If anyone needs proof that Vancouver is in a class of its own (our placement on the Most Liveable Cities and Worst Dressed Cities lists notwithstanding), here it is. Last May, Vanessa Richmond wrote an article in The Tyee which posed the question, “What the heck is wrong with men in Vancouver?” Considering the interest spurred by my blog post on Richmond’s article, I thought readers might enjoy Vancouver Magazine‘s dip in the tepid social waters of Shangri-La.
Katherine Ashenburg’s “Do Vancouver men suck?” (published on that most optimistic of dates, January 1, 2012) tears apart the West Coast male, citing passivity, lack of career motivation, over-attention to fitness activities like the Grouse Grind, and teenage fashion sense among the city’s singles. (To be fair, Vancouver’s third-place finish on the worst-dressed cities list can be attributed as much to women as men: Lululemon yoga pants are as common as the fleece-and-hiking-boots combo in this city.) Ashenburg writes, “The Grind is indeed a metaphor for the single life in Vancouver–daunting, strenuous, semi-natural, and so not romantic.”
As many readers commented, Vancouver men might be less likely to approach women, flirt with them, or assist them with daily activities like carrying heavy packages…but Vancouver women are also notoriously cold, treating harmless social advances as acts of harrassment. Ashenburg’s article opened with the tableau of a group of women bitching about the crappiness of men in this city, illustrating the unapproachable social characteristics that seem to evoke bitterness in the males of the species. One commenter, fedupvancouverguy, pointed out the mismatch between the overly-materialistic women portrayed in the article, who refuse to look past the scruffy, laid-back exterior that is the norm in a city where relentless pursuit of money is not the end goal: “The guys dressed in jeans and scuffed shoes sitting at the longbar at Joeys at 2 pm on a Tuesday might be losers, but there’s just as good a chance that they’re mining-industry guys discussing yet another deal to sell their find or project to a bigger firm for big, big money. Welcome to Vancouver.”
Whether or not readers agree with Ashenburg’s portrayal of the masculine, responses to the article consistently point out the social differences between Vancouver and international cities, notably a painfully strained cultural norm where cliquey behaviour and closed responses make it clear that your attempts at friendliness are going nowhere. VanMag‘s editors published one reader response to Ashenburg’s article: Jorge Amigo’s “Do Vancouver women suck?” (January 9, 2012) Amigo cites the numerous attempts he’s made at conversation with women over the past five years. Whether on the bus, the beach, the park, Vancouver women have returned his friendly comments with panic, coldness, and even outright rudeness. Numerous responses confirmed his suspicions: Vancouver women find random friendliness threatening, because inevitably they’ve been approached/trapped in weird conversations/followed home/groped by men they’ve met in public settings. However, what is interesting is that again, nobody is questioning that this is the norm in Vancouver. Are female residents of other cities, like Toronto, New York, or London, any less likely to have experienced random creepiness? Having lived in many different cities, I’d say that women’s fear of being approached by strange men is pretty universal. But somehow in these other cities, men and women flirt, ask each other out, and date…and the crux of Richmond’s, Ashenburg’s and Amigo’s articles is that, outside of the random creepy advances that exist in every city around the world, normal conversation and friendliness between the sexes are much more constrained in Vancouver. This applies to people trying to make friends here as well: numerous responses highlighted the cliquey behaviour of those who were born and raised here, already have their group of friends, and don’t want to add any outsiders to their close-knit group.
In a city renowned for its banal social scene and steeped in social media, have men and women forgotten how to actually talk to each other? If this weren’t the case, dating and relationship coach Ronald Lee would have no clients. But there is hope in another cliché: according to Amigo, the only places women let down their guard a little is in the ubiquitous coffee shop. There, a woman might “temporarily defrost her Vancouver ice-wall” and “respond normally when you ask to borrow a chair, offer a friendly nod when you comment on the amazingness of the shoes she’s wearing, poke fun at your accent, and appreciate your healthy banter.” While it seems to be acknowledged that there’s something in the water out west that kills mojo, more efforts at friendliness would seem to be the solution. As one of Ashenburg’s female interview subjects stated about the single scene in Vancouver, “Men need to take more risks and women need to shut up [about how crap men are].”