Men Who Take Baths

Terence Sawtell

Vancouver, 2019
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I love being a man.

Why did you say yes to doing this?

I grew up in a conservative area of our country, in a household of feminists without being feminists—or knowing we were feminists.

What do you mean by that?

My parents were so good at helping us, as boys, know what it's like to be respectful of women and care about equality without ever telling us they were doing it. They did it through actions.

What were some of those actions?

My mom was a boxer, and I have to fact-check this, but I’m pretty sure it was the first sanctioned female fight in Prince George. When you see your mom get punched in the face and come out of the ring smiling and bleeding, what more action can you ask for? I got to see how badass my mom was. 

Feminism is the greatest thing of our generation but has created some of the biggest divides, and that’s scary for me as somehow who likes being manly.

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What does "being a man" mean to you?

It’s celebrating what makes us unique. Everyone is physiologically different, our brains are wired in different ways, but when you put it in point-form who men should and shouldn't be, you get into a danger zone of removing individuality from someone's character. 

Personally, I like doing manly things like chopping wood! I’m OK with having body hair; I build cars; I play hockey; I can be called on to be dependable; I’m unequivocally respectful regardless of someone’s gender. That's a feminist to me, too. That’s a feminist man. 

If you want to chop wood, get up and do it. You, as a woman, can teach me things too. I think men have a massive role to play when it comes to learning about ourselves and what we like and want while maintaining respect for all races and genders.

What do you foresee as some challenges or barriers to gender equity?

The biggest challenge is that we’re becoming separated again, and splitting beliefs cause civil unrest. We don't need to sit around and say who's doing what wrong. We’re lacking respect for each other. Why not have a conversation and build some respect? It makes me unnerved when we’re split. Based on lessons I learned from my parents, my mom loves when my dad goes out and works on stuff, and my dad loves when my mom gets in the boxing ring and punches the shit out of another lady who is also willing to get in there. We have to love people for who they want to be. If that was done, we would solve a lot of issues. 

There are issues within the workplace too. As employers and people in leadership positions, you have to take ownership of that and make sure your spaces are safe. You can't have a situation where you create more divide and distrust.

In today’s climate...I mean, even doing this interview, I'm more nervous to do this than talk in front of 500 people. 

Why is that?

I think there is a lot riding on this conversation in society. As a 32-year-old straight, white man, if I was asked by a younger woman to mentor her, in a perfect world, I would jump on that as the perfect opportunity to teach her something—and I still would because I’m comfortable with myself. But I could see why some people might hesitate, and that’s scary. Unfortunately, we have done it to ourselves as men where we have abused that right and that power. There have been too many awkward situations and too many women have been put in an uncomfortable place. It’s bullshit. You want to be a man? Be respectful. It goes both ways. Women need to be respectful of the position they are in too.

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I think men have a massive role to play when it comes to learning about ourselves and what we like and want.

Are slogans like “the future is female” and even terms like toxic masculinity serving to divide us more than unite us?

If you look at someone who has manufactured their value set over their life and can discern between right and wrong, fine. But take someone who is 12-years-old and we’re blasting this information in their head? What are they learning about men? That they should be afraid of men? I can’t imagine being in a position in 30 years and we’re further split because of language that alienates or generates fear. 

The future is female as much as it is male. Beyond that, the future is individuality and celebrating that. I think the context in which it was used, combined with #MeToo, didn’t do the movement any favors because men got their backs up. Men are defensive, women are offensive, and we’ve divided again, just for the opposite reasons. 

That being said, as men, we need to ask why we’re in this situation? Why did it get to the point where women had to be so vocal? If you can’t understand that, then you’re failing yourself as a man. 

The reasons these messages and campaigns exist are valid. It’s the way we’re reacting to them that needs to be adjusted so women can feel comfortable around men and vise versa. We have to be better at understanding why we’re in this situation. 

I had relatives who weren’t like my family growing up and you can see the impact. We all grew up dirt poor, in a redneck-ass smelly mill town like Prince George—I love Prince George, by the way. I’m going to get ripped on for that. But we all grew up in the same sociological setting, the only difference was that my mom was a badass and did whatever she wanted. I turned out OK, I think. I’ve made mistakes. I would be a hypocrite if I sat here and said I haven't cat-called or used my position as a boss to try to get somewhere, and I regret that. Which is why I was so apprehensive to do this. I could break the law and do something criminally negligent and have less impact than if I say one wrong thing.

