Roman Catholic Religious Discourse about Manhood in Quebec: From 1900 to the Quiet Revolution (1960-1980)

By Roussel, Jean-Francois | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Roman Catholic Religious Discourse about Manhood in Quebec: From 1900 to the Quiet Revolution (1960-1980)


Roussel, Jean-Francois, The Journal of Men's Studies


The period between 1940 and 1970 deeply marked the history of French Canada and Quebec. (1) It was a period of profound transformation for that society, and the area of cultural and religious representations of manhood were not untouched. This article will focus on a number of aspects that characterize that period. My analysis comes from a theological perspective, where men's studies has yet to be introduced, at least in Quebec. As a theologian concerned for a long time with women's studies and their implications for men, I would like to pursue research into men's studies in the academic world of Quebec.

Studies in men's history are lacking in Quebec. The work of Germain Dulac (1994), a sociologist at McGill University (Montreal), is an exception. Dulac's work consists of an amalgamation of information from demographic studies, women's history, and a general history of Canada and Quebec, including a brief historical chapter about the contemporary men's movement in Quebec (see Dulac, 1994). In this article I will use Dulac's work and his sources, my own sources, and articles from Catholic journals and newspapers from the 1940s to the 1970s (see Appendix A). This last source provides numerous examples of the ways that the religious understanding of manhood has developed within Quebec society.

Finally, I will use Michael Kimmel's (1996) essay on men's history, Manhood in America. Kimmel's work is used here as a resource where I can highlight differences between American and French-Canadian cultures, during the specific period that I examine. One may expect that men's studies and a theology of masculinities in Quebec would be very different from what is actually practiced in United States, but they share numerous areas in common. Hence, despite cultural, historical, and religious differences, a comparison can be made between the ways these two cultures raise questions about manhood.

In what follows, I recall some aspects of religious issues surrounding manhood in the United States as presented by Kimmel. Second, I briefly introduce some general trends in Quebec's religious history in order to provide certain key concepts for understanding the issues. Finally, I propose a reading of that period of history from a men's history perspective.

ASPECTS OF RELIGIOUS ISSUES SURROUNDING MANHOOD IN THE UNITED STATES

Kimmel (1996, see pp. 175-181) introduces "Muscular Christianity" and the "Men and Religion Forward Movement" as two prominent religious movements found in the United States during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. These religious movements were reactions against what many men perceived as a lack of manhood in the churches. Religion was thought to be a women's affair, which men were not inclined to engage in because of their own masculine mode of existence. By meeting together, men in these movements were committed to masculinize Christianity and to revitalize manhood in a religious fashion. Participants were invited to express their supposedly masculine qualities in a religious mode, such as aggressiveness, according to a traditional representation of manhood.

Interestingly, churches were criticized for their lack of manhood, even though religion, as an institution, still continued to be a man's affair. According to those movements, however, religious institutions and their symbolic representations were "effeminate." The current figure of Jesus Christ provides a good example. These movements assumed that compassion and peacefulness, qualities that Jesus preached, were feminine. Furthermore, Jesus seemed a physically weak and abstinent man with whom men could not identify. They also criticized clergymen, who were also perceived as effeminate and non-credible models of manhood.

"Muscular Christianity" and the "Men and Religion Forward Movement" produced literature, meetings, conferences, and terms and discourses whose purpose was to re-think the relationship between manhood and Christianity.

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