The Box Inside the Box

The thing these days is to speak of “the man box” and “toxic masculinity” in one breath, as if the two are the same thing and if we only found a way to detoxify manhood, we’d be all done with the man box.

But the idea that men shouldn’t wear skirts isn’t limited to toxicity. Non-toxic men still wear trousers and look askance at a man in a dress.

It might be tempting to say that toxicity is a scale, but I don’t think that’s it. I think there are nested boxes of manhood. There are toxic rules, like “boys don’t cry” and “might makes right,” but there are non-toxic rules as well, dictating how men act and what men wear to distinguish men from women.

For me, the danger was in not realizing that, and trying so hard to fit into the outer box, the relatively benign one where men like sports and beer and manspreading and attractive women, that I wound up contorting myself up into the inner box, the malign one where men use violence as a tool for self-gratification and sexuality as a tool for oppression.

Any sentence that starts with “Real men…” is talking about a man box. Some of the boxes are less toxic than others, but they’re still boxes.

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