Today, I saw a picture of the paunchy, septuagenarian President of the United States that he had shared on this social media feed. But it wasn’t an actual picture of him; it was a photoshopped pastiche of an idealized version of his own head and face attached to six-pack-bearing bare-chested body of Sylvester Stallone as ‘Rocky Balboa,’ a sort of grotesque cartoon mashup of Trump as a macho tough guy:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2019
Oy. It’s been that kind of a week.
Just yesterday, I watched a video clip of a more-than-middle-aged, bespectacled, white male host of The Daily Wire calling Mr. Rogers a “metrosexual wimp” and flexing for his viewers by throwing out a red meat one-liner that called for John Wayne to bring his guns “if you really want to have a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” As the kids say, “He seems nice.” Quite the tough guy.
Daily Wire host criticizes Mr. Rogers for corrupting boys with his “metrosexual wimpiness,” adding “if you really want to have a beautiful day in the neighborhood, call John Wayne and tell him to bring his guns” pic.twitter.com/cEhDqY7e9V
— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) November 25, 2019
Now, if we are evaluating men on the scale of traditional macho masculinity, Mr. Daily Wire is about as much of a man as Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ hack–entertainment-“journalist,” who effortlessly bundles sneering white supremacy and patriarchal toxicity in an unassuming bow-tied package. Earlier this year, we wrote about Tucker Carlson calling out CNN’s Chris Hayes as “the kind of man that every man would be if the feminists ever achieved absolute power.”
As I wrote then, the battle to define masculinity continues to be front and center in our lives and in our politics. And those who seek to define masculinity as a some narrowly defined box that glorifies guns and bullying and lone wolves, continue to have at it.
The abusers and the bullies keep pushing this perverted version of masculinity as some sort of strength, and criticizing their opponents for choosing a better value system, a value system in which the bad guys lose.
To put it plainly, this tough guy masculinity is bullshit. You don’t have to be John Wayne to be a strong man. Being authentic is being a man. Being real is being strong. As I wrote in that prior Tucker Carlson piece:
“A modern man can love sports, but also appreciate art and beauty. He can be gay or straight. He can be self-aware and navigate a world of feelings, and he can also be competitive. Or not. He can be physically strong or weak. He can be attractive because of his six-pack or because of his sense of humor or way with words, or all of the above. He’s not afraid to feel, or cry, or be sensitive. The hallmark of modern masculinity is its diversity.”
Oh look, its Mr. Rogers!
As I’ve written previously, “There is no one set of rules for what defines what is masculine or manly. Rather, masculinity is and has throughout history been a varied and wondrous thing.”
Now let’s get back to John Wayne and Rocky Balboa. Are they the ultimate and sole definition of manliness? Really?
As comedian and social commentator, Patton Oswalt, astutely pointed out “John Wayne wore makeup and costumes and pretended to be a cowboy & an army man.” The Mythology of The Real Man is just that: a myth. And an unattainable one at that. Come on! These are movies, fictions. In the real world, men are whole people, not mere caricatures of toughness.
And what are these gods we are praying to here on the altar of toxic masculinity?
- Guns are killing people. Frankly, if anyone in 2019 is telling me that more guns are the answer, I not only question your masculinity but I question your humanity.
- The Marlboro Man got lung disease and is suffering from epidemic loneliness.
- Football players get head injuries and CTE.
- Men are less happy and more depressed. And mental health is stigmatized by a culture that calls it a weakness. Again, I question your humanity, if you believe that struggling with mental health issues from time to time makes you weak. We all do. It’s part of what makes us human. (That is what makes the #NotWeakJustHuman hashtag we have been using to address mental health issues for years so apt).
- Men are dying younger.
Are masculinity and humanity really supposed to be incompatible? As human beings, we are social, emotional, connection-craving organisms. How can it be that so much of that is beaten out of us in the name of manning up?
Empathy isn’t feminine. Its human.
Connection isn’t sissy. It’s human.
Being kind and loving isn’t gay. It’s human.
Commentator Mark Greene, has been writing and speaking about “The Man Box” for a long time. His reaction to the Daily Wire video above was spot on: “Here’s your man box culture. This person says he will decide what masculinity is for all of us. He will then bully and abuse all, seek to force even little boys conform. His man box masculinity is isolation, depression, and death for men and murderous violence against women.”
Here’s your man box culture. This person says he will decide what masculinity is for all of us. He will then bully and abuse all, seek to force even little boys conform. His man box masculinity is isolation, depression, and death for men and murderous violence against women. https://t.co/ef1gT3YdPD
— Remaking Manhood (@RemakingManhood) November 26, 2019
As author, teacher, and student of masculinity, Jared Yates Sexton, has explained, we are culturally steeped in this narrow and limiting view of masculinity; it is like the water we swim in:
“Our pop culture and mass media soak us in it and it’s all around us. Narratives about toughness and what it means to be a “real man.” Tales of sexual conquests and aggression. “Ah, boys. Boys will be boys, you know:”
His book, the must-read The Man They Wanted Me To Be, examines the toll of toxic masculinity, how it kills men and women alike and holds our culture back. It looks at how men are trained by systematic abuse to suppress their emotions in order to conform with unreasonable expectations, a system of abuse that leads to lives of frustration and range, misogyny, racism and homophobia that spill out into the world and harm others.
This is what Sexton had to say about Trump’s photoshopped version of himself:
Donald Trump is the epitome of toxic masculinity. All this posturing, all this bullying, all the authoritarianism and embracing of dictators and war criminals is an attempt to hide a really deep and really pathetic insecurity.
It’s just…so unbelievably sad. pic.twitter.com/M3ITJwCJwc
— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) November 27, 2019
“These are really sad, insecure men. The posturing is compensation, the politics of cruelty a mask….Fascism is born out of this masculine insecurity. There’s a reason these men surround themselves with war and weapons and militarized society. They need it because they themselves are weak and petrified of being exposed as weak. It’s external validation and armor.”
It is hard to conceive of a more important issue, one that impacts so many men and women. We cannot seem to get away from these old harmful tropes. We are being held back by those who cling to them. People like this Daily Wire host. People like Tucker Carlson. People like President Trump and his supporters.
As we have written previously, its “time to take back “masculinity” so that we can ensure it reflects the diversity and complexity of men, rather than some grotesque simplification that only serves to alienate and harm the vast majority of men.”
Simply put, evolving to a broader and more inclusive version of masculinity is what we need, if we are all to survive and thrive.
The consequences of not evolving to a better masculinity are incalculable – continued epidemic levels of of loneliness, violence, bullying, depression, suicide, and abuse. As author Bell Hooks explained, “disconnection is not fallout from traditional [Man Box] masculinity. Disconnection is [traditional Man Box] masculinity.” Our humanity demands connection.
A lot more Mr. Rogers is actually just what we need. He is, in fact, “the man.” Mr. Rogers once said:
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
It’s time for us all to embrace a vision of masculinity that is consistent with our humanity.
Photo Credit: Twitter/@realdonaldtrump