Toxic Masculinity: Liberating Men

James Peron
The Radical Center
Published in
8 min readJan 16, 2019


Gillette released a commercial which has conservatives, yet again, losing their marbles. It seems anything which disagrees with their toxic views of reality has to come with a trigger warning or the poor darlings start screaming about how the view just isn’t politically correct—not according to their politics at least. As a libertarian I’m glad it challenges their views—they are ultimately the opposite of what classical liberalism, or libertarianism, is all about.

Challenging toxic masculinity isn’t about being anti-male—it’s about being pro-human, pro-humane. I am not anti-male. I am male and I’m happy being male. I’ve known a lot of great guys in my life.

But, that being said, the male is often a fragile creature in my opinion — often much more fragile than women. The problem, I suspect, is men are the first and primary victims of the toxic machismo system of values.

I’m happy to see a lot of that changing. I know it makes conservatives go apeshit — after all they have defended every toxic system of values that has ever existed in the name of tradition.

Take a conservative writing in The Spectator (a British conservative journal) about how he hates meeting other men these days because it’s a social minefield and how he opposes the “man hug.” The entire idea a man would spend time writing about the awfulness of hugging just screams out for some Freud.

Another awful conservative, named Christie Blatchford, is a very bitter, angry woman who was outraged when she saw a group of boys meeting up and hugging one another. She said she was “mortified and appalled.”

Machismo poisons the well, it makes men insecure. I remember what I witnessed in the 60s among men. It wasn’t pretty. Fragile egos need self-defense mechanism and those are often violent and cruel. Men were terrified of being affectionate with male friends lest they be perceived as “one of them.”

The idea that men were the superior sex did awful things to women, but it also did awful things to men. It meant men did awful things to themselves and to each other.

I firmly believe that with the rise of gay liberation a major impetus for toxic masculinity — homophobia — started to die out. The main beneficiaries of that were straight men who found they didn’t need to embrace toxic values. As the fear of being perceived “gay” declined a major control mechanism, to enforce toxic masculinity disappeared. One result is that all aspects of toxic masculinity came under scrutiny.

One example of the change is an old, conservative, religious Family Court judge from the intellectual wasteland of Kentucky, Tim Philpot, who spoke out about the dire effects of gay marriage on society.

He claims he meets male friends and they hug when they met but “I don’t hug the way I used to.” He says that realization “hit me like a ton of bricks.” I suspected he was hit in the head with something, so it may as well be bricks.

Ever since gay marriage it’s not safe for men to hug anymore lest something think they might be “that way.” He spoke about a time he saw a man “probably 45 years old” who “had his arm around a young man who was about 20, and I would say there was a 90 percent chance it was just a father and son, but I had this moment when I thought — hmmm — I wonder what’s going on. They’re getting a little too close. They are making me uncomfortable.” Well, outside his “safe zone” this conservative wants men to do the “politically correct” thing, which is to not be too affectionate. After all real men can beat the shit out of one another, just not hug each other, we have to draw the line somewhere!

Christie Blatchford

This judges believes the presence of gay couples means straight men can’t hug anymore. Oddly, I remember reading a diatribe by a conservative female columnist in Toronto, Christie Blatchford. I should let her speak for herself, but to say the least, she has the totally opposite complaint.

“There were a couple of boys, maybe 10 years old, maybe 12, walking ahead of me. Coming towards them was another small knot of boys about the same age.

The two groups met, and immediately began hugging each other, one at a time. The trustees and ding-dongs at the Toronto District School Board would have been ecstatic; I was mortified and appalled.”

She wasn’t just mortified. She wasn’t just appalled. She was “mortified and appalled.” We are talking serious reaction to boys hugging their friends! Apparently Ms. Blatchford needs a trigger warning before any male hugging goes on near her. She brands boys who hug their friends “sissies.” Apparently she never left middle school.

Blatchford insists affection is a female trait, not a male one. Men need to toughen up. “I am wearying of men who are so frequently in touch with their feminine side they, not to mention me, have lost sight of the masculine one. I’m just plain sick of hugs, giving and getting, from just about anyone, but particularly man-to-man hugs.” And, I tell you; she can get a good view of all those disgusting man-to-man hugs when she’s out riding around on her broom.

