Men Who Take Baths

Dan Sutton

Vancouver, 2019
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If we take a moment to honor virtuous behaviors in individuals, what a positive feedback loop that message can create!

What does “being a man” mean to you?

That’s a huge question. It's a question where maybe social guidance isn't being as explicit as it needs to be. Historically, “be a man” meant suck it up, get it done, grind it out. For better or worse, my generation of men was raised with a higher degree of emotional intelligence. 

What is being a man? That is a beautiful and open-ended framework. We're going to talk about toxic masculinity here, and we should be talking about it as a society and see where the roots of these inappropriate, and in some cases sexually violent behaviors stem from. But I'm also surrounded by virtuous masculinity. My father came to this country from nothing and had an abusive relationship with his father, yet somehow figured out how to be an amazing dad for me. I have an older brother who introduced me to my first CD, which was Pearl Jam’s Ten, and if you have an advantage like that at eight-years-old then you’re ahead of the curve. He gave me my sense of humor, sense of protection around my sisters, my sense of loyalty, and obligation to serve a greater purpose than my own existence. Maybe these things aren't inherently or obligatorily masculine, but they have certainly been my experience of masculinity. 

On my team, I have a bunch of young male leaders who sit alongside young female leaders, and they know it's their job to protect the company, our future, and our interests. I don’t know how popular it is to say this, but that sense of being a protector is something I have always ascribed to man. Women do it all the time too, don’t piss off a momma bear. But if we took that attitude around our actions of masculinity, as a birth obligation or birthright to protect those around us, that’s my favorite version of virtuous masculinity.

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toxic masculinity in its mildest form is negligent actions that prevent intervention.

I haven't heard someone call it virtuous masculinity. What is toxic masculinity then?

It can be confusing to some. I see the apprehension on Twitter or Reddit that now we don't even have a chance for boys to be boys and other soft counterpoints. If you're not engaging in toxic behavior then toxic masculinity doesn’t apply to you. 

I’ve been through tough times, but women close to me have been victims of violent rape. The first understanding of thIs happened in high school. Rape is a male problem. Men perpetrate most rapes, usually on women and sometimes on other men. I don't know what's broken in these individuals, in their parents, their lives, or society that is perpetuating truly toxic behavior. You can extrapolate and say it's not just about acts of violence, there are some men who do a lot of things to "just let it slide". Do you participate, do you ignore, do you intervene? Anything but that last option, we are starting to realize, is where we need to be the change. 

Toxic masculinity in its most extreme means horrific acts that all cultures frown upon and persecute. Toxic masculinity in its mildest form is negligent actions that prevent intervention. I don't think any men I know are threatened by that because I surround myself with powerful men.

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Do men in positions of power feel like there is less of a risk if they speak up?

One of the men I spoke to said “do I say something to the detriment of my career?” Are certain men privileged to say something, and then, what about the ones who have more to lose by standing up?

I’m a 33-year-old CEO who has been given the keys to a Lamborghini and grew up on the west side of Vancouver, so when it comes to white male privilege, I am that guy. As a result, I have been sheltered from a lot of these issues. Sexual violence certainly isn't something I face. I would like to think that we are at a time in society where if you see someone in a position of power misusing or abusing it, you have a window to step up and say it's inappropriate behavior and you don't want to work within an organization that condones it. When you stand for that, society is going to side with you. You will be on the right side of history. I haven't been in a circumstance where I had to choose between a salary and doing the right thing, but I would like to think that there is no degree of scarcity that would force me to compromise my values and choose the salary.

Also, the virtuous ideal is something we should forever pursue and recognize that we will never achieve. You can change your actions and behaviors but we are humans and we will make mistakes, so making room for that in the discussion is important. That will also soften the discussion for men who don't have guides. If you’ve been hanging around in locker rooms, you've seen it all. How do we encourage those guys to come over to our side of the argument? Not by alienating them before they've had a chance to learn.

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I don't think there is a man on earth who doesn't have a woman in his life he cares for.

You recently got engaged?

To an exceptionally powerful woman! If those guys could spend five minutes with Barbie Bent, she would set them straight. She works harder than most of my friend’s dads.

So, the two of you will be raising children one day...

We will. I hope.

How do you have conversations with men to heal behavior now, and then how are you going to raise your children if we are striving for a world of gender equity?

Practically, the idea of a man who lives in a hockey locker room and only exists in a perfectly sheltered environment and does not interact with women is an illusion. They have mothers. In cases of unstable male relationships, they are either so deeply connected to their mothers that it's unhealthy or they have been so far removed that they haven't developed the respect that comes from being raised by an awesome lady, which my mom is. If I crossed her, she would set me straight. 

