Tell a man about Toxic Masculinity. The chances are he will scoff at you and dismiss the idea as ridiculous.
“Toxic Masculinity? You mean like what was shown in the Gillette ad? I’m not like that” — The average man
This exact attitude is what keeps men from overcoming the gender problems in our society, on both sides. The societal and gender standards that create an atmosphere in which this toxic culture is created not only foster hostility and bad character traits, but hold men back from achieving their true potential.
Real men aren’t allowed to show emotion. Real men are detached. Real men are hardened to the outside world. Emotional vulnerability or any sort of feelings are a sign of weakness and must be buried. As a man you must be the one in control. As a man you must assert your dominance in all environments. Men are stolid, above fear or anger or guilt. Men aren’t allowed to be sad.
We betray ourselves by believing in these standards.
These gender stereotypes have horrifying real world implications for behavior. Whether it’s homicides or sexual assault, you can see that the majority of crimes are committed by men. Look no further than popular culture, music and film glorify men in violence.
Sexual assault in particular is troublesome. It starts with objectification of women. The term Locker Room Talk, popularized by President Donald Trump, reflects a worrying tendency for behavior like this to be played off. This behavior escalates and leads to the creation of a “rape culture”, where rape is joked about and taken less seriously then it actually is.
Roxane Gay in her collection of essays entitled “Bad Feminist” goes over one particular example where rape is often taken less seriously. In a New York Times article, entitled “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town”, written by James McKineley Jr, this is shown in a troublesome way. Gay focuses on how the article, orbiting around a gang rape of an 11 year old in Texas, focused on the how the men’s lives would be changed forever, how the town would be ripped apart, and even how the eleven-year-old girl dressed like a twenty-year-old. This was done to suggest that there is a possibility that she was “asking for it” and portraying it as understandable that eighteen men would rape a child. Gay makes it clear that the focus of the article was not on how the eleven-year-old body was ripped apart, but rather the lives of the men who raped her. Toxic masculinity and its emphasis on objectification and sexualization of women prevented the writer from acknowledging the real victim of the crime, the eleven-year-old girl.
The point of all of this is that rape culture creates a standard that male aggression and violence towards women seems more and more acceptable and even inevitable.
To the average man, myself included, it’s easy to interpret this horrifying definition of “toxic masculinity” as an attack, or as I’ve heard from many of my peers, a term made up to “advance the feminist agenda”.
For context, I attend an all boys Catholic high school. As you can imagine, many people feel strongly about how this term is a direct assault on our manhood. The term isn’t designed as a personal attack, but more as a way to define the many ways that our culture is failing us. I call this the “male safe space”. Inside of the safe bubble of suspicion and dismission, men can continue to simmer in a misogynist and sexist culture, in which buried emotions lead to outbreaks of violence, and aggression and objectification is encouraged rather than stymied. What more evidence do we need that the way we behave, the way society expects us to behave, is inherently broken.
From the beginning, men are enlisted in the army of manhood. that enforces and polices these behaviors. I don’t blame the individual. Every individual is only a reflection of their environment and the environment is rigged from the outset.
The poison that seeps through the male community is no myth, I see it for myself first hand in my peers. I see it in how they discuss women and dating. I see it every time I see them put on an emotional disguise. And yet, I’m still continually astounded by the apathy and ignorance that surrounds this topic.
Conservatives especially denounce the term as an attack on manhood itself. Is this the manhood you want? The identification and elimination isn’t mean to tie down man, but rather free him from the constraints of society. Those same conservatives often denounce feminism as a radical movement that attacks men. To them, women coming out with stories of rape or sexual abuse are always due to a witch hunt designed to destroy men. Yet, I don’t see misogyny as just a burden to women, but to men as well.
The ways in which men are shackled by misogyny narrows, distorts, and damages every man’s life. And yet he can’t even understand what he’s doing that’s wrong, or the ways in which “toxic masculinity” restrains him from being a true man. A man that recognizes human limits, that healing and emotional responsiveness is the solution rather than aggression, and is willing to be emotionally vulnerable enough to accept the fact that he is not perfect.