Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
Seems like all the interesting topics lately are being inspired by internet drama. I was watching a Nerdist Youtube channel video express the opinion that the Starwars franchise needs to embrace change. A sore topic in and of of itself. Yet another nerd rant with nothing surprising, until he used one word in his argument that seem to come out of left field: toxic masculinity.
Immediately, half the comment section was in an uproar over another lecture of ‘SJW crap’. This wasn't the only place where I came across the outrage. I was also reading an article on Denofgeek.com that was talking about the Starwars character, Poe Dameron and how he was an example of toxic masculinity, triggering yet another wave of angry ranting.
The phrase has become one of today's most divisive and triggered phrases guaranteed to create a conflict. Perceived as hyper-sensitive by both sides of the battlefield, but with each having opposite conclusions on its legitimacy. Its another par for the course in the ongoing culture war, but I wondered if it either side has any real claim to their views on toxic masculinity.
So I did some digging to find out where the phrase really comes from. Who came up with it and why? Most people automatically consider toxic masculinity a modern invention manufactured by liberal activists. Surprisingly though, it wasn’t. It came from a mens’ rights group in the 1990’s.
Called the Mythopoetic Mens’ Movement, their goal was to recapture what they felt was the lost, masculine spirit. This was based on legend-based theories from psychologist, Carl Jung and used exclusively-male rituals during nature outings. The belief was that the modern world has confused and corrupted what true masculinity was by societal roles and the rise of new wave of feminism. However they didn't think the ideas of feminism itself was a threat, but rather how loud that movement had become, suffocating men's’ own identity.
The movement believed in men being able to express their feelings other than the classic, strong-silent stereotype. This version of masculinity that denied men being able to express deeper, more spiritual feelings they coined, toxic masculinity, as a contrast to deep masculinity which allowed men to be proud of their gender differences, while not oppressing women’s dignity. The term was later adopted by modern, social justice movements because it closely aligned with their own experiences and interpretations of interactions with men and hierarchy in society.
The Coin’s Opinion
My other question about the topic was what actually defines defines toxic masculinity? Two sides can look at the same object and still have wildly different takes on it after all.
Going by the modern interpretation, it is seen as the traditional image of hyper-aggressive men who feel the need to be the alpha in whatever environment they are in. They are also seen as sexist or borderline sexist, lacking empathy, and so confident that it crosses over into arrogance. Women are not seen as equals or partners, but objects and submissive subjects. Role models that are used to describe this type of masculine individual are Sean Connery’s James Bond, many of Arnold Schwarzenegger's action movie characters, and most recently, Netflix’s The Punisher.
From this perspective, toxic masculinity not only exists but continues to push its agenda of telling men that they need to match this expectation. And in so doing suppressing the humanity within women and other oppressed communities because they are supposed to follow. Some of these ideas do match up to the original definition, however other elements are also attached to it.
The negative experiences of other, louder communities such as the Gay and Trans communities, have added their own voices to the stage. There is also a more hostile spirit towards toxic masculinity where the idea of men simply finding themselves to be more open is automatically seen as a part of it, instead of being seen as being opposed to it. Many from these groups are demanding that no perpetuation of the toxic masculine model should exist at all in the public sphere because it is now seen as a threat to a progressive vision of the future.
There have also been recent health reports in articles from respected journals such as The Smithsonian, Monitor on Psychology, and even the Washington Post citing toxic masculinity being linked to lower life expectancy, higher stress, and higher suicide rates among men.
"Both sides are afraid of losing identities or giving the other side control over them."
All Those Opposed
The opposition to this has been just as hyper-active, much of it being a reaction to what they believe is SJW politics controlling their personal lives. This side is also very diversified. Many hold no specific loyalty to conservative agendas and just want to be able to enjoy their lives without being policed over their shoulders all the time. As mentioned before, other people feel that toxic masculinity is just another hyper-active, social trend. While some feel that men denying their natural, assertive impulses and being the protector is a denial of the natural order, whether that be science or religiously oriented. They would point to women's’ romance novels which often depicts their ideal man as someone who is sexually assertive while still caring.
Either way, those opposed to the toxic masculine label seem to believe that rather than being about true, social justice, that it is really others trying to police their identities as individuals and lifestyle choices. Everyone believes in freedom of choice until that choice disagrees with the majority or popular trend.
I believe that toxic masculinity is a gray area rather than the black and white conflict that both sides make it out to be, and there's a reason for this position. For one thing, while many liberals, SJW’s, and activists are trying to represent women's’ best interests as a group, the reality is that there are also many women who don’t believe in those sentiments. Many of the voters who got Donald Trump into office in 2016 were women that believed that liberal politics was disrespecting their own lifestyle choices. Another recent controversy, friend-zoning, also touches on this in a way.
Whenever the topic of being friend zoned is brought up by guys who feel that women they were into should have chosen them instead of the bad boy, those women have defended their choice. They site that nothing is owed to anyone for simply being nice to them and that confidence expressed by bad boys is an appealing trait in a partner. That one I find a bit odd because its toxic masculinity vs toxic masculinity.
Many of the basis for the term’s animosity come from legit, bad experiences. One of the prejudices against Gay men has been that their orientation defies the natural order and that they were not being real men. The stereotype of the Gay, high-pitched, feminine-physique male has never been seen as masculine and embodied this offense. Part of the reason why men turn to drugs and alcoholism is a perceived failure to meet the social standards of men being the providers or sexually proficient. And women's’ submissiveness to power and the alpha mentality is believed by many men to be expected from them, which is where the friend-zoning crossover comes into play.
Equally however, these experiences also teach toxic masculinity believers that there is a demon under every rock. In conversations I’ve had with activists, they often site that their struggle is very much about power and maintaining that newfound power because they don't want to go back to the way things were without it. Initially this progressive spirit was thought to be given of the modern age and that old-school machismo would never return. Then Trump got into office and I can’t tell you how many women I've talk to say that they were suddenly afraid. Much of the reactionary spirit is at its heart and understandably, motivated by fear. And this leads to my last observation.
I also think that the crossover effects of the negative and positive affects of masculinity have not really been examined on a societal level. Other than physical abuse, the lines are still blurry at times, with individuals having different ideas of how 'masculine' they want men to be: first to ask on a date, sexually-assertive, how authoritative they want them to be as father's and so on.
Who draws the line of how men and women react to each other that both compliments their individuality and respects the other?
Both sides are afraid of losing their identities or giving the other side control over them. To try and compromise or search for truth means exposing their newly or traditionally, empowered position to legitimate attack. Youtuber, Laci Green was seen as a liberal, sex educationist, until she entered into dialogue with the opposing side, and then started dating one. While she said she was trying to find a middle ground rather than take an extremist position, many supporters of hers felt betrayed. As far as they were concerned, those other people did not deserve to have anytime given to their opinion.
And that's were we are with toxic masculinity, as it seems with other fronts in this culture war. Both sides feeling threatened, reactive, and defensive. Both sides looking for empowerment, both sides afraid to lose it, and both sides unwilling to engage in civil discourse that may endanger their truth. Better to just throw insults at each other.
Insults like toxic masculinity.
© 2018 Jamal Smith
Thad on May 26, 2018:
I really enjoyed reading this. A short, nuanced piece on the complexities of defining the term.