Average reading time: 7 minutes.
We have all heard the word “toxic masculinity”... Like many phrases, it has been used, and misused, as an insult to dismiss someone “you’re toxic”.
But actually, the concept of toxic masculinity can be FREEING for men to appropriate. I know it is counter intuitive, but hear me out.
First, the grammar geek in me wants to scream: if I speak of a White Bear, it means that some Bears are Not White, and that some White animals are not Bears. If “Toxic Masculinity” exists, it means that “Positive Masculinity” exists too. This is the power of Grammar!
This concept allows for separating “all” masculinity from toxic masculinity. We, individual men, do NOT have to feel judged as a whole when an action is labelled as both toxic and masculine.
Second, it means that it is not the person who is intrinsically toxic. It labels his behaviour, not him. And it labels that behaviour as the result of social conditioning. It means he can escape from that conditioning.
Third: “toxic” means that it is harmful, not only to others, but to oneself.
So, I want to help you use that concept:
- For thinking about men/women dynamics without fatalism
- For avoiding unnecessary conflicts
- For creating better relationships – especially with women who complain to you about men
- For freeing yourself and having better love relationships.
Why do they speak of “Toxic Masculinity”?
Though I was born male, when I was young, I had “feminine” features.
- Some men have assaulted me, verbally or physically, for being different. Many men, a majority actually, did NOT assault me. But those who assaulted me were ONLY men.
- Some men have initiated contact in the street, aggressively showing their sexual desire, without any regard for my own comfort (or for me as a person). Yet, many men, a majority, did NOT sexually harass me. But ONLY men, have approached me in a way that made me uncomfortable.
- Some men have even sexually assaulted me. Obviously, many men, most men, never tried to rape me, thank goodness! But some did, and those who did, or tried, or threatened me, were ONLY men.
It is NOT ALL MEN, but it is ONLY MEN.
So there are some “toxic” patterns, some problematic behaviours, that were taught or allowed to men (boys), and not to women (girls). It does not mean that all boys are taught / allowed those (or that no girl learned them), but that the fact that those men behave like this has something to do with their gender.
It is ONLY MEN, and OBVIOUSLY it is not all men!
I am a human. I don’t kill people with guns. But only humans kill people with guns. Acknowledging that fact does not make me guilty of their actions, nor does it make me a hater of all humans! But pacifism is about humans. And as a human, I may have learned, unwillingly, some of this belligerent tendency , and I may have opportunities to improve.
We should NOT feel insulted by the fact that women are fed up with “toxic masculine” behaviours. And we should not feel offended by the statement that those behaviours are gender specific (exceptions exist, because gender is social).
Separating the “Toxic” from the “Masculine”
Indeed, some people have a bad opinion of "all men" (I used to). Of course, it is a problem, just like any generalization. Some women are angry at “all men”, in a post-traumatic reaction of anger and generalization.
However, thinking that “toxic masculinity” is a slur is exactly the same: making a bundle, thinking that all men are the same, and should be judged as a unit. An enormous logic error.
If “Toxic Masculinity” exists, it means that “Positive Masculinity” exists.
There is such a thing as bad behaviour and good behaviour.
When you think of the men who assaulted me, either because of my differences, or because of their horniness, it is obvious that most men did not act the same! It should go without saying. And when I say it is only men, it is not accusing all men. If A is included in B, it does not mean B is included in A.
Some people want us to think that “toxic masculinity” is a slur. They want us to equate all men to toxic masculinity. If insulting one (or a sub-category of them) is insulting all of them, means that those flaws are in the ESSENCE of being a man.
Why? Because they want YOU AND ME to defend “all men” (and toxic behaviours). They want US to feel insulted when THEIR behaviour is criticized. They want US to defend THEM against OUR spouses, daughters, mothers, sisters.
Why would I do that?
When a woman complains, why should I not say “I’m not like that”?
Because, as stated above about “not all men”, IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING!
