Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia

By R. W. Sandwell | Go to book overview

10 Bachelors in the Backwoods: White Men and Homosocial Culture in Up-Country British Columbia, 1858-71

Adele Perry1

For its White minority, colonial British Columbia was both an overwhelmingly rural society and a distinctly male one. The resource industries of the 1858-71 period gave birth to a plethora of small immigrant enclaves where women were a tiny and uncomfortable minority. In small towns, camps, and scattered cabins throughout the up-country, White men developed a vibrant, homosocial culture. It is this rough culture, forged out of the disruption of customary gender organization in the British Columbia backwoods, that this essay examines. I will situate this subject historiographically and historically, analyze how White men recreated the domestic sphere, discuss the central social practices of this homosocial milieu, and lastly tease out how this culture reformulated certain dominant gender conventions. I will argue that in a society constituted largely of White men living in close contact with First Nations peoples, a unique vision of masculinity was constructed. While it did not challenge the social power accorded White men, it did create a version of masculinity that differed meaningfully from that promoted by the metropolitan middle class.


Men As a Gendered Subject

This analysis joins a growing canon of scholarship attesting to the dual significance of gender to social experience and of gender analysis to historical practice. Recently, scholars have especially pressed the point that men, as well as women, have a gender history. Analyzing men as gendered subjects, as Joan Scott points out, challenges 'the interpretative utility of the idea of separate spheres, maintaining that to study women in isolation perpetuates the fiction that one sphere, the experience of one sex, has little or nothing to do with the other.' 2 More fundamentally, perhaps, exposing the engendered character of men's history gives the lie to the notion that women are the 'other' to the universal, ungendered, unproblematic, and usually unspoken norm of men.

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