Toxic Masculinity – “It’s ‘not a good time to be a man”
2016 may well be remembered for the term “Toxic Masculinity”. With US President elect Donald Trump coming to power, many believe he brought with him a kind of masculinity that we all thought the world had moved on from. His misogynous comments about woman which he called “locker room” talk once again raised the ugly side of masculinity by a man with little understanding of the damage he was causing.
This great article today By Hayley Gleeson from the ABC reminds of why we need to be even more conscious about how we now raise our young boys and the kind of language we use when around them…..
Toxic masculinity: Will the ‘war on men’ only backfire?
When news broke of singer-songwriter George Michael’s death on Christmas Day, social media was flooded with tributes to a man whose chart-topping music helped define the 1980s.
But the English pop star was also remembered for the way he “dared to do manhood differently”, and the license he gave others to express their gender identity on their own terms.
Michael’s death — just months after the passing of gender-bending artists David Bowie and Prince — was particularly poignant, some pointed out, because 2016 had been a year in which so-called “toxic masculinity reigned“.
The term ‘toxic masculinity’ has crept into the lexicon in the past 12 months, having appeared in mainstream news articles, popular feminist blogs and, as of November, the crowd-sourced online repository of slang words, Urban Dictionary.
Generally used to denote how some aspects of masculinity — such as entitlement, homophobia and sexual aggressiveness — can harm women and families and cripple men’s own health, toxic masculinity, at its most extreme edges, has been linked with acts of violence like mass shootings and university campus sexual assault.
(For this reason, some US colleges have recently introduced ‘toxic masculinity’ courses, in which male students can reflect on topics like rape culture, machismo and pornography.)
It has also been used to describe the behaviour of US President Donald Trump.
‘Boys will be
In the lead-up to the election, numerous media outlets around the world published articles suggesting Mr Trump’s ‘toxic masculinity’ — as exemplified by his “male privilege and excess” and his disdain for women — was symptomatic of a broader sickness afflicting American men.
For example, when Mr Trump dismissed as “locker room talk” his remarks about grabbing women’s genitals, the creator of TV series Transparent Jill Soloway lamented how “toxic masculinity” was perpetuating “man club” culture, allowing men to degrade and disrespect women.
“When people say, Boys will be boys and this is just the way it is,” Soloway wrote at TIME magazine, “I know that’s not true. This. Can. Change.”
Writing in the New York Times, Jared Yates Sexton of Georgia Southern University claimed Mr Trump’s toxic masculinity — “his macho-isms, his penchant for dividing the world into winners and losers, his lack of empathy for anyone but himself” — was preventing “especially the white men who make up a majority of Mr Trump’s base” from expressing their emotions.
As a result, Sexton argued, men were dying needlessly from lifestyle diseases and suicide.
And at the recent Women’s March on Washington, a rally for which hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered to express their concern that women’s and other minority groups’ rights will be eroded under President Trump, many carried placards emblazoned with references to ‘toxic masculinity‘.
“I came here to march against a toxic masculinity and years of misogyny,” Washington DC resident Andrew told TIME of his motivation for marching.
“After all, I got six sisters. I had to do this.”
But while some experts say the term’s ubiquity represents progress in gender relations because it acknowledges how gender norms and inequality can impact men too, others argue it’s an antagonistic expression that vilifies and disempowers men.
How, they ask, could attacking masculinity possibly foster better relations between the sexes?
Surely crying ‘toxic masculinity’ will only alienate men and undermine feminism’s aim of recruiting mass support?
Teaching about toxic masculinity ‘turns men into women’
Dr Michael Flood, an associate professor in sociology at the University of Wollongong who researches gender, sexuality and violence, suggests the term ‘toxic masculinity’ has two main uses in modern discussions about men’s changing gender roles.
“The first is emphasising how masculinity is patriarchal — based on entitlement, based on power, based on dominance — and fuels some men’s violence and mistreatment of women or indeed other men,” said Dr Flood.
“Overlapping with that is another use of the term to [highlight] the ways masculinity constrains men’s own lives, health, relationships and so on.”
Indeed, a recent study published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology found men who adhere to traditional masculine norms — for example, self-reliance, power over women, and sexual promiscuity (“Playboy behaviour”) — tended to have poorer mental health and were less likely to seek help than men who conformed less to those norms.
“It’s not new to have discussions in popular culture of what it means to be a man,” said Dr Flood.
