Alexander Yarde recently wrote, “Toxic masculinity is not women’s fault.” It was even bolded, lest people miss it, and it followed Yarde placing the heavy lifting of repairing the problem on “cis straight men.”
A few months ago, I wrote about toxic masculinity, myself. And, while the title specifically focused on supporting a role for men that is not toxic, the comments focused predominantly on this idea (not supported by my article) that men are collectively responsible for toxic masculinity, and that men are simultaneously collectively responsible for oppressing women.
That’s not fair, complained many of the comments. Yarde’s article was a follow-up to an earlier piece, where male commenters likewise bemoaned how awful some women can be, too.
I agree: Blaming men collectively for toxic masculinity isn’t fair. It isn’t true, either. I believe this stems from a basic misunderstanding of what “toxic masculinity” is. Let’s look at the opposite: “Toxic femininity.”
Toxic femininity exists as well. When I searched on the phrase, the second hit is from the Geek Feminism Wiki, which starts, “Toxic femininity is one of the ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to women. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the feminine gender role as submissive, over-emotional, sexually complicit or manipulative, and so forth.
Note the capitalized word: Patriarchy. The Patriarchy is not a collective of all men. Not all the maintainers of the Patriarchy are men, for that matter. The core of the Patriarchy is largely maintained by those people in power, which these days we call the 1%, who are committed to the notion that men are naturally superior to women.
Even this is a grossly simplistic view; I could fill pages upon pages explaining exactly how the Patriarchy works and still only scratch the surface of the concept.
But here’s what the Patriarchy isn’t: A collusion of all but the most progressive of men to create toxic, abusive mindsets for themselves. We men do not collectively and universally create toxic attitudes for ourselves; most of us are victims of those attitudes.
Here’s part of what the Geek Feminism Wiki has to say about toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is one of the ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to men. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.
Those commenters (mostly men) who insist that feminists want to blame our toxic culture on all men would do well to read that carefully. Here are some feminists making a clear distinction: The Patriarchy is what’s creating the harm, and that harm extends to men as well as to women and others.
As I said in the comments below my earlier article, “Toxic masculinity is used to describe how male behavior and expectations are dictated by a patriarchal system where men are obliged to be belligerent, stoic, and so on.”
To say that all men are part of the decision-making, power-wielding part of the Patriarchy is incredibly far overreach. Congratulation, mister, if you’re reading this, you’re almost definitely not part of that Illuminati-like boogeyman.
Now that I’ve assuaged your male fragility, let’s move on.
Whether we created the cancer or not, I agree with Yarde that the greatest part of the burden of addressing it is on us.
Is that fair? If we didn’t create it, why do we have to fix it?
No, it’s not fair. Life isn’t fair. Suck it up, buttercup.
We could dwell on the philosophical issue of whether only males drive the Patriarchy. Meanwhile, women are getting catcalled.
We could point to Cosmopolitan and Vogue and show how such magazines drive a toxic femininity, paid for and written about by women. Meanwhile, women are getting losing jobs or missing out on raises.
We could argue semantics, pull out our anecdotes like about the time a boy I knew got suspended from school for hitting a girl back (when she didn’t get suspended for hitting him). Meanwhile, women are getting raped.
We could, in short, focus on how it’s oh so tough to be a man, sitting from our seats of male privilege that we did not earn and that we did not ask for… while missing the point that our ability to sit in that place of privilege while complaining about how tough it is to be a man is a part of that toxicity.
If you’re male and you want to break free of toxic ideas such as, “Men should hide their feelings in order to defeat threats” and “Women exist solely as objects to entertain men,” good for you. Do it.
Spend your energy focused on catching yourself staring at a female work colleague’s breasts. Accept that you’ve been culturally programmed to casually do that, acknowledge that you want to stop doing it, and do better next time. Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t get defensive: Improve it, move on.
Spend your energy focused on catching yourself laughing about some ineffective male lacking “balls” or being a “pussy.” Accept that you’ve been culturally programmed to casually do that, acknowledge that you want to stop doing it, and do better next time.
Spend your energy coming up with a productive way to tell your friend that you’re appalled, not amused when he laughs about the time he got his girlfriend drunk so he could have sex with her.
Spend your energy deciding what to say when you see a male pinning a female against a wall in order to “put her in her place.” Or when your female co-workers question how the Vice President can treat his female subordinates fairly when he won’t even have lunch alone with them. Or how a local bookstore could have a Bill O’Reilly book on display under “Books for Mother’s Day,” this year of all years. Or . . . Stop spending so much of your energy defending your actions and start acting.
If the primary reason you have for doing the right thing for your own mental health and the improvement of society is so that women will pat you on the back and remind you that, no, Not All Men, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
If you want to demonstrate that toxic masculinity is not something that all men do to all men (which it is not), then prove it. Through real, timely, appropriate actions.
Toxic masculinity, says Yarde, is not women’s fault. I say: Neither is it men’s fault, collectively. But it is the fault of each of us individually if the only way we address it is by complaining about how much it hurts our feelings.
Originally published on The Good Men Project.