Toxic Masculinity’s time has come to be the latest gender struggle garnering attention, and boy does it need it. Not to try to be a historian, but this follows on the heels of gay marriage, transsexual identity struggles, and #MeToo.
Crafty men, we always find a way to stay on point.
I am not a fan of my gender, because of toxic masculinity. You could appropriately ask when I ever was a fan, and I would be hard pressed to answer. It likely began in my childhood, as you will read shortly.
As a man, I am guilty as charged. My wife might differ, but it is sort of like saying that a white person is completely without racial bias. Good luck with that. As with race, and as with gender, I try. I really try. I fall short.
As a member of the leading edge of the Baby Boomer Generation, I have been through an earthquake of social changes. I will not try to list all of them here. I only have a thousand words or so before a reader’s eyes glaze over.
My father beat me. Worst, he beat my mother. Thinking back on those times, I do not easily label him a carrier of toxic masculinity, though part of a man’s frustration, often leading to anger, is lack of recognition, advancement and/or humiliation at work. My dad’s anger came, in part, from this. As a senior in high school, he scored the highest in a county-wide academic test. He knew he was smarter than most of those around him. But he married my mother in the midst of the Depression and they scrambled just to live week-to-week, moving many times. In the mid-1940s, he suffered a nervous breakdown, three years before I was born. During the 1950s he beat my older brother and I, along with our mother. Late in my high school years, he stopped. My dad’s abuse did model for me, but not how you might think. He modeled how not to treat a wife. My two brothers and I took this modeling to heart.
Was this toxic masculinity? Yes, but there were other factors contributing to his emotional vulnerability, too much to relate here. He did feel a failure, and as a failure he lashed out to those closest to him, his family.
Maybe today, family abuse gets reported more often. In the mid-1950s in the Midwest, it was not; a secret that did not extend beyond our rural driveway.
My wife, a 32-year county prosecutor, used to prosecute family abuse cases, her toughest cases to convict. Time and again, the wife and family would rally around the abuser (father).
I included a chapter about father and husband abuse in my novel, Blackberries Are Red When Green. Many readers have surprised me by sharing similar experiences. Abuse has always been its own epidemic.
In Genesis, God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Toxic masculinity? There it is, in the Bible. A family friend, Dr. Carrie Miles, argues in her book. The Redemption of Love, that God took a rib from the side of Adam, thus symbolizing that woman is at a man’s side, equal and not less.
I will not argue this issue based on the Bible, but several religions, especially Islam, force women into servitude.
Women subservient? Seriously?
New York Times superstar scriber, Maureen Dowd, wrote a book called: Are Men Necessary? In it she writes: “Men are necessary for breeding and heavy lifting.” She posed this question to British geneticist, Steve Jones. His answer: “You don’t even need the sex slaves. You only need their cells in a freezer. You’d have to have a very good electricity supply.”
Dowd goes on to write:
“The latest research on the Y chromosome shows that my jittery male friends are not paranoid. They are in an evolutionary pratfall. The Y chromosome has been shedding genes willy-nilly for millions of years and is now a fraction of the size of its partner, the X chromosome. Size matters.”
A pause for a feeble joke attempt: If fortunate enough to be born a white male in the United States, you are born on second base. White males of means are born on third base. Good thing, because men know how tough it is to get to first base. Bah dump bump.
Humorist Dave Barry writes in Complete Guide to Guys:
“To understand guys, it is essential to remember that deep down inside they are biological creatures, like jellyfish or trees, only less likely to clean the bathroom.”
Barry has me pegged on that bathroom part.
The latest spate of mass shootings is all coming from white younger men. Why? Is Trump an enabler? Yes. Are guns and ammo too easy to buy? Yes. I am not a psychologist but these young men bought into some vision of America that said their lives should be easier. They should score with women more easily and women should respect them. They should have good paying jobs. Every case is different. But, why does this keep happening here? We do not see much of this in other Judeo-Christian cultures, at least the gun violence. Our culture imbued in them something that says life should be easier, so they lash out at whomever, people of color, people of different faiths and political persuasions, their parents, and women. Go out in a blaze of bullets. How sad. Better that they just off themselves, instead of taking dozens of innocents with them, people in the wrong place at the wrong time. They do it to make their mark, something a quiet suicide in the woods would not do.
Then there is this: nearly everyday, somewhere in our country, a man kills his family before turning the gun on himself.
The shootings are just the most visible example of toxic masculinity. What about all of the other symbols: Hummers, Harleys, gun collections, weekend warriors, triathlons and extreme sports, to name a few; borrowed bravado. Women do some of these as well. Not sure why, but they do.
How about code talk: “Man up!” or “Don’t be a girl!” or “Don’t be a sissy!” How about, “Provide for your family!” What is wrong with that? Nothing, but why is it on the man’s shoulders? For too long, it has been.
At the end of our careers, my wife and I tied on who brought home the most income. I leapt to an early lead, but her government job finally surpassed me. I scaled high enough on the corporate ladder to see the top, but then I struggled in a business world taken over by investment bankers and corporate raiders, and their world of LBOs, IPOs and Mergers and Acquisitions. Her retirement funds our golden years. I married well. I do not feel diminished. Besides, I am a helluva cook, and I know my way around the supermarket, washer, dryer and dishwasher. I contribute.
In Jared Yates Sexton’s book, The Man They Wanted Me to Be, he includes this from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
“We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside the cage.”
Sexton writes in his prologue:
“Men were effectively the kings of their household, the final word on every matter, above reproach and question. They were to be feared and taken care of. When their power or sovereignty was questioned, their response was anger. They yelled, they threw things, they were violent, and these outbursts always coincided with lapses in authority, humiliations at work, and any number of breaches of their sovereignty.”
It is not just parental male modeling, but males like uncles, grandfathers and coaches. Then there is peer pressure, be one of the guys and tell a sexist or racist joke. Sexton speaks to this. Sports can be an asset, if one is physically up to it. To use a trite but true phrase, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” But team can also be negative peer pressure; are you tough enough?
Jessica Valenti recently wrote on Medium about the pushback to the #MeToo movement, especially from the arts community, arguing #MeToo will stifle creativity:
“In part, I think that what really scares men participating in the backlash against #MeToo: It’s not just that they are worried about being fired, but also that they ultimately won’t be missed. The truth is there are genius and talent around every corner — plenty of it nonwhite and nonmale, even!”
#MeToo began outing the abusers. Now we need to out the users and take a sledgehammer to the glass ceiling and unequal pay.
I do not have a multi-step program to fix this. But I do know it begins at home, and early on, and what fathers or adults are modeling for young boys.
For the record, I would like to offer one more reason to keep men around, or at least plead my own case. One word: spiders. I know that is a primary reason my wife puts up with me. Oh yes, and that culinary stuff.
Check out my web site: Keith Frohreich