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Alberta’s lost men


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October 3, 2011

By Caitlyn Spencer

“There’s a whole gender standing in the corner,” Cayley Bower says. “I was at a party, and my friend tried to get me to hold a baby, and I said, ‘No, not a kid person – you can’t talk to them or reason with them.’ And she replied, ‘Oh, it’s just like a man!’ Man-bashing is going on all the time.”

The conundrum of masculinity in the wake of 20th century feminism has troubled Bower for years. She noticed it particularly while watching her younger brother go through junior high, but it began to crystallize for her as she pursued history.

“At the point where fraternal organizations were at their strongest, they were a huge force. In the Hillcrest mining explosion of 1929, the Hillview chapter of the Grand Lodge of Canada was instrumental in providing relief. They reinforced morality on an individual basis, so that members would be inspired to do good work elsewhere,” Bower says.

However, Bower believes the most important aspect of fraternal organizations was the provision of a structured setting for men to bond in. “Men have no idea how to relate to each other now, because there’s no mechanism for promoting brotherhood,” she says. “If you look at the mid-twentieth century, yes, women were at home, had kids, were caged, but they were still able to interact with each other. These women were socializing. And in the postwar era, we witness a domestication of men. Rumpus rooms, man caves – these rooms are about keeping men inside the home.”

Bower spent the summer researching the history of the Royal Arch Masons in Alberta, looking through the Glenbow’s archives. The winner of a PURE grant, Bower was able to devote her summer to sorting through the material, which was largely uncatalogued. “I’ve never worked so heavily with primary sources,” Bower says. “I had to learn the language and abbreviations, and decipher the handwriting – in 1906, they started typing the minutes, instead of writing with a fountain pen. I was so relieved!”

Bower will continue researching fraternal organizations for her Masters thesis, but she has already found indication that the rise of the women’s movement and the decline of the fraternal organization were intertwined. “The numbers went down after the Depression,” she notes, “but they almost doubled after WWII. There was another serious decline in the 1970s, when the women’s movement happened and people moved into the suburbs. And membership doesn’t bounce back from that. A lot of these organizations are dying now. They can’t get members. Part of me thinks it’s apathy, but for men, I think they’re afraid of being seen as sexist.”

To find out how you can apply for a PURE grant, click here.