As of late the words Toxic Masculinity is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, from the Gillette ad, to word of mouth. It seems everywhere you go on social media and the internet in general people are analyzing, discussing, and dissecting what toxic masculinity means and how to promote healthy masculinity and what that looks like.
I’m not professing to have all the answers, however, perhaps some discussion about how I look at things can be a worthwhile addition to the conversation.
I think a large part of toxic masculinity stems from a lack of sex positivity, and sex positive parenting. The Idea of sex and power has always been linked to masculinity, more so than femininity, and I think this is where things jumped the shark. When I was growing up, sex was never talked about in my house, but when I got to highschool sex, and sexuality was talked about in hushed whispers. Who was fucking who, who got a blow job from who, and even “the” event where a (then 18) year old girl got filmed having sex with a local sports star – said video still exists somewhere too (even 20 years later).
At that time in my life, I was still a virgin (and would be until I was 19), but I can tell you one of the over-riding thoughts was if you were still a virgin, you were a loser. Men should be desired, athletic, and sexually active. Those of us that deviated from the norm (not into sports, geeky as fuck, and awkward around women on a whole – doubly so if I had a crush). Rather than discussing sex positivity and why it was OK to be sexually active, or even a virgin, it was simply something that was never discussed, and at that age, peer pressure and judgment had a huge effect on how I conducted myself. I thought that if I could just get laid, or have a pretty girl show interest in me, I would suddenly be more of a man. Vanity, ego and a lack of a positive male role model can really skew your perception of things at that age.
Something else I think needs to be considered is encouragement of healthy vulnerability. We’ve gotten to a point in social conversation where many people are talking about sharing of emotions, thoughts and really dissecting root causes of undesirable behavior and other predatory activities. This is a great thing, calling out behavior that is damaging to others, and how we can either receive closure, reparation or other solutions.
What we fail to do with regularity is acknowledge men who go out of thier way to display or discuss more positively socially acceptable traits. I know what some of you are thinking – “why reward behavior or acknowledge it when it should be the norm?” Simply put? because it isn’t the norm. Emotions like sadness, fear, and even some cases love are joked about, made fun of and the men that display these are even jokingly teased.
I am by no means saying we should all become completely emotional creatures, at the mercy of raw emotion. However, should the men in your life talk about these things, a bit of encouragement, or even acceptance can go a long way to making them feel more comfortable about seeking help and discussion about it, rather than bottling it up and having influence over negatively processing them.
I am a survivor of mental, and physical abuse, as well as rape and consent violations from both sexes. when I tried to report these things, the police basically laughed at me, my “friends” at the time ignored and laughed at me, I had a hell of a time processing grief, rage, anger, fear, and felt like less of a man for crying in front of people that were supposed to be my friends. It took me a long time to process and overcome these things by myself, I went through depression, 3 separate suicide attempts, and a battle with addiction before I came out the other side, barely. I can’t help but think looking back, that if I had had a support structure of people willing to deal with, and encourage healthy vulnerability around these things that the length it took me to “get over” and process would have been far less painful and destructive.
Labelling certain things as masculine, feminine, or even childlike in a negative context is also something I feel contributes to toxic masculinity. I think on a whole displaying stereotypically feminine or child like traits as a man is something I think a lot of people label as negative or undesirable.
When I was in my early twenties, and really much of my life up to that point, I didn’t have many traditionally masculine interests or hobbies. I don’t do sports like football or hockey, I read Sci-fi, play video games and get knee deep in all sort of fandoms. I felt ashamed that hundreds of miles from home, trapped in an abusive relationship I turned to online gaming and escapism to deal with my reality. Something I loved and enjoyed, and used to cope, ended up having me labeled as a “faggot”, “loser”, and a sissy. In that reality, these words were negative to me, the few things I still enjoyed and used to define me as a person were weaponized. Not only were they weaponized by my male friends, but by just about every female in my life as well. Women wanted to be around and associate with these “traditional” men. To this day, I can’t enjoy basketball or football the way I used to since I see them as reminders of just how unworthy I was of calling myself a man. (I understand now, how wrong I was, but old habits you know.)
It is refreshing now, to see geek culture and other non-traditional “adult” and Masculine pursuits more widely accepted, but we have a long way to go. Encourage men in your life to pursue and enjoy these things to their fullest. Keep this in mind though: Disliking something out of personal preference is much different than condemning a person negatively due to a biased thought process.
There are many other issues I think contributes to toxic masculinity, From body image and acceptance, all the way to nature vs. nurture. However, as I see it these are a few things not often talked about, or discussed at large in favor of other more socially visible parts of the issue.
Just adding a few thoughts on a topic that will no doubt be discussed for a long time to come.