There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘toxic masculinity.’ I want to talk about specific toxic men.
There’s been a lot of those in the news lately. Abusers. Serial abusers. Men who believe that because they have power, money and fame they can take what they want. And what they want is to take the rights of others. Female minors, women, and children who are less rich, have little (if any) power, and no fame.
In our culture, we mistake masculinity for power and strength. We also equate it with men taking things by force. ‘Boys will be boys’ becomes ‘that’s just how men are.’
I watched a few minutes of the interview with R. Kelly. On the verge of losing control, he stands over the female interviewer imposingly, gesturing wildly. It reminded me of Donald Trump stalking Hillary Clinton during one of their three debates.
Men such as these believe they have a sovereign right to do what they want. It’s a caveman mentality. It’s a mentality predicated on the belief that their desires are more important than another person’s rights. Or another person’s dignity.
I haven’t watched the Michael Jackson documentary, “Leaving Neverland.’ I don’t want to. I know a part of their story intimately. I was sexually abused by someone everyone loved.
“Oh, he’s so good with kids. He just loves being around them!”
Michael Jackson surrounded himself with kids.
So did the bishops in the church.
So did the child rapist next door.
So did my uncle.
Seemingly good people hide their toxicity. They give to charities and show up for good deeds. Much is made of their willingness to give time and money. Meanwhile, their victims struggle with low self-esteem, crippling anxiety and/or depression. Many choose to numb their pain with addictions to sex, alcohol, food, or drugs.
The hardest part for many victims is not knowing that they were/are victims of a predator. As Oprah pointed out in her interview with the men who state they were abused (paraphrasing), when the abuser is good, you don’t know you were abused until much later.
This happens in all kinds of relationships: You slowly accept this is what it is. You stop questioning and it happens. Maybe you know you don’t have as much power, maybe you feel loved, maybe you think this is the way it’s supposed to be.
Maybe, years later, it occurs to you that something is wrong.
Most people who are abused are told not to tell. They’re warned of dire consequences such as going to jail, or that their loved ones will be killed, or if anyone finds out that they won’t be loved anyone. Words are powerful and when you have no power, you believe them.
The victim knows something is off, but doesn’t know what. Shame exists at a deep level and create its own dysfunction. Wounded people learn to hide themselves away from the light.
R. Kelly doesn’t think the past should have any sway over what happens to him now. Michael Jackson stated that children brought him joy because of their innocence. Yet, he apparently ripped away the innocence of several boys. Throw in the entitled actions of Harvey Weinstein, and men like him, and you have the definition of toxic men.
Toxic men are not all sexual abusers. Some are physical abusers, some are verbal. At the heart of toxicity is a belief that they deserve what they take. Frequently they blame others for the position they find themselves in when caught or accused.
As a psychologist, yes, I am sure that these men all had experiences at an early age that led to their dysfunctional belief systems. As a psychologist, however, I also know that they are responsible for their adult actions and should have pursued help. Instead, they led with their wounded and fragile egos and depended on others to make themselves feel better.
We need to continue shining a light on behaviours that harm others through abuse. We need to show our boys and girls that they are of value without having to submit to the perversions of grown men.
We need to do a better job raising our men. Talk to them about their inner lives, allow them to have a full range of emotions. It can be damaging to be told certain emotions aren’t allowed, or that having those emotions makes you ‘less than’ (or worse, that it makes you look like a girl).
We need to show our girls that they can be strong. That they deserve to be treated with respect — the same thing we need to teach our boys.
This is not a men versus women issue. It’s a human issue because we are all affected by the culture around us.
Dr. Drema Dial is a licensed psychologist and life coach.