I wrote an article warning about the absurdity of blaming women for men’s problems. At least one person who commented on that article took issue with my use of the term “toxic masculinity.”
Just like with “Black Lives Matter,” the phrase “toxic masculinity” has become politically charged and misinterpreted. For anyone who is confused, let me clarify something for you: just like Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean Only Black Lives Matter, toxic masculinity doesn’t mean all aspects of masculinity are toxic. The reason people are using such terms is to point out social problems that should be brought to light, discussed, and (hopefully) changed for the better.
But movements like MGTOW seem to depend on mindless groupthink. It looks as if their most strident proponents have been trained to see the words “toxic masculinity” as a sign of an “evil gynocentric society” trying to dominate men.
Come on, folks. Let’s use some nuanced thinking instead of marching blindly in lockstep with some gang mentality.
While yes, I’m sure there are women in the world that really do hate men, there is no “vast feminist conspiracy” with the sole purpose of ruining men’s lives.
I believe in men’s empowerment. Scapegoating anyone for our issues does not empower us. Uncovering socially enforced behavioral programming that isn’t healthy for men’s well-being is a step toward true male empowerment. Taking responsibility for our individual destinies through promoting positive male behavior is empowering.
Look, I’m also sure there are MGTOW, and men’s rights activists who aren’t hardcore believers in the “women are evil” rhetoric. Ultimately, I’m hoping to contribute to a rational, moderate, balanced approach to discussing male behavior patterns.
The Loner and the Over-Aggressive Competitor
With that preamble out of the way, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to dig deeper into what is meant by toxic masculinity. I hope this will help clarify the definition for those who tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to the term.
Let’s break toxic masculinity into two overarching sets of behaviors: the loner and the over-aggressive competitor. Yes, human behavior is complex, and we should avoid overgeneralization whenever possible. But for the sake of clear communication of meaning, let’s start with these two broad categories. In this article, let’s focus on the stereotype of males as loners.
The Lie of the Loner
In the U.S. in particular, there is a cultural myth of the “Rugged Individual.” This is the image of people, men in particular, who we are told have “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and became successful all by themselves.
Let’s be logical: no one does anything “by themselves” in human civilization. Yes, there are men and women who are strong and self-motivating, and take initiative of their own accord to struggle and strive for success. But they do not achieve success in a vacuum. No one does.
When we see successful people, we only see them in the moment. We don’t see the years of work, failures, and successes, and all the opportunities they were given to get to that moment in the spotlight. It’s tempting to fall into fallaciously thinking they somehow arrived at that level of success “instantly and effortlessly.”
Again, successful people are not successful in a vacuum. Everyone, somewhere along the line, has gotten help. Whether it’s in the form of mentors, bank loans, or serving as employees in companies that allowed them to move up the corporate ladder, successful people have gotten help from others.
Therefore, we need a clarification of the Rugged Individual archetype. The Rugged Individual is someone who takes personal responsibility for their initiative and success, and goes out into the world seeking opportunity. The Rugged Individual does not create their prosperity out of thin air, with no outside help.
Isolated Versus Independent
So, to reiterate, the crux of the nuance here is this: there is a difference between a self-isolating loner who believes they don’t need anyone else to succeed, and the strong, confident individual who is self-starting.
The misinterpretation of the Rugged Individual has done men a great disservice. All too often, men are told to “man up.” Meaning, “don’t ask for help, suck it up and don’t be weak, get out there and succeed.”
Telling someone to “man up” is an empty, vapid statement. It doesn’t say to a man HOW to succeed. Men need mentors, they need guides, just like any human being. We don’t come out of the womb with full knowledge of the world and how to overcome challenges. We must be taught to be self-reliant.
Unfortunately, many of us aren’t taught that message. Instead, many of us are fed a horror narrative about an actively unforgiving world, where we will be threatened with a fight around every corner, whether with fists or with bitter competition from every other male we encounter. Rather than a place of opportunity, we’re told the world is only there to beat us down.
I don’t believe we should sugarcoat reality and tell young men the world will be handed to them on a silver platter. But neither should we be taught that life is an unrelenting battle. We should be teaching men to see the world as a place of healthy competition, where one must seek opportunity with an open mind and an open hand, rather than the closed fist.
Men must be taught that success comes from interacting with the world and taking of advantage of opportunities. And by its very nature, opportunity comes from other people. Ignoring the need for other people is a bad habit, a poor opinion we’ve been taking for granted as being “fact.”
A man who believes he must be aloof and never show the “weakness” of asking for help is an unhealthy man. Therefore, we must avoid convincing ourselves that independent self-starters are somehow “magically” creating successful lives without any outside assistance.
Let me say it one more time: the Rugged Individual archetype is not meant to teach us to be loners. It is meant to teach us to be self-starters. It is meant to encourage us to go out into the world as strong individuals, confident and secure enough to cooperate with others in order to find opportunity.
We are not here to battle relentlessly. We are here to overcome adversity and, therefore, thrive. No longer should men be indoctrinated into the mindset that “life is war.” Instead, we need to teach our men that life is opportunity. Prepare men for challenge, not conflict. There is a HUGE difference.
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