She insists, unlike Judge Philpot, that gay “is entirely fine” but “fey is a pain in the arse.” Well, when it comes to arses (I can speak Canadian) she’s an expert, so we should listen to her carefully.

She says there are things boys should learn to do and hugging isn’t one of them. What’s okay, she says, is killing bugs, whacking bullies, kissing girls, farting on cue, shooting a puck, just not hugging.

Apparently Ms. Blatchford has been flying too high, where the air is a wee bit thin. I’m not sure what excuse Judge Philpot has.

The reality is men used to be rather affectionate with other men, without it being sexual. It was quite common for men to be physically close, to even share beds, and to write what many would assume are love letters to their male friends, and yet to have an entirely non-sexual relationship. Some of these relationships were gay, but many — perhaps most — were not. This has been a devil of a problem for historians trying to figure out the sexuality of some important men — leading to a great deal of debate. We’ll never know the truth about Adam Smith and David Hume.

But, when classical liberal Karl-Maria Kertbenny coined the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” into existence in the 1860s he started an unintended change in how things were perceived.

Back before there was the concept of homosexual, people could see two men holding hands, or sitting close to one another, without thinking “what do they do in bed?” Their illusion that all male affection was non-sexual was broken and with the rise of the concept “homosexual” came the concept “homophobia.” Male affection became suspect — at least for a while. In many cases fathers didn’t even want to be seen hugging their own sons and they would shake-hands in a “manly” fashion.

Kertbeny set into motion a second countervailing force. Gays also started seeing themselves as a group with shared characteristics and a “gay identity” was born. It wasn’t just straight men being naughty; it was a lot of people following their natural romantic inclinations. With that a gay community was formed and out of that a gay rights movement was formed.

With the rise of gay liberation social attitudes toward LGBT individuals started to change. As the word spread “gay is okay” more people started feeling comfortable with the idea that some men are gay, some are not, either way is fine.

The shibboleth about male-male affection started to decline. That is what leads to the rise of men hugging one another, or even holding hands. There are plenty of straight males who no longer feel horrified if they snuggle with a male friend. Prof. Eric Anderson, in his foreword to The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality (Mark McCormack, Oxford University Press, 2012) notes that research from 20 or 30 years before showed teen males as very prone to pick up homophobic views from adults. But, by the early 2000s that was no longer the case. Once they rejected the idea being gay was bad, they also no longer feared being perceived as gay.

That liberated straight males to return to the traditional male affection that was common before the rise of homophobia made anything beyond a brief hug terrifying to men. “Using vivid and memorable examples, he [McCormack] shows us how these boys act toward one another — tenderly stroking each other, hugging, and even grooming their male friends. This is an existence in which boys positively comment on each other’s bodies, clothing, and hair. Better that this, the heterosexual youth McCormack researches in this sophisticated book are emotionally supportive of one another. Encouragement is expected among peer groups, and bullying is unacceptable.”

Dare I suggest another result is male-on-male violence declined. Perhaps one reason crime statistics have been declining for the last few decades is another unintended consequence of the decline of homophobia. Males are not as prone of fearing to be “weak” and thus not on edge as much to prove their masculinity through bravado and violent, macho displays. Yes, one possible result of having male couples at the prom, or a gay boy as class president, is other boys don’t feel a need to beat the shit out of each other nearly as often. Philpot is wrong when he laments male affection is declining. He’s projecting his own internalized fear of being perceived as gay on others. He’s afraid of hugging precisely because he says he doesn’t want people to think he’s gay. I would note that a male comfortable in his own sexuality doesn’t have to fear that.

Blatchford is wrong to think male-on-male hugging and affection, which terrifies her so, is something new. But as vintage photos show, it is not. The emotional and psychological effects of affection are clearly shown. That males can be loving toward other males, without fearing it makes them gay, or even not fearing they are perceived to be gay, is not new. It’s just back to being acceptable. Along with this come benefits to the individual males, but to the wider society as well.



James Peron
The Radical Center

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.