletes who don’t consider it unmanly to hug their trainers and cry in the Octagon after a match. “Masculinity has more sides than the Octagon” indeed.

  9. Outstanding response to Blatchford’s disgusting & violent article. Many men are ready for a new version of masculinity – one that is sensitive, gentle and vulnerable – yet folks like Blatchford seem to want to perpetuate old, broken stereotypes that are harmful to men and women alike. Kudos to you for this blog post. Well written and poignant.

  10. Thank you Jeff – I’m not from Toronto and only learned of Christie Blatchford’s column tangentially.

    When will it all stop? I’m so, so tired of the hate-filled diatribe that passes for “reasonable” comment. And even more tired of the comments on said diatribe.

    Thanks for your continued work. Thoughtful, caring people WILL prevail.

  11. Ahhh the good old days, when men were men, women weren’t people, and children beat each other to a pulp on the playground. Just another attempt by conservatives to dismiss citizens’ legitimate and serious concerns with Conservative politicians policies and actions as the whining of namby pamby sissies who don’t like the Fords’ because they’re “too football-y.” This rose-coloured glasses nostalgia for the “the way it was once upon a time,” when gender identities were more important than individual identities glosses over the sad realities that result from these stereotypes, including a silent acceptance of domestic abuse, violence against women and widespread sexual harassment in the workplace.

  12. Maybe the world would be a better place if we focused more on being ideal people rather than trying to be the “perfect” man or woman?

    ps. Nice one Jeff Blair! “A man cries at sad, sappy movies, laughs at funny ones, and cheers at UFC”.

  13. Blatchford’s article is crude, but I am finding that a lot of journalists have to go this route in order to increase circulation and keep their jobs.

    I’m a fairly left-wing American living in Vancouver and from an outsider’s perspective, I think that I can see other layers of things going on here. A lot of people are sick of the victim mentality across Canada and choose to attack unrelated gestures (such as the boys hugging each other) as a simplified way of trying to attack all that they think is wrong with society. What she and the others do not understand is that they are really angry at losing their wealth incrementally.

    I don’t know if she is single or married, but we do have to recognize that gender roles are in a transition period now and the result will be a lot of frustration. It is okay for a woman to want a “traditional,” “masculine” man as much as any other trait someone else is attracted to. God help her finding one, and as women become more educated and as the knowledge economy deepens, heterosexual relationship dynamics are going to become very, very hostile for a while.

    I have lived through the exact difficulties and feelings of shame at the mechanic’s and elsewhere. However, we have to be sympathetic to these guys too, because their chauvinist behavior is a result of their own insecurities – “here is the university-educated, “uppity” guy that has a higher status than me, but look where he is now! Powerless!”

    Some men naturally do fall into the roles that society has constructed, and perhaps most don’t. I think if we stop this left/right, association-starting tendency, all sides will be more open. This is why even though I fit into the category, I do not join the LGBQT groups or political parties – they just create otherness and make the unconvinced more hostile towards other types of people. We all must make friends of varying social and income strata and then we will be less threatened and puzzled by behavior.

  14. Best blog I’ve read all month.And for you people who don’t believe what this man is saying is gospel than you are a fool. I give big hugs too,especially when I see my brother twice a year! I’m still stunned you wrote such a strong piece.Excellent Brother!

  15. Pingback: real men hug each other. » The Laughing Medusa

  16. Nicely said. What a clear-headed connecting of the dots. Typical responses to the abuse of women is to help the woman and hate the man, which is a bit like cursing an unsafe road intersection as you treat its latest car-crash casualty, but never thinking about addressing the road itself.

    Help both of course. Help women who have their own guns on their temples (beauty imagery, fear of rape/abuse etc). Help men find the courage to ignore that endless message about suppressing actual feelings and emotions. And waddya know, surely those guns are all related.

    Help Blatchford too I suppose, if she actually believes any of that utter crap she’s written, though right now I’m still seething at how damaging an article like that can be.

    Thanks for your excellent response.

  17. I appreciate this article immensely, Jeff.

    I found Ms. Blatchford’s article to be quite hurtful, but even more so, a reflection of her detachment with humanity. I’ve said it before: Blatchford is controversial because she is irrelevant.

    I grew up with that fear of not being manly enough. I tried to hide it by playing every sport I could, working out for hours, and even faking having a lower voice than I do. Despite these things, that dreaded comment “why are you such a girl” would inevitably cut me down at some point or another.

    Like you, I choose to be a man with an open heart. Thanks, HUGS!

  18. I find your article offensive towards mechanics. Yes my hands are callused, but that doesn’t mean i don’t feel anything. It doesn’t mean my hands are “left numb”. Like you, my father never taught me a lick of mechanical know how…but i’ve spent the better part of ten years trying to understand and perfect my trade. A trade that’s always changing and always challenging. If you find that you’re being taking advantage of, then be a man and say something about it….or walk away. Otherwise, accept that we have an expertise that you don’t quite understand. We’re men too….but some men are better than others.

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  21. Thank you kindly for writing this article. I appreciate the energy you put into this well written piece. People like Christie Blatchford are scarey as they unfortunately reflect a number of racist, sexist, homophobic people in Canada. Only intelligent responses like yours and being taken to the Human Rights Tribunal are suitable reactions to people like her . Sadly, she’s a step backwards for human kind.

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