“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
― C. S. Lewis
This ain’t no place for no hero
This ain’t no place for no better man…
— Short Change Hero, The Heavy
I remember the moment well. I was walking across the great meadow at the center of the University of California, Santa Cruz, campus, one of the beautiful natural features of the university that was a primary reason I was there, when a student handed me a flyer from a sheaf he as carrying. The flyer explained that “traditional male values” were responsible for rape and therefore men needed to be “fixed.”
I was, to say the least, taken aback by this assertion. It seemed insane. The “traditional male values” I was raised on and surrounded myself with held that a man who would force himself on a woman was no kind of man at all. “Consent” wasn’t a thing; the standard, though it never seemed to need to be defined, was enthusiastic participation.
Weird — but then Santa Cruz was notoriously weird. I didn’t know it then, but I had just had my first exposure to the concept of “Toxic Masculinity.”
About a year later, I was at a Halloween party in Berkeley, where my then-girlfriend went to school. A young feller dressed up like a bumblebee (I know) took a swipe at the brim of my hat. And giggled. I told him not to do that. He did it again. I told him if he did that once more, I’d punch him in the face. He did and I did (no harder than necessary). He staggered back, wiping blood off his eye and wailed, “You hit me!”
“I told you I’d hit you, you fucking dipshit,” was my reply.
A crowd of young women gathered and berated me for being such a macho asshole. Somebody muttered something about John Wayne. I left.
I didn’t know it then, but my response to someone laying unwanted hands on my person after being warned — twice — not to do it was an example of Toxic Masculinity.
Santa Cruz and Berkeley were early adopters of pernicious nonsense that has now reached the mainstream.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has determined that “traditional masculinity” is actually harmful to men.
According to the APA:
“…traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression* — is, on the whole, harmful” and “traditional masculinity ideology” (which extolls) “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” (must) “limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict.”
All of that is unhealthy and must be corrected. For our own good.
When trying to spin its way out of the backlash its guidelines drew, the APA issued a statement:
“When we report that some aspects of ‘traditional masculinity’ are potentially harmful, we are referring to a belief system held by a few that associates masculinity with extreme behaviors that harm self and others. It is the extreme stereotypical behaviors — not simply being male or a ‘traditional male’ — that may result in negative outcomes.”
Well, no shit. Too bad they didn’t make that distinction up front. Instead, APA played into the weaponized political conflation of traditional masculinity with “toxic ”
I will stipulate that masculine characteristics and behaviors can manifest themselves in negative ways. Every positive trait or set of traits have a shadow side. “Traditional” societies understand this, without the benefit of “guidelines.” I will go so far as to concede that the term “Toxic Masculinity” could have some utility, if it was used precisely and not conflated with “traditional masculinity.”
That’s why boys must be taught and trained to act like grown men. From where I stand, that calls for more traditional masculinity, not less. It requires coaches, mentors, teachers, and above all fathers who walk the walk, who instruct and guide and mold those characteristics of adventurousness and risk-taking, of aggressiveness and a will to power to virtuous instead of destructive and self-destructive ends.
If that’s what the APA is really after, then we have no beef. I have my doubts.
There are a number of motives and agendas driving a broad cultural assault on traditional masculinity (aka “masculinity”). Some of it is driven by misandry. But I really don’t think that’s the most significant factor (though the political mantra “the future is female” makes you wonder). In my experience, the majority of women who consider themselves feminists are not hostile to men and do not consciously seek to neuter them.
The driver for this, I believe, is the broad cultural valorization of weakness and victimhood.
Because “manning up” is hard. As David French so cogently puts it:
It’s quite safe to say that millions of young boys desire to become a grown man — a person who is physically and mentally tough, a person who can rise to a physical challenge and show leadership under stress. In fact, that’s not just an intellectual goal, it’s a deeply felt need. It’s a response to their essential nature.
But becoming a true “grown man” — while a felt need — isn’t an easy process.
No, it’s not. Standing up and stepping up is hard. Setting aside and (gasp!) suppressing discomfort — physical, psychological, emotional — in order to do what must be done is hard. Keeping your word and living up to promises and expectations is hard. Being strong takes work. Constant, diligent, disciplined work. And it takes a toll sometimes.
So, we’re doing what we have been doing in this culture since the cultural revolution of the 1960s: When the standard is too difficult to achieve, we lower the standard.
I get that not every male aspires to be a “manly man.” Don’t care. Not a problem. The problem only comes when, since he can’t or doesn’t want to meet the standard, he denigrates and devalues the standard and those who aspire to it. And if you push back against the denigration, well… you’re part of the “toxic” problem, aren’t you?
That’s what’s going on here, and it’s pernicious and it won’t end well. Because men are struggling, by many socio-economic measures and, more importantly, by any real standard of manhood. Men do need to be better. Put down the video games and read Beowulf. Go climb mountain. Learn a martial art and a musical instrument. Delete the porn and find a real deal flesh-and-blood woman to love (or man if that’s your thing). Go camping. Learn a new skill. Challenge yourself.
Be a man. Because a man is a good thing to be.
By Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
* Anybody who thinks that women don’t engage in “competitiveness, dominance, and aggression” hasn’t worked in a female-dominated environment. It manifests itself differently — the “aggression” is usually passive-aggressive and the competitiveness is masked — but it’s very real. I have witnessed “Toxic Femininity” in action and it ain’t pretty. Extreme manipulativeness, undermining colleagues, sexual politics…
Of course, that should never be conflated with “traditional femininity.” And it’s hard to imagine a professional association doing so.