The Revenge of the Mild (Part I)

Whether it’s an ode to niceness offered in a rap song or a play inspired by construction workers, four young men reflect on positive ways to incarnate a new masculinity for future generations.

By Maxime Beauregard-Martin

Pile up feminine conquests, make lots of money, and know how to handle your fists: into his adulthood, Charles Fournier, 32, cultivated this archetypical vision of what it means to be a man. “I never paid compliments to my friends, because I was convinced that it was a sign of weakness, that it placed me in a position of inferiority,” recalls this author and actor.

It was an ideal of masculinity he inherited from his family, one that crystalized with his contacts with work colleagues during his first career, on construction sites. 

But all these certainties came tumbling down in his mid-20s, when his father was about to die. “He did a lot of work on himself,” Fournier says. “And as he worked on himself, I realized that my behaviour could be destructive to me and to others.”

His father suddenly started talking to him about love, taking him in his arms, and crying. “In the beginning, I was really ill at ease! It was completely the opposite of my definition of strength. But now I realize that I never saw my father be stronger than when he was crying.”

With his play Foreman, Fournier wants to hold a mirror up to the men he has met in his life. Through his working-class characters, the young author reflects on masculinity by portraying men’s fragility hidden behind steely façades. “Today, I’m not quite sure what that means, being a man, and that’s okay, I think,” he sighs. “And the last thing I want is to tell people what to do… But for right now, toxic masculinity does others harm.”

It’s a violence that sometimes leads young girls and women to an aversion to forming a heterosexual couple, observes Jean-Baptiste Reysset, 30, a father: “My wife and I have remarked that many teen girls we know are going through something like heterophobia. With everything we now know about the status of women, some are uneasy about being hetero. They say that if they get involved in a heterosexual union, they’re necessarily going to end up in a toxic relationship and experience violence.”

Scene from the play Foreman. Photo: David Mendoza

Laughing to Think

Stuck without any resources to offer these young women, Reysset and his wife decided to document their couple’s dynamic on their blog À fleur de poil (on hair’s edge). He writes in pink; she writes in blue. Together they track the stereotypes that make up a hetero relationship.

In the form of a dialogue, they search for solutions to problems ranging from an equal sharing of the contraceptive burden to paid maternity/paternity leave.

“It’s a tool for analyzing toxic behaviour using self-mockery,” he says.

Even though he grew up rejecting machismo, Reysset recognizes that he still picked up some habits related to toxic masculinity along the way. Like when his conversation lapses into mansplaining, when a man explains something to a woman in a condescending or paternalistic manner. 

“My girlfriend doesn’t mince words, and she doesn’t hesitate to point out my weaknesses,” he laughs. “And the blog gives an example of a man that doesn’t react negatively when he’s told that he’s fallen into mansplaining. I love to be able to laugh, and disassociate this behaviour from who I really am.”

First seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 29, no. 6, août (August) 2021, pages 10-11

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