It is no secret that the foundation of the American social order is rooted in hyper-masculinity. Since 1492, the United States of America has been dominated, led, and guided by the ideals of a White male Christian patriarchal capitalist heterosexual ethos. Men were viewed as superior to women, homosexuality was unacceptable, and personal wealth signaled personal worth. All individuals who found themselves residing within the borders of this nation, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, have been forced in some form or fashion to adjust his/her life to the confines of the American masculine identity.
Such misguided ideals on the male role in society have produced our present reality. In 45 tries, this nation has yet to select a president who is not clearly male, heterosexual, Christian, and able-bodied. Our nation’s colleges and universities, unquestionably the best in the world in terms of academic rigor and research, still cannot get a handle on sexual assault on its campuses. Lack of money too often means lack of attention, resources, and help for poor people. Non-Christian faiths are seen as weird at best, and murderous at worst. People with disabilities are consistently overlooked, and we literally need a narrow Supreme Court decision to allow people to marry who they want to marry.
There’s no need to even mention the current inhabitant in the White House and his recent executive orders, which all reek of toxic masculinity.
Yet, despite the current conditions, there is hope that we can change course and build a better society that is progressive and principled rather than xenophobic and disagreeable. While there is not one single solution to bringing such a world to form, a great place to begin is in the terrain that got us here: a reconstruction of masculinity.
Toxic masculinity breeds patriarchy and paternalism, a practice of men exerting power and dominion over others in ways that are seen as condescending, patronizing, and domineering. Bodies seen as not traditionally male or masculine (women, gay or bisexual men, transgendered individuals, queer folk, effeminate men) are the target of these regressive ills.
While it may seem harmful masculinity is just one piece of the oppressive pie, we only need to look closer to see that there is more here. For instance, as long as there is a destructive standard of masculinity where men are valued more than women, sexism will always be present and gender equality unrealized. In addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer individuals will always be marginalized, maintaining homophobia in our society.
Considering that wealth and power are cornerstones of traditional American masculinity, and that White men are the top earners and leaders in business, politics, religion, and media, if traditional conceptions of masculinity stay put racism and classism will always exist and overlap. White women and people of color will always have a more difficult road to positions of power and influence, and those that do attain will occupy a space and setting that does not align with their cultural background.
If toxic masculinity normalizes Christianity as the preferable faith for the American social order, those outside of that standard will be subjected to xenophobic sensibilities from all angles of society. Negative masculinity can—and has—corroded the fabric of civilization.
How do we reconstruct the standard of masculinity in America? It begins with us, men, modeling different behaviors in our families and communities. Boys will imitate what the men in their lives do. If dad is inequitable with the division of labor within the house or family matters, son will grow up with a similar disposition and outlook on women. Uncle who makes disparaging remarks about gay or feminine men will produce a nephew who is intolerant of sexual/gender differences. The neighbor who communicates to male children in the neighborhood that the size of house, style of car, and amount of money in your pocket is what truly defines a man will influence young boys to question the masculinity of poor men or those who not have mates who fit a certain standard of beauty. We must change our behavior to fit the just society we seek.
Secondly, we must have genuine, informed conversations with people who are different than us. A large part of the reason why toxic masculinity, and other delusional ideals, has been perpetuated so long is because most individuals only talk and listen to people who look like them. Social media has only exacerbated this practice. Heterosexual and homosexual men should have honest conversations about society and values. Incarcerated men and women should have truthful, levelheaded conversations with people in law enforcement and politics. Poor people should speak candidly with wealthy business owners. These types of conversations are bound to be uncomfortable, but they are necessary. If we can control our emotions, open our minds, and objectively reason with those who have different backgrounds, ideologies, and perspectives than us, we can literally change the world.
Lastly, call out those, particularly men, who vilify, berate, and denigrate people because they are different. Silence is complicity. Interject when men make sexist comments about women. Question individuals who denounce a particular religion or culture they know hardly anything about. Challenge scholars and researchers who can dissect the trends and status of a particular race of people but have no conception or information on the challenges faced by disabled populations. Make it known you will not tolerate indifference to those who are dissimilar. Granted, everyone will not take well to your challenging them, but building a better world has never been easy.
A better society awaits us, but it is up to us to decide if we are ready. Build a healthier conception of manhood and you will not only change yourself and those in your immediate circle, but you will sow the seeds that lead to positive change in the world.