You have to look at the individual circumstance, but you really can't get away with being a dick in current society. There is no cultural hub that facilitates it. If I was put in a room with someone acting aggressively or inappropriately, I would point to his sister, aunt, or mom and say, these are the people you should be standing up for. What would you do if someone crossed them the way you are? I don't think there is a man on earth who doesn't have a woman in his life he cares for.

As for Barbie and I, I hope the great themes that came from our childhoods play out. Our kids will have parents who are adoring, caring, and as supportive as they are competitive. Barbie kicks the shit out of me in sports and fitness. I might be a marginally better snowsports athlete, but she pretty much has me beat. In terms of business and creativity, we are constantly pushing each other. My parents have an egalitarian relationship. Whoever calls the shots on any given day is up for debate. I realized that I don't want to be the shot-caller. When we’re on a road trip, I’ll give the directions. I always dominate the directions. That’s it. But I really hope the kids get to witness the power of deep love and connection, and parents who want to see the other one shine without ever catching any shade. We will figure it out as we go.

And now you have a sort of time-capsule with this interview.

Hi kids! I hope I didn't break you!

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Our kids will have parents who are adoring, caring, and as supportive as they are competitive.

What in your life has had a profound impact on the way you behave?

It’s a substantial confluence of factors, but our family narrative is one of struggle turned privilege. My parents came from the UK in the 70s. I have an older brother and sister who are 14 years older than me. Same marriage, same family. The generation before them, my father's father was a war hero. My mother's father was a German Jew who escaped Germany in the early 30s and ended up joining British Intelligence to liberate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and was at the Nuremberg trials. He left a massive amount of family wealth and status to come to England and become a nobody but the alternative was death or internment. The generation before them, they narrowly escaped the Bolshevik Revolution. They were Russian Jews and somewhat aristocratic. I’m lucky to be here. My time is limited in this place and a lot of people had to suffer to give me this platform. 

I was raised with two parents, we were financially stable, I went to university, I got interested in startups young and no one taught me that I couldn't do it. The number one [psychological] barrier to entry is that “other smart people do that.” All of that nurturing contributed to giving me the best crack at living an amazing life. 

Longitudinal studies at Harvard that looked at male self-rated happiness found that strong bonds with your early family and strong bonds with a community of people you hold dear are key to happiness and success. These are things I couldn't live without. I would not do well on an island on my own. They only studied dudes in the 60s, that’s another piece of privilege there. 

In all my actions, I consider how it honors my family and my team. I’m responsible for 52 employees and they eat dinner because we continue to make money. The concept of acting in service of your family, community, and ancestors is the mainline to happiness.

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you really can't get away with being a dick in current society.

What are some of the barriers to gender equality and how do we work together to heal the divide?

I don’t even know if my take is fully formed because I live in a world of constant action. Sometimes you’re just crashing through the brambles. On the outset of Tantalus Labs, we built a lot of our advisory board from the greenhouse industry and cannabis industry, which are both male-dominated. It sure lends itself well to a culture where a guy puts up his hand and says “I’m the dude, I’m the guy for this” and goes and makes it happen. 

I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and addresses an interesting point which is that men are way more likely to overestimate their capacity to execute. Better qualified women, in her estimation, are far less likely to overestimate or even accurately estimate their ability to execute. When we bring someone into Tantalus Labs, we tell them they are there to make a difference.

How can women include men in the feminist movement?

As we talked about, there are probably some spaces within the feminist movement that are and should remain female-only. If anybody didn't want me to come to their party, I’d respect that. But I think there is a real opportunity for the honoring of virtuous masculinity. I see a lot of vilifying toxic masculinity, which is appropriate, and with the #MetToo movement, holding men in positions of power accountable. Anybody who is doing shady shit has to look over their shoulder, and that's the world I want to live in. But I see men doing great things, people who are making an impact, and dudes defying stereotypes. If we take a moment to honor virtuous behaviors in individuals, what a positive feedback loop that message can create!

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Why did you say yes to doing this?

I’m sure some people might have had trepidations. There wasn’t a moment of second-guessing for me. I’ve seen your work, we’ve shared amazing conversations, and I immediately trust by default, which is a privilege. I also need to bathe on a frequent basis and sometimes time is tight!

It’s a little uncomfortable being put up as a male role-model, I don’t know if I’ve earned that yet, but I’m a guy who aspires to embody the virtuous masculinity that I’ve been exposed to. This is a cool thing to be part of.