Sissyphobia: a new political condition
Mayor Rob Ford’s insistence on driving himself around the city, despite the fact that using his car as if it were his office is endangering lives, may be a symptom of a disease that seems to particularly afflict white male conservative politicians of a certain age.
Other white male conservatives with unusually high levels of testosterone mask the symptoms of their condition better. They listen to their press people’s advice and they avoid situations where streetcar drivers, pinko cyclists and car drivers of all political hues can easily observe the behaviour of the White Male Conservative Politician in his natural environment, namely the SUV. If left to his own devices, someone like John Baird might punch a reporter who is in hot pursuit of a news lead: but we’ll never know, since the Prime Minister’s Office micromanages what his cabinet ministers do and say in public.
Mayor Ford, by contrast, has resisted all efforts by staffers and fellow politicians to tame his John Wayne wannabe tendencies. His brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who is equally conservative and equally masculine but has a little more PR sense, once tried to persuade the mayor to make a token gesture in support of Pride and diversity; but even he got nowhere. Now, a police officer’s plea for Mayor Ford to get a driver has fallen on deaf mayoral ears. Is there a connection between these two things?
When the mayor openly snubbed gay and lesbian communities, some Torontonians called him homophobic. But the recent series of incidents involving streetcar doors, cellphones in cars, and scuffles on the backyard fence — combined with Ford’s highly masculine style of coaching the most masculine of high-school sports, football — justifies a diagnosis not so much of homophobia but of “sissyphobia.”
A sissy is a guy like David Miller, who sat in the back of a hybrid car reading learned papers while the (red-blooded male) driver did the real work.
A sissy is a guy like our dear departed Jack Layton, who not only supported Pride but was not afraid of sporting a moustache that gave him a distinctly “gay” look.
Even Dalton McGuinty, a Catholic father of many children, comes across as somewhat sissy when insisting that he is the “education premier.” After all, who really cares about education except moms?
At the mayor’s inauguration Torontonians were told by the greatest Canadian authority on white male conservative masculinity (Don Cherry) that electing Rob Ford would reverse the growing tide of sissy-ism that has created throngs of weak-kneed, bicycle-riding, over-educated, middle-of-the-road, pussyfooting male politicians who wait to read expert studies before formulating a policy.
Since then, the mayor has consistently followed the Coach’s Corner philosophy: give no quarter, read no book, avoid no fist fight, make friends with no foreigner, and use no words longer than one syllable.
Sissyphobia, which is the clinical name for the Coaches’ Corner theory of life, would account for all the phenomena mentioned. Aggressively protecting your family home as if Etobicoke were the Wild West; refusing to be driven to work; thinking that traffic laws are for weak-kneed sissies; and imagining that Don Cherry is an appropriate symbolic leader for the “world’s most diverse city” are different behaviours, but what they have in common is a deep, overriding fear of looking like a sissy.
The good news is that there’s an easy cure for sissyphobia. It’s this: the mayor should take a deep breath, go to Church and Wellesley, and walk (not drive) down the street.
I bet that no matter how many sissies happen to be on the sidewalk when the mayor goes by, even Don Cherry wouldn’t think Ford is a sissy for walking among them.
Mariana Valverde is a professor at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the university’s Sexual Diversity Studies program