“Dispute it like a man.”
“I shall do so,
but I must also feel it as a man.”
-MacBeth, Act 4, Scene 3
It’s hard to find a man more manly than Terry Crews. He’s buff, confident, assertive, successful, in control of his own world. On the hit show Brooklyn 99 he’s in touch with his emotions, cares about others, takes bubble baths, and eats a lot of yogurt. I submit to you that Terry Crews is a specimen of strong masculinity.
And Terry Crews also believes in a thing called toxic masculinity. When he was molested by an agent, he didn’t know what to do. When he tried to take action against the agent, he was threatened with not having a role in the next Expendables movie (If you didn’t know, the Expendables franchise is about a group of buff, gruff men with big guns shooting other men with real big guns.). The reason? The agent who groped him also represents Sylvester Stallone, star of the franchise.
There is a lot of misunderstanding floating around about the concept of toxic masculinity. One of the most common misunderstandings is that those referring to toxic masculinity are taken to mean that males are toxic, or that being male is toxic. It’s just a bunch of lefties wanting to turn us all into delicate wimps.
I’m sure you’ll find a few of these people, most of them a brand of feminists who would love to have a world without men. Fems like that are pretty rare, actually.
So no, toxic masculinity does not refer to the idea that being a man is bad. And those who say so are misusing the term.
Toxic masculinity is a psychological term referring to cultural norms that reinforce a kind of masculinity which ends up being harmful to society.
“Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”
–The Good Men Project
Now, in the field of psychology views will differ about which cultural norms are toxic, or how they can become toxic. What one person says will not be the same as another. Here are some traits that could be considered toxic among men, either by themselves or carried too far:
- asserting dominance over others
- suppressing emotion
- sexual aggression
- strutting status
Think about some behaviors you don’t approve of or have been concerned about, but have been explained away with phrases like “boys will be boys” or “just being a man’s man.”
- trying to dominate every conversation
- calling other males “homo” for not being like them
- making outlandish purchases to demonstrate their wealth
- losing one’s temper
- sexually harassing others
- treating women like objects
- alcoholism (more common among men)
- emotional distance from family
- spousal abuse
Men have positive traits that in general belong to our gender. We want to take pride in our work, have friends that help us be our best by challenging us, do well at work, provide for our fam. It is not these traits that most psychologists would ever call “toxic.”
But the bad traits listed can harm both society and ourselves when coupled with the good ones. Our society is conflicted with itself about the toxicity of these behaviors. We celebrate reckless playboys, but chide them. We disdain violence against women, but we laugh at it. We agree that revenge porn is heinous, but watch movies like American Pie. We tell men they should be “strong,” but we don’t often get right what that means, and so many men don’t share their feelings, or even their health problems, and end up dead early due to heart failure, depression, alcoholism, suicide. Sometimes they even commit murder.
And if we look to the Bible for reinforcement of masculinity, we find that it agrees. Jacob and Esau were both boys, but the less stereotypically “masculine” one is the one who is more clever, more of a hero, and good enough a wrestler to last against an angel.
Cain couldn’t cope with his vulnerable emotions of inadequacy and envy, so he chose violence instead.
Think poetry is just “for homos”? Most of God’s words in the Bible are poetry composed by men who did things like handle goats for a living.
We have no proof Jesus ever hit a woman, bullied a weaker person, got drunk, insulted metro men, bought anything lavish, or even had sex. He wept in public. He’s described as loving men. The most non-toxic human in Christian history.
Paul even writes to a church referring to himself as a “mother” figure. Still man enough to take a beating for his faith and survive a shipwreck without complaining.
There are diverse masculinities. Some are healthy, some are toxic.
Case in point: The gentle masculinity of Fred Rogers.
What a man. I mean seriously, what a man! He was a father figure to children with absent fathers. He was a responsible neighbor. He dressed like a man. Groomed himself like a man. Acted like a man. He was respected in the hood. The man was so tough he stood before Congress and made them melt as he defended a budget for a public television program. He didn’t have to bully them. He never exhibited the behaviors we associate with toxic masculinity, the behaviors touted by toxic males as necessarily male.
When I see the mass shootings happening today, I know that toxic masculinity in America has played a role. White young men are the primary actors, and among the things they have in common are emotional frustrations and and time spent in an environment around (or observing) men who don’t know how to be men without inflicting emotional or physical damage on others. The problem isn’t straight white protestant men. The problem is what we’ve allowed to happen to those men, and the choices they make partly as a display of will as male actors.
Sometimes you’ll see outrageous claims about male qualities themselves being toxic, or a society led by males always being destructive. That’s no reason to disregard the concept of toxic masculinity. Don’t let a straw man give you a straw man argument against a real man.
If you don’t consider Fred Rogers and Terry Crews prime examples of strong, healthy male role models, your concept of masculinity is toxic. You’re spiritually limp.
How’s that for a gender identity upheaval?