Without Toxic Masculinity, You Couldn’t Even Read This

When’s the last time you saw the word ‘masculinity’ appear without the word toxic next to it? It happens so often now that it’s past the point of meaning anything anymore, it’s just a cliché. I’m convinced that creating a public word association that makes half the population feel like they must address their potential for poisonous behavior is detrimental to our culture. Not that it doesn’t exist, but because the term itself robs the potential for any real dialogue from those we most need to talk to.

It’s not that we don’t know what it means. You don’t even really need the concept explained to you. Men are violent, men cause almost all the physical, violent problems, men attack women, men even attack other men. This is all our fault, if we only said the right phrases or gave them the right toys or taught them proper respect for women things might be different. Our prisons are filled with men, over eighty percent of the inmates are male. This is a men’s problem. Feminism has been around for a long time now, long enough to have had at least three waves plus various off shoot movements. Studying it’s history is not a simple undertaking anymore, but men have had no similar movements. There’s the MRA, a reactionary group more concerned with rights than responsibilities (a problem that mires most of these types of efforts), and other groups like MGTOW but none of them really seem to address the issues we’re talking about. They are more reactionary to feminist movements. Yet recently certain feminist writers have become serious about how to socially condition men to be better, we must smash the patriarchy and one of the best ways to do that is to focus on the problem of ‘toxic masculinity’. How are we going to do this? First, dress boys up as Princesses and give them dolls to play with. Stop saying those little microaggressive phrases like ‘man up’ or ‘boys will be boys’. It might take 30 years but that’s the spirit… if only boys were more like women then the world would be perfect? Is that the secret we’ve been missing all these years? Teach them to get in touch with their emotions.. only women can do this of course, those perfect creatures of beauty and pure good. Am I laying it on too thick? Of course I am. It’s not a complete joke though. But I am bothered by how I see it being used in articles today. I don’t think a working or complete solution is possible from feminism alone. The men who most need to learn the lessons of toxic masculinity will never listen, they won’t be engaged, and the efforts will be largely wasted. I’d like a more nuanced view that allows for a deeper understanding of why we are this way and accepts the responsibilities of our evolutionary and biological situation.

As Manchester was rocked by a terrorist attack, that much like the characters in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, we’ve become used to happening in the background of our lives, the media again scrambled to explain how this could happen. There’s the right’s response: maybe Islam is a violent religion and Mohammad nothing more than a deluded desert warrior with visions, then there’s the lefts response: maybe it’s just a lone wolf who’s mentally ill, and the feminist response… men are evil. Wait, that’s unfair, but toxic masculinity could easily be the problem. Just read Janey Stephenson’s new article in the Independent where she will explain to you that;

Toxic masculinity finds expression in fascism, sexism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, xenophobia, jingoism, capitalism, homophobia, rape culture and patriarchy, in the glamourisation of military culture. Toxic masculinity finds expression in aggressive fear politics that divides and breeds hate; and as more right-wing, controlling governments take power, we only fuel the fire.

If you think my reaction to this is over the top, read this article and do a quick google search for more, I promise you’ll find many just like it.

I especially love that ‘white supremacy’ is the only racial expression mentioned in Stephenson’s summary. I’m shocked white privilege didn’t show up in there as well. There’s got to be a way to work it in. Of course toxic masculinity’s effects on ISIS are totally ignored, strangely enough. This kind of article is not new, a google search for toxic masculinity will quickly show that these kinds of articles have been coming out for years.

Now I don’t want to pretend the issue doesn’t exist, so to be fair I fully admit that yes, men do most of the dirty work. More accurately, the most violent and dangerous of us are men. That’s the way our species is designed, but I think it’s worth looking back a little further than a few hundred or thousand years to learn why this is.

If we are willing to look at our ancestors you can’t really find a better place to start than Chimpanzee behaviour. They are about as close to us as you can get and we separated from them sometime around 13 million years ago, although there may have been some interbreeding as little as 4 million years ago. So we share a lot with Chimp’s and we can learn a lot about who we were (and are) by watching their behaviour.

Chimpanzee’s go to war against other tribes, the men only mind you. The women gather in the middle of the territory and eat fruit/take care of the children. The men, by necessity, would defend the tribe. This is an evolutionary drive because it allows the tribe to grow which of course is a biological imperative. This, partly, is why we have twice as many female ancestors as we do male ancestors… the men died. Yes, men do most of the killing, but they usually kill other men (at a rate of 4 to 1 according to the most recent research in Martin Daly’s “Killing the Competition” — global statistics).

When we deal with people from other cultures we are using the same predator detection module that Chimps use to recognize snakes… still to this day. So it’s only natural that men who feel threatened by a culture that is having a serious impact on them that they would be the ones to see a threat and attempt to attack it. Women aren’t geared for that to nearly the same degree. That simply was not their job.

Now as society shifts and the efforts of men to go kill competing tribes dissipates those impulses are going to be less and less useful (unless all hell breaks loose than you’ll want them back damn quick I bet) so it’s important for society to find a way to deal with that and it’s not an easy problem with quick answers.

I don’t think the best way to do it is to pin all blame on men and get their backs up. We are one species and we’re all in this together.

