Another school shooting has happened. This time in Florida. The loss of life is staggering. The wounded and the traumatized will be haunted by this for the rest of their lives. When a school shooting again shocks and horrifies us, we can be tempted to declare that masculinity is indeed toxic. Another angry man. Another mass shooting.
But if we are to truly address the challenges we face with American masculinity, we must first understand and assert this: masculinity is not toxic, our culture’s narrow, conformist, violent, bullying version of it is. The problem is not inherent to men, the problem is inherant to our culture. And our culture is formed and shaped by us.
I’m wary of the term toxic masculinity but I intentionally acknowledge the term to try and shift its meaning. I use it to describe a man box culture that is brutalizing men, that is toxic to men, even as it also harms women and children. I make the point very clearly, not only to call out our man box culture, but to ask those who risk condemning men wholesale, to reflect on the implications of the raging binary conjured by this term. What gets created when we do this? What kind of culture are we creating in that moment?
Our man box culture is toxic… to men.
THIS is how we make a compassionate case. Men are facing an epidemic of isolation forced on them by our culture of male emotional suppression. The AARP estimates 42 million Americans age 45+ are chronically lonely. The health impact of this level of social isolation is equal to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. It increases the likelihood of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, depression and a raft of other illnesses. Social isolation is literally killing men, and the women who love them, by the millions. This is the very definition of toxic.
But what about this? Good, decent, empowered men are working to change this, based on some singular simple truths. Men do not want to be angry. Men do not want to be alone. Men are not naturally inclined toward the toxic confines of the man box. If they were, it wouldn’t be killing them.
When we use generalizing language like toxic masculinity in response to violence, we risk condemning all men for the terrible acts that plague our society. It is a slippery slope that only serves to reinforce brutal shaming and judgement, encouraging our unworkable social binaries, while inviting the most damaged among us, men and women alike, to mirror our shaming violence back to us.
Change is coming. A healthier more compassionate masculinity is on the rise, but we don’t support that change when we knowingly or unknowingly use language that echos the wholesale condemnation of manhood. When male violence raises its ugly head, we need better stories and better frames than toxic masculinity.
What about these stories: So many amazing men and women at organizations like the Good Men Project are doing wonderful work to grow more vibrant and compassionate versions of manhood.
Groups like The Mankind Project are tearing down the walls of isolation that trap men in cycles of anger and reactivity. If you are a man who is struggling, reach out to these guys or other men’s groups. Men are waiting to help and to heal the damage done by our man box culture. Our personal work as men, lovers, fathers and sons is there, waiting to be done.
And all of us? When violence strikes, we can choose to tell these powerful stories. We can choose to talk about men in more diverse and generative ways. About the ways in which men are on the cutting edge of growth, change and connection. These can be the stories we tell when confronting horrific violence.
Understand this: the man box is toxic, not men.
We live the stories we tell and in doing so, we create our culture. So let’s think hard about the culture our stories create. Because our little sons and daughters will hear those stories and believe them.
Get a powerful collection of Mark Greene’s articles, in his book, REMAKING MANHOOD–Available now.
Remaking Manhood is a collection of Mark Greene’s most widely shared articles on American culture, relationships, family and parenting. It is a timely and balanced look at the issues at the heart of the modern masculinity movement. Mark’s articles on masculinity and manhood have received over 250,000 FB shares and 20 million page views. Get Remaking Manhood in print or as a ebook.
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