Let’s Talk About Toxic Masculinity

Wow. I’ve been gone for awhile. What’s happened since I last posted. . .

The first presidential election debate just happened. Boring and exactly what everyone expected.

Some SJW harassing a Lyft driver. Well, I already talked about the bullying mentality of the regressive left.

YouTube Heroes existing. Further proving that YouTube executives have no idea why their website is popular.

Black people are rioting in the streets again over a thug getting shot (by a cop, of course, they don’t care if another civilian asshole shoots someone). No surprise there.

Climate change is racist, apparently. That’s news to me, but please continue being years behind the social justice bandwagon, England. It’s funny to me.

I powerful authority figure has gone out saying that if you live in a big city, religiously motivated terrorist attacks are just a thing you’re gonna have to deal with, like the occasional traffic accident or hail. Nothing wrong there.

So since nothing of note has happened, I might as well talk about something totally unrelated to everything and fictional to boot. How about toxic masculinity? I haven’t touched on that specifically, have I? If I have, too bad. It’s happening again.

* * *

Toxic masculinity, like many feminist terms, is rather ill-defined. There doesn’t seem to be any standard definition or set of beliefs and/or actions that definitely comprise someone who is toxically masculine. It’s just something you can apply to things–or entire concepts–that you find distasteful. But in a manly way. In order to have more of a foundation to go off of, though, I’m going to go to the King of Internet Feminist. The genius writer, pop culture critic, and Anita Sarkeesian lapdog himself: Jonathan Macintosh.

In his new totally-supposed-to-be-taken-seriously-guys series on masculinity in pop culture, Macintosh proved that he is probably no fun at parties in addition to defining the traits of toxic masculinity as such:

emotional detachment, hypercompetitiveness, aggression, intimidation, violence, sexual objectification, sexually predatory

Sure, these all seem like bad things. Actually, I take that back. Predatory sexual behavior, intimidation, and violence are bad. You can make a case that hypercompetitiveness, emotional detachment, and aggression are bad, but none of those seem like something inherently negative. Most successful people are hypercompetitive to some degree, doctors are emotionally detached, and aggression is just the opposite of passiveness and therefore could refer to any number of behaviors. And while feminists would insist that sexual objectification is bad, I also don’t see that as an inherently negative action either. So, right off of the bat, a good number of these “toxic” traits aren