First off, I wish to state right away I’m no poster boy for toxic masculinity! You know, in case this blog’s title gives you that impression.
I may on occasions have put myself out there when it comes to representations dealing with stay-home parenting or caregiving a special needs child, but that’s about as far as I see myself in terms of advocacy.
At least for now.
And just because I was roped into a video news feature and a mini-Instagram campaign these past few days to highlight a social ill they call toxic masculinity (and to redefine masculinity), that doesn’t mean I’m now on some gender identity warpath to overturn age-old conventions.
At least for now.
Besides, many a times these topics are much too big for any one person or organisation to dissect or expound upon. Not without running the risk of missing out some aspects of it and coming up short. So no, I wouldn’t typically touch such stuff with a ten-foot pole.
At least for now.
And yet the question has been hanging like some military poncho over my head this week.
So I’m forced to confront it.
According to a New York Times article in 2019, researchers have defined toxic masculinity as a set of behaviours and beliefs that include suppressing emotions or masking distress, maintaining a hard facade and using violence to indicate power (ie the tough guy archetype).
In other words, toxic masculinity is what happens when boys are taught not to express emotions openly. Instead they best stay tough at all times. Anything else makes them “feminine” or weak.
Just to be clear, it doesn’t mean men are inherently toxic (whew!). Rather, it’s more a case of ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’ (double whew!!).
But it does mean, according to that news feature I was in that, if left unchecked, toxic masculinity can manifest like an unwelcome, gangrenous sore!
So it can be as harmless as believing men should just stay unemotional, to obvious non-violent behaviour such as making sexist remarks and engaging in “locker room talk”. Taken to the extreme, it could lead to violent and criminal acts such as voyeurism, physical abuse and sexual assault.
In short, toxic masculinity equates to dominance visibly asserted over those in societies deemed weaker. Which obviously can be anyone — infants, children, teens, women, or the elderly. And even other men.
Talk about toxic!
So what can we do to “detox” toxic masculinity? Call it out?
Firstly, I guess it’s important to call it out. Every time we see it.
But that’s easier said than done.
Take boy school corridors during lesson breaks. Or buddy banters that are the stuff of gym and locker room conversations from east coast to west. Or construction sites and any male-dominated habitats. Oh and let’s not forget prisons with, rightfully or not, their cells upon cells of over-subscribed male testosterone.
The kind of stuff you often hear in these places can turn even the nastiest leather-jacket Harley Davidson groupie’s ears a flaming pink! And which my family-friendly blog clearly won’t repeat here, though even years after I left the military, some of the things I hear…? Well, let’s just say that some things in life you can never “un-hear!”
So how do you tell a guy that just cracked an off-coloured or sexist joke to a locker room of boisterous laughter to take it down a notch. C’mon, the guy’s got the floor and is on a regular roll. Stopping him in those tracks? Forget it.
Yet, to not call it out is to be complicit to the toxicity, and a part of the so-called silent majority, no? It’s saying in effect that as far as I’m concerned, words or actions that demean another don’t matter when it’s done “in good fun”. “Bro, it’s just for fun man, so chillax already won’t ya?”
Talk about a classic Catch-22!
What else can we do? Campaign against toxic masculinity?
Back to that whole point I made at the beginning about being the poster boy and to advocate.
In some ways, maybe I’m starting to do that. With those features I recently made, and even in some of my own past blog posts where I circle around the issue of manhood and masculinity.
I don’t know.
But this I do know.
In many ways, just like how it takes a woman to really understand a woman, maybe it’s the same with us guys. The best messenger to ‘campaign’ for the end of toxic masculinity is well, another man.
For I know many a guy who baulk at being labelled a toxic masculine, believing it a construct of those ultra-feminists intent on going to battle with men everywhere. It’s clearly a ridiculous notion, but prevalent enough at least for now.
Meaning that ladies, I’m sorry, but it’s gonna have to take a man to talk about this to another man. And be heard. That’s what I believe to be the case if we’re to get any headway in this process to detox toxic masculinity.
At least for now.
The question is, am I putting a proverbial hand up now? Or throwing my hat into the ring? (Pick your metaphor)
Again I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is such a “ring” right now for me to throw anything in!
So for now, I guess I’ll just have to ponder this whole masculine identity issue in my next blog post in this brand new mini-series!
Now why do I suddenly feel a roller-coaster ride awaiting me in the days ahead?!