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That’s the idea of cancel culture, which is that we’re cutting people out instead of healing the divide by trying to communicate with one another and learn. Is it necessary, though?

As men, we need to figure out how to read boundaries. Men are driven by primal instinct. Our job on this planet is to put our penis in a vagina and breed. That's the basics. You, as a man, better understand that and celebrate it when it’s wanted, but also pull it back and understand boundaries. It is your duty to help. It might be uncomfortable. If you want to make a difference, it comes down to doing, not talking. 

On my way here, I went to Revolver and a young lady was sitting outside and she said “how is your day going?” I almost fell over because someone said hi to me. I’m your typical white guy. I represent a lot of bad things in the world right now, and I’m a ginger who loves Metal and race cars. She did not look at me like a redneck. She gave me the benefit of the doubt and we had a great conversation. I read her body language and her involvement socially, and I reacted appropriately. A lot of men might say “oh, she’s into me.” No, she would have made it clear if there was more to that conversation. Do you know what we did at the end? We shook hands and I said, “It was so lovely to meet you, Willow. Have a great day” Then I moved on. 

If women want to help men get involved, be like Willow. I know men are trying hard. We're in a big, liberal city but you go to Prince George and it’s a struggle. They only know one way of being and you’re trying to change hundreds of years of habit in a decade.

What does toxic masculinity mean to you?

I’ll tell you a story where I got called out for being toxically masculine. It was during work and we just closed a huge deal. I got up and yelled "FUCK YES!" and fist-pumped. Someone said it was "toxic masculinity." And I said, what? This is how I express myself. I get jacked. What am I supposed to do? Wiggle? I can’t hold it in. 

That hurt me. That person wasn't respecting how I wanted to express myself. Did I punch a hole in the wall? No.

If I walk by and cat-call a woman and say “nice ass,” that’s not right. But if I express myself in a way that lets me release energy? It shocked me. Toxic is a brutal word. Think of toxic. It’s a nuclear sign. It’s gross. Poison. Then you add something to it that I think men should be proud of, which is masculinity.

Whether you want to be a masculine woman or a feminine male, celebrate it and own it. But you attach those two words and it has done damage to the term masculinity, where men are now living in fear. 

If we point fingers, and men are retreating back and back and back, what’s happening? We’re being split up again. Why can’t you say, "Hey, that made me feel uncomfortable and I’ll tell you why"? Then respect it. 

Now, I want to be clear, there are reasons why these terms are around. They didn't get made up overnight. They happened through thousands of years of poor behavior by men. We need to address it. It can be confusing.

Is getting in a fistfight toxic masculinity? My mom got into fistfights so it’s defying everything I know. My mom gladly walked into a ring and broke a woman’s nose two weeks before her wedding. Now, that woman is an idiot for going into the ring two weeks before her wedding. Apparently, in all her wedding photos she has two massive shiners. I think it depends on the context. 

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Whether you want to be a masculine woman or a feminine male, celebrate it and own it.

I wanted to ask you the same question at the beginning and the end because you have so much to say.

Oh, you mean I talk a lot?

Yes!

I’ve been completely myself.

Tell me again, why did you say yes to doing this?

I want better for everybody. I hope men and women can read this and see both sides of the story and how people think. The great thing about the people you choose is that they are from different walks of life and gender identities. I hope people understand that femininity and feminism and being a strong woman is awesome. And men need to respect that and let people be individuals and embrace what makes us different. Some of the happiest partnerships are people that can embrace that. If the man wants to cut the wood and the woman wants to cook, it doesn’t need to be a bad thing. It’s only bad when expectations are set. There are no fucking genders when you need to eat, drink, and be warm.

I am so excited to be my age in today’s world because we’re at the cusp of a change that our society has been dying for. I am fortunate that I was able to grow up in a household where my mom never once said “you need to do this or that,” I just got to look at her being a badass. And I got to look at my dad—who isn’t getting as much love here—who accepted that. My mom was the star of the family and my dad was a quiet, humble man. 

Why did I do this? I love being a man. I love being a straight man. I love gay men. I love all people. I want the shift to be a positive experience and women are starting to understand that we need safe, open dialogue to bring us together. 

If someone wants to see me in a bubble bath, bring it on. I have liked baths since I was four-years-old. Does that make me feminine or am I just expressing myself? 

And I want to thank you for creating a safe place for men of all types to be open and honest and forthcoming with you because that’s what's going to bring us back together. We have to love each other, that’s what it comes down to.

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I have liked baths since I was four-years-old.

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Does that make me feminine or am I just expressing myself?