While Grant is presented in the role of the dutiful husband throughout the story—he takes Fiona to Meadowlake, frequently visits her, and brings her gifts—he still adheres to stereotypical gender norms of the mid-twentieth century setting of the story. Contrasted with Aubrey’s wife Marian, for example, Grant never considers caring for Fiona at home; he turns the messy daily aspects of her care over to a facility and visits her with gifts such as expensive flowers that “make him look like the guilty husband in a cartoon,” perhaps reflective of his aversion of typically feminine domestic duties. Grant is often misogynistic in his internal thoughts as well. Munro illustrates how Grant’s actions are structured by his expectations of gender norms in order to highlight the limitations of these norms, implicitly suggesting that they lead to a harmful imbalance of power in relationships.
Grant repeatedly makes observations that indicate his callous treatment of women. When the roommate of a girl with whom he had an affair writes him a letter referring to the girl’s suicide attempt, he calls it “threatening in a whining way,” unwilling to grant his former lover emotional maturity or depth. Such an attitude is reflective of sexist tropes that women are silly or vapid, in contrast to serious men. Indeed, Grant left his position after this incident, seeing himself as “pushed out” by a group he derogatorily refers to as “the feminists […] and the sad silly girl herself and his cowardly so-called friends.” Despite this situation, he congratulates himself for his treatment of these women, thinking, “many times he had catered to a woman’s pride, to her fragility […] all so that he could now find himself accused of wounding and exploiting and destroyed self-esteem.” Again, his language expresses a distinctly sexist view of women as inherently fragile and needy. Similarly, when his and Jacqui Adams’s affair ends, he notes that she “began to shake uncontrollably,” remarking coldly, “it was a if she had hypothermia. When she writes to him, he critiques her tone as “overwrought” and does not respond, instead becoming “magically and unexpectedly involved with a girl who was young enough to be Jacqui’s daughter.” Grant is openly enchanted by his ability to sleep with younger women, and with the fact that these “young girls” do not require “the tender intimations of feeling” he needed to use with Jacqui. Grant relies on sexist tropes to dismiss the feelings of the women he sleeps with, in turn granting himself permission to use them as a vehicle for his own desires.
Even though he sees Fiona as different from these women, his treatment of her is similarly shaped by his sexism. At the beginning of the story, Fiona asks about the Russian wolfhounds she adopted and “devoted herself to for the rest of their lives.” While these dogs were clearly significant to Fiona, Grant cannot remember whether they got them after Fiona’s mother’s death or after finding out that she could not have children. Grant remembers this information flippantly, thinking, “something about her tubes being blocked, or twisted—Grant could not remember now. He had always avoided thinking about all that female apparatus.”
He also downplays his affairs, thinking that he does not need to call himself a philanderer, “he who had not had half as many conquests as the man who had reproached him in his dream.” Fiona, he acknowledges, was “quite willing” not to participate in the rampant affairs taking place in his academic setting. This does not, however, prevent Grant from participating. Grant’s neglect of Fiona’s wish to remain outside of the sexual escapades of their social group is part of his larger disrespect for her desires in favor of his own. In dismissing women’s emotional interiority, Grant implicitly denies them their full humanity.
This is further reflected by his almost pathological objectification of the women he meets. When women begin attending the university at which he teaches, Grant looks down upon their academic interests, telling some, “If you want to learn a pretty language go and learn Spanish. Then you can use it if you go to Mexico.” He describes the interest he incites in these women in objectifying, sexual language, referring to “the great surprising bloom of their mature female compliance, their tremulous hope of approval.” He sees every woman through a sexualized lens—describing Kristy, one of the nurses at Meadowlake, as having beautiful hair, for instance: “all the puffed-up luxury of a cocktail waitress’s style, or a stripper’s, on top of such a workaday face and body.”
He assesses Marian in a similar way upon first seeing her, commenting that she should not attempt to flatter her waist considering her weight, then later admiring her breasts. He continues to use objectifying language in his assessment of Marian, thinking, “the fussy way she had of shifting her buttocks on the kitchen chair, her pursed mouth […] that was what was left of the more or less innocent vulgarity of a small-town flirt.” Grant is not attracted to Marian until she pursues him, which reminds him flatteringly of his past affairs. Still, he has to fantasize about her cleavage to maintain interest in returning her call. The story suggests the Grant’s behavior is all based in the same regressive gender ideals, which seemingly allow him to dismiss women’s feelings and internal lives. In turn, he can better objectify them and maintain his sense of masculine dominance.
By the end of the story, Munro demonstrates that Grant is representative of a certain viewpoint, common for the time period of the story, which relies on misogyny to structure one’s understanding of the world. In Grant’s case, this misogyny actively inhibits his ability to care for the woman he loves because he refuses to undertake typically feminine duties of both emotional support and nursing, as he does not consider looking after her at home in the way Marian does for Aubrey. Without ever explicitly condemning Grant, the story thus offers an implicit critique of the limiting nature of strict, stereotypical masculinity and misogyny.
Gender and Power ThemeTracker
Gender and Power Quotes in The Bear Came Over the Mountain
He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.
“Do you think it would be fun—” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?”
He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life.
Her hair, which was as light as milkweed fluff, had gone from pale blond to white somehow without Grant’s noticing exactly when, and she still wore it down to her shoulders, as her mother had done. (That was the thing that had alarmed Grant’s own mother, a small-town widow who worked as a doctor’s receptionist. The long white hair on Fiona’s mother, even more than the state of the house, had told her all she needed to know about attitudes and politics.)
These were the Russian wolfhounds she had adopted many years ago, as a favor to a friend, then devoted herself to for the rest of their lives. Her taking them over might have coincided with the discovery that she was not likely to have children. Something about her tubes being blocked, or twisted—Grant could not remember now. He had always avoided thinking about all that female apparatus. Or it might have been after her mother died.
Just in time, Grant was able to think, when the sense of injustice had worn down. The feminists and perhaps the sad silly girl herself and his cowardly so-called friends had pushed him out just in time. Out of a life that was in fact getting to be more trouble than it was worth. And that might eventually have cost him Fiona.
She was a heavy young woman who looked as if she had given up on her looks in every department except her hair. That was blond and voluminous. All the puffed-up luxury of a cocktail waitress’s style, or a stripper’s, on top of such a workaday face and body.
She was the opposite of Fiona—short, cushiony, dark-eyed, effusive. A stranger to irony. The affair lasted for a year, until her husband was transferred. When they were saying goodbye in her car, she began to shake uncontrollably. It was as if she had hypothermia. She wrote to him a few times, but he found the tone of her letters overwrought and could not decide how to answer.
Young girls with long hair and sandalled feet were coming into his office and all but declaring themselves ready for sex.
His uncles, his relatives, probably even his mother, had thought the way Marian thought. They had believed that when other people did not think that way it was because they were kidding themselves—they had got too airy-fairy, or stupid, on account of their easy and protected lives or their education. They had lost touch with reality. Educated people, literary people, some rich people like Grant’s socialist in-laws had lost touch with reality. Due to an unmerited good fortune or an innate silliness. In Grant’s case, he suspected, they pretty well believed it was both.
That was how Marian would see him, certainly. A silly person, full of boring knowledge and protected by some fluke from the truth about life [...]
He might have married her. Think of it. He might have married some girl like that. If he’d stayed back where he belonged.