We have finally begun to acknowledge the damage that rigid definitions of what it means to be a woman have done. While we continue to work on expanding the definition of what it is to be a woman it is important that we also recognize and work to shift restrictive perceptions of manhood.
Toxic masculinity isn’t just a wicked band name, Teaching Tolerance defines it as:
“a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”
I want to talk about toxic masculinity because we cannot ignore the prevalence of violent acts carried out by men. A fair point to make about the staggering statistics is that they are slightly skewed because when it comes to things like rape and domestic abuse men are shamed for coming forward when these crimes are committed against them. An example of toxic masculinity at work.
With this criticism in mind we can still acknowledge that when it comes to mass shootings in the U.S. 94 of 97 have been committed by men (and primarily white men).
I have already made clear in prior posts that I agree with sensible gun reform to combat school shootings, but I think it is important to consider why these incredibly violent crimes are almost exclusively carried out by men.
If you still aren’t clear on what toxic masculinity is or why it matters I have a few resources that have helped me realize there is a problem:
What Do We Mean When We Say “Toxic Masculinity”?: Luke Humphris made an incredibly accurate short comic explaining toxic masculinity. I’ve put the first panel here as a preview, but I highly recommend reading the whole comic. It won’t take more than 5 minutes of your time and will clear up any confusion you have on what toxic masculinity is.
Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity: I’ve linked to a short YouTube clip from the documentary, but if you can find a full version it is well worth your time. This documentary came out in 1998 and despite the 20 years that have passed the majority of the issues outlined here are still too relevant.
This topic is so important to me because I have always done my best to alter behavior when it was brought to my attention that it was hurtful or limiting. My participation in toxic masculinity is the most recent behavior I have been working on.
A few months ago my good friend Thom brought to my attention that as passionate as I am about equality, I make reductive judgments of my own. We were watching Doctor Who and there was an episode with James Corden guest starring. I made some comment about him being gay and was embarrassed to find out that not only was he not gay, he married the same woman he was dating in the episode. I felt bad. For all the time I have spent working to expand the rigid definition of what it is to be a woman, here I was limiting manhood to a narrow definition.
In the same way we are empowering women to embrace their diverse range of roles and emotions, we need to encourage our men to do the same. As most changes begin, it starts with you. Whenever you find yourself being surprised by someone’s behavior, think about why it is surprising. If it’s surprising because it doesn’t fit the image you have of what being a man/woman should be, check yourself. Don’t judge yourself (as I often do) because we are human. These traditional perceptions of manhood/womanhood are images that we have internalized as they are continually reinforced by the dominant society everywhere we look.
We don’t need to shame ourselves for automatic thoughts, but we can recognize them and stop believing them to make for a world of boundless expression full of people comfortable presenting as their authentic selves.