When someone is expressing anger, we want to not be the target of their anger. The reflex is “it’s not my fault”. Hence, the “I’m not like them”. That reflex is a terrible mistake, because it assumes the conversation is about us. It is about them.
When a woman entrusts you with her story, her emotions, her complaints, it means she TRUSTS you. Which obviously means that she thinks you are better than them.
Right now, she needs a friend. Someone she can confide in, someone she can rely on, someone who will support her. You have to be that man.
Expressing her emotions, relating the story of her aggression or her feeling of injustice, is a burden and a moment of vulnerability.
And if she says “you men”, it is usually because, when we are upset, we simplify (or it can mean that she saw you behave in a way that was influenced by “toxic masculinity”, in which case it is an invitation to grow up and become a better person, and probably, she trusts you to want to become better).
In any case, she trusts you with her feelings, even if right now those feelings are anger. What she needs is support, not philosophical debate, nor you defending your honour.
What is toxic masculinity? Why should we feel concerned?
There is such a thing as education. In our society, some ways of education allows people, according to what predisposes them to be "privileged", to behave poorly against others. There is something in the way men are raised, that makes SOME think they have the right to dispose of other people. There are some “privileged”, “entitled” behaviours that are specifically masculine – in the sense that it is only men, not in the sense that it is all men.
Talking of “toxic masculinity” is actually brilliant: it is not the man himself who is toxic, but the way he thinks he can and should behave – because of his idea of what a “man” should be. A way of thinking can be changed. It was learned, and it can be replaced by another way. There is forgiveness – it is a learned pattern. And there is hope – it can be changed.
Specifically, the most notorious “toxic masculinity” traits are:
- Associating sexual desire with aggression – that one is huge; and is terrifying for us benevolent lovers! If you feel that way sometimes, stay tuned, because my teachings are all about making “love” a part of “making love”.
- Using physical presence or dominance to intimidate others – which is plain obnoxious, but is often unconscious for those who have that physical power.
- Lack of empathy, especially with female-specific ordeals. The most notorious to me is dismissing the other’s complaints by emitting our own complaints (“we have issues too, so shut up”).
- Solidarity with aggressors (“masculine solidarity”)... bad news is: from a victim’s perspective the “I’m not like that” reflex feels the same!
- Refusing to question oneself and not believing that one can improve - fear of admitting one's shortcomings - this one can be the object of a whole article)
- Not being able to leave the “competitive state of mind”.
- Some forms of direct aggressiveness – especially, transforming any emotion into anger
- Some forms of passive aggressiveness – bottling up emotions, skulking, refusing to open up.
Why should we take responsibility?
First, because we need to be there as a support for the women we love. And that means being aware of the abuse they endure and how it makes them feel.
Second, because we want to DEMONSTRATE that “we are not like that”, that it is “not all men”.
So, when we see a man behaving in a way that makes our loved ones uncomfortable, we have to stand up and say something to the author of the toxic behaviour. Not necessarily shaming him as “a toxic person”, but as having DONE something that is not OK.
And that is hard, and courageous, and that demonstrates the point (when saying it to the victim does not).
Third, to free ourselves. We all have been raised in a society where those stereotypes exist, where toxic patterns exist and some are taught to boys. Those toxic patterns have influenced us, and some behaviours and ways of thinking are imprinted on us, without us noticing.
And, getting rid of those needs us to do two things:
- be very aware of the behaviours and patterns that we see being harmful to our loved ones,
- and being aware that WE, individually, may have been mimicking them without noticing.
And, then, we can change those behaviours and become better friends, lovers and relatives.
And, last but not least: those “toxic” patterns and “masculine” stereotypes hurt us ALL.
Yes, a man can feel entitled to abuse women, and that can look like privilege.
But, that very privilege prevents him from relating intimately with those women. It is destroying his ability to a loving, authentic relationship.
It removes his access to LOVE!
No privilege is worth that. That is too high a price.