On the Masculinity Toxic

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I am convinced that toxic masculinity is at the root of most of society’s ills. I do not mean masculinity itself, but toxic masculinity; if you cannot discern the difference between the two, then you are part of the problem. I don’t say this to be some SJW (“social justice warrior”) trying to score points with the ladies; I say this as a 47-year-old man who still struggles to reconcile what he knows to be true in his heart with what he sees daily in the world around him.

The reality is, we all bear some responsibility for this mess because while it’s true that the Patriarchy has for millennia force fed the masses a lie about what it means to be a man, we all tend to perpetuate that lie to varying degrees, men and women alike. Often, if not most often, it’s unconscious, like most of the biases we all have and all must fight constantly. We confuse masculinity with strength, femininity with weakness; we conflate machismo and toughness; we mistake vulnerability for being powerless.

The strongest people in my life have always been women: my Mom, my Grandmothers, my Aunts. The men in my life are not weak, not by any means, but even as a kid, I saw the women using their strength to deal with all the men dealt with and then some. In general, we might agree that women are more “emotional”, meaning they express a greater range of emotions than most men express; society tells us this is weak when it’s nothing of the sort.

I’m emotional and always have been. I knew as a kid that I was more emotional than most boys, contrasted with my two brothers and my schoolmates. I don’t think it bothered me much until I was in my teens when I was more concerned about how I was perceived by girls. I took some solace then in my physique and athleticism, which more closely matched the apparent masculine ideal, but I knew my personality and disposition didn’t fit anything like what the girls seemed to be into, either in movies, on TV, or in real life.

That solace was ripped away when paralysis stripped me of my physique, athleticism, and most of my muscles at age 20, and to be honest, in spite of how I’ve adapted physically and emotionally to my physical limitations since, I still struggle with this concept of masculinity in how it relates to women and what they look for in a man (speaking of hetero- or bisexual women here). But on a macro level, I see so much destruction, hate, and violence that is rooted in antiquated and wrong-headed notions of masculinity and manhood; the world stage is dominated by men in power who act as if this is one big dick-swinging contest. Even our metaphors for strength and dominance derive from the size and virility of male genitalia; we tell people to “man up” or “take it like a man” even though there truly is not just one way to be a man.

I’ve been told I’m “too emotional”, by both men and women, throughout my life. I am emotional, and it comes with difficulties, but it also comes with great benefits that I would never want to give up. “Too emotional”? For some people, sure, maybe even most but that’s their problem, not mine. Even so, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t keep my emotions as close to the vest as I can with most people; as I said, I still struggle to reconcile my own truth with what seem to be opposing and conflicting messages all around us. And it can be disheartening to continue to see people celebrate such a narrow form of masculinity as the ideal, often denigrating anything outside that ideal. It’s dangerous, and it could quite literally obliterate humanity if we don’t change the way we teach our kids, particularly the boys, but the girls as well.

I don’t know all the answers. But toxic masculinity is rooted deep, and its victims are all of us to varying degrees. We need to teach our boys that it’s not weak to cry, that strength and fortitude come from accessing and dealing with all of our emotions, not just the “positive” ones or the “manly” ones. We need to celebrate all forms of manhood and masculinity, as well as femininity, and everything in between. None of us are just one or the other anyway. Meanwhile, I’ll keep working on this inside myself in the hopes I can find some solace again, apart from that which is gone. Work with what you’ve got, eh?




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