Continued From <—–
XY chromosomes determine a man’s sex but masculinity is not natural-born and differs by time and place. We all know that manly men once wore skirts (kilts) in ancient Scotland. Not so much nowadays. Social scientists Deborah David and Robert Brannon coined some colorful terms to describe how we “do masculinity” in modern America. Some are more toxic than others and some men are prone than others. (Each of us emerges from a unique mix of culture, our social interactions, and the personalities we are born with, and so we find cultural patterns and individual variations.)
“Give ‘em hell” arises from pressure to prove toughness by threatening the lives and wellbeing of others and oneself, be it by drinking dangerously, driving dangerously, brawls or sexual abuse. Meanwhile, warnings of “no sissy stuff” separates men from half of their humanity, leaving many out of touch with their emotions, except anger.
By contrast, the supportive “sturdy oak” is always there to help. Commendable, unless he’s unable to seek help, himself. Men are also under greater pressure than women to be a “big wheel,” gaining status through power, money and sex. That’s not necessarily toxic, unless the route to the top comes via using and abusing others. Men who fail to meet expectations may get depressed and refuse to seek help (they’re supposed to be the sturdy oak, after all). Some of these men contort their so-called “weak” feelings into “strong” anger and end up “giving ‘em hell” by harassing or raping or throwing insults or punches in desperate attempts to bridge the gap between the small men they fear they are and the strong, dominant, “superior-to-you” beings they feel they should be.
A couple of the guys I spoke with insisted that there must also be “toxic femininity” since women harm men, too. It’s true that both women and men harm others. But the hurt is not grounded in being raised as girls. Women are not pressured to cut off the masculine half of their humanity or to give ‘em hell. The female gender role is more likely to leave girls harming themselves. Taught that they are the more dependent “second sex” woman’s self-confidence and autonomy may falter, leaving them less confident, more reliant on others, more quick to give up, and more likely to stay with an abusive partner. Beauty ideals also encourage eating disorders. Mostly, girls and women hurt themselves, though their children can be harmed too, as a result of all this. Over-dependence can also be a burden to those who are overly depended upon. But feminists do advocate leaving “toxic femininity” behind, if you care to call it that.
Returning to toxic masculinity, one man wondered, “What IS good masculinity? I think the reason why some are quick to complain about your distinction is that nobody knows what masculinity is anymore.”
“Masculine” is what a society says it is, so understandings vary from place to place. All of us have both masculine and feminine sides to ourselves, with the healthiest people easily accessing both. Given modern American understandings, here are some of the positive qualities that I admire: strong, supportive, assertive, a leader, adventurous, and courageous.
But to end the hurt we must be able to distinguish between masculinity and toxic masculinity.
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