“But this phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ is new, and its explicit critique of traditional masculinity is new as well.”
But as much as the conversation about ‘toxic masculinity’ appears to be uniting people, it is also dividing; the term is typically met with fierce backlash, often on social media, from those who find it offensive.
Many people argued it was an “insulting” term that “infers that being masculine is a bad thing”.
“This war on masculinity will only backfire,” wrote one commenter. “Men built the roads, cars, buildings, elevators, stairs. We might go on strike. Build your own stuff.”
And, in response to the news that some US colleges will run courses to help students understand and “unlearn” toxic masculinity, Fox News journalist Todd Starnes claimed universities were “trying to convince men to grow lady parts”.
“Instead of a country full of manly men, our universities want a nation full of Pajama Boys,” Starnes wrote.
For John Macdonald, director of the Men’s Health Information and Resource Centre at Western Sydney University, the backlash is a matter of semantics.
“Why use that inflated language?” Professor Macdonald said.
“To say ‘toxic masculinity’ — it does imply … that all men are toxic.
“Clearly there is such a thing as toxicity in some of the ways that men are socialised, but to suggest that all masculinity is toxic and that all men are violent is completely wrong.”
Part of the problem, Professor Macdonald suggests, is that masculinity “has received such a bashing” in both academia and the media in recent years.
For example, the emphasis on curbing domestic violence in the community is important and “understandable”, he said, but when men as a whole are blamed for some men’s bad behaviour, it makes it “very hard to talk about non-toxic masculinity” and the positive sides of being a man.
Catharine Lumby, a professor of media at Macquarie University who researches gender and media, said she doesn’t use the term ‘toxic masculinity’ because it is “inflammatory”.
“It’s a term that describes a certain way of being male … it doesn’t describe all men,” she said.
Still, she thinks the backlash against it is symptomatic of a broader anxiety among white men, many of whom are currently grappling with challenges such as unemployment and the loss of identity that can trigger — issues Mr Trump has promised he will address as President.
“We are living in a world which is globalised and multicultural and diverse and [many white working class men in the US] are really struggling with a loss of power” and a sense that “they don’t own the world anymore”, Professor Lumby said.
“The light is going out for people of Trump’s generation”, she added, who have grown up expecting or assuming particular privileges, such as job security or “a life where a woman stays at home and raises their children”.
It’s ‘not a good time to be a man’
Indeed, research suggests many Trump voters are concerned about what they perceive as a ‘weakening’ of America.
A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic, for example, found 64 per cent of self-identified white evangelical Christians — who are more likely to be part of the working class and make less than $50,000 a year — completely or mostly agreed that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine”.
And a new poll about gender equality in postelection America found that Republican men in particular feel that women have it better than they do — that it’s currently a worse time to be a man in society.
Most respondents to the survey, conducted by the non-partisan research firm PerryUndem, agreed it was a better time to be a man than a woman in the United States.
But only half of Republican men agreed it was a good time to be a woman, and only 41 per cent thought it was a good time to be a man.
Mr Trump’s rhetoric about women may have appealed to these men. At his victory rally in Cincinnati last year, Mr Trump said of women, “I hate to tell you men, generally speaking, they’re better than you are.”
“For some men who feel that they lack power, the classic thing is to find someone lower down the chain to kick,” Professor Lumby said.
“Gender is still a really powerful norm in our society. Along with race, it is a really structuring idea, and so the easiest thing is to turn around and say, ‘this is women’s fault’.”
Men don’t hear the ‘message of hope’ in toxic masculinity
Dr Flood is cautious not to exaggerate the extent to which the critique of toxic masculinity has traction because “a whole lot of people in the US” — including many women — “just voted for a man who was on the record speaking [about] behaving in sexually harassing and assaulting ways.”
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
He is also not surprised by the lashing out against it — it’s a predictable response, he said, to “any kind of critique of traditional masculinity or men’s mistreatment of women”.
But he also views it as an opportunity.
“I think some men push back [against the idea of toxic masculinity] because they don’t hear the message of hope and support that is in that critique … that men themselves will benefit from abandoning toxic masculinity.
“And so I think there is a whole lot more that could be done productively with the language of toxic masculinity and the insights it suggests,” he said.
“There have been bits and pieces of this kind of work going on” — for example, the Male Champions of Change program implemented by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.
“But it’s not at scale and there is nowhere near enough of a widespread community conversation around how we socialise boys and men.”