So sure, you could blame men and claim that making them play with dolls instead of guns would make all the difference. Except we see some of these differences in babies and it’s not entirely cultural. Not by a long shot, that is far too reductive and simplistic an answer and things are never that easy. It seems entirely reasonable to say that violence in men is a natural phenomenon as much as it is a social construct… possibly even more natural phenomenon and the social construct is entirely in how it’s expressed.

I do believe that some social engineering can help, but that is far from being the only answer and unless we are willing to look at millions of years of history instead of a just a couple hundred or even a few thousand we won’t solve this problem. You can’t just hand a boy a dress and expect that you’ve saved the world from ‘toxic masculinity’. That won’t erase millions of years of biological conditioning.

Let’s be clear too on how we got here. This dialogue is missing all notion of gratitude for toxic masculinity. That same impulse that makes us horrible monsters that can destroy everything around us is the same impulse that makes us rush ahead to achieve more and create order out of the chaos. If it is properly directed it can be a force for good. Without that we aren’t here, you aren’t reading this article, without it there is no modern world. Without it, we die. Toxic masculinity literally allowed us to get this far, are we sure we even want to try and get rid of it? Toxic masculinity got us to the moon, maybe it can do more?

The problem is complex and there are no easy answer. So I can’t say that I know what the solution is but I will say that you should beware of the articles like the one I linked to that purport to know the answer. They don’t. No one knows the answer.

I would suspect that getting rid of toxic masculinity is no more possible than getting rid of masculinity itself. How do you separate the two? In fact considering how useful it’s been to us over the last few million years and arguably longer I’d propose that the word ‘toxic’ be dropped all together. Whether or not that masculinity is ‘toxic’ is not a feature of the masculine principle itself. It’s more a feature of what opportunities that man in question has even had. Men need to have challenges and they need to compete. The less agreeable the man, the more violent, the more these challenges and opportunities for competition are needed. This needs to be done in such a way that they aren’t just fighting to survive because that can easily turn into extreme violence.

Capitalism is great for this because it does offer an opportunity for men to compete in a structured system with real rewards that is, for the most part, regulated and reasonably safe. It’s not perfect obviously but it offers something. Sports are another great system for this kind of expression. Yet these clearly aren’t enough on their own… or there are too many men left by the wayside. Our prisons are overwhelmingly men which is ample evidence that we still have a lot of work to do.

To claim that toxic masculinity is the cause of all the worlds problems shows incredible ignorance at the full history of who we are as a species. It’s far more complicated than that and I can’t think of a single ‘toxic man’ who would be anything other than angered by such a suggestion. Think about this for a moment… if bringing up a certain word continually gets a group of people’s back up… maybe the word is the problem. There are other ways to communicate these ideas to men, especially toxic men, that they would be far more accepting of. Don’t be married to the idea of a particular word or phrase. If it doesn’t work, alter your strategy. But the argument is almost set up as a sort of gotcha technique almost as if those making the argument don’t even want to fix the problem so much as they want to be considered right or they just want to agitate the situation and the people. Either way, I don’t see how it can help.

The argument also entirely ignore any issues that feminine culture may have. I know that when I was young I was bullied by the other boys an awful lot… I was a dick so I may have deserved it, don’t worry about me, but one day one of the girls in school saw this and she talked to me about it. Expressing sympathy for me and making me feel better in ways that only attention from a girl can make you feel better. As a teenage boy, this was amazing. But then she one upped herself and told me her story of being bullied, no punches, no black eye, no bloody face. She told me a story about how when she was sixteen years old and desperate for peer acceptance a couple of the cool girls in school came up to her and asked if she would be interested in going to a party with them on Friday. Well she jumped at the chance, you kidding me. A lonely nerdy girl with almost no friends.. damn straight she wants to go to this party. When the chosen time arrived she was waiting outside her house with her best clothes on all ready to dance the night away or whatever else these kids did at parties. First, they were late, a half hour late. When they did show up they drove up to her drive way, she could see the car was full. No room. They rolled down the windows and laughed in her face. Then they drove away.

I’m glad I got my ass kicked, that’s much better. I’ll take toxic masculinity over that any day. Stories like this make me question the entire endeavor. When men grow up and display their masculinity in a toxic manner, we put them in jail.. witness those jail statistics. What happens to those women? I don’t know, I only know what happens to the men. Feminism is pretty interested in solving toxic masculinity, but I haven’t heard shit from the third wavers about how to solve this issue. In any case, that’s far beyond my purview, I’m more concerned with what we can do with ‘toxic’ masculinity. But the feminists should really consider how that kind of behaviour develops.

So the first thing I would recommend is to drop the term all together. Masculinity is not toxic but can be used in that way… so can femininity for that matter. Labels like that create animosity and further the divide. A lot of third wave feminism does that. It’s created for echo chambers and is so inflammatory outside of those echo chambers that it never has any positive impact. Generally it causes arguments and makes groups like the MRA come alive. Let’s instead focus on how we are a single species and we all need each other to keep being a species. Men need opportunities to express their impulses until such time that we need them again for their more nefarious purpose… let’s hope that doesn’t happen.