Sound bite du jour-Toxic Masculinity
I have, at this point in my life, never been accused of harboring any kind of toxic masculinity. It could be that I am simply such an evolved specimen of new age man or perhaps it’s the fact that I’m 5’6″ and resemble a more harmless version of Dennis the menace. Either way, toxic masculinity is the sound bite du jour, so let’s get into it.
First of all, what is toxic masculinity? I’m not going to define it here, rather I want to illustrate a point. Anyone who spends any amount of time on social media has come into contact with this concept. They have formed an opinion about it and have likely argued with someone about it. The very existence of the term toxic masculinity satisfies the needs of both sides of the cultural divide in this country to vilify each other. Yet there is no clear definition of what it is. It’s the Chinese thumb trap of our modern zeitgeist. In other words, half of us think we are right and the other side is dumb and half of us think we are right and the other side is dumb. Meanwhile we all keep sampling sound bites from the meta narrative in order to weaponize them in our unwinnable battle for cultural supremacy. If toxic masculinity is a problem, no one talking about how it’s a problem actually wants to solve the problem.
As a father of three boys I feel especially close this issue. I don’t want people vilifying them for expressing themselves anymore than I want them to be afraid to express themselves out of fear of it being perceived as something less than masculine. But let’s get real for a moment. There is no singular concept that will neatly wrap up what we can categorize as either good or bad behavior. Any parent will tell you the same. Moreover, there is no step by step guide for how to be a successful version of yourself.
Some things are obvious. I teach my children that violence is bad. I also teach them that it happens and sometimes one must be prepared to defend themselves. In my house we operate under the old fashioned belief that it is never ok for a man or a boy to hit a woman or a girl. I teach my children the value of knowing who they are and standing by their convictions because there will be people in their future who will try to tell them how to think, whether it’s a future college buddy who thinks it’s ok to treat women like objects or a future college professor who thinks it’s ok to tell my children that everything they’ve ever learned is wrong. These are the easy bits but those who are advocating to eliminate toxic masculinity from our culture will also advocate for a singular right way to experience and express emotions. They identify a problem or problems in the world and then suggest that it comes from a singular source and consequently the prescription to the problem is…that men need to be more emotional? This is oversimplification at it’s worse and the real victim in the scenario is any man who could improve himself by dealing with his masculinity issues in a healthy way.
Toxic masculinity is a real thing, we’ve just always called those guys assholes. The problem is that the most vocal proponents of eliminating toxic masculinity from our culture are also assholes. They don’t want to do anything to help men lead healthier lives, they just want those who they perceive to be on the other side to feel dumb. So while toxic masculinity might well be a systemic problem in our culture, it pales in comparison to systemic assholery. We as a people need to evolve, all genders and colors and sexual orientations and whatever else I’m missing. I’m not trying pass the buck on this. I’m just saying that we should be a solutions oriented, not a problem oriented people. Conversation is a great place to start. Let’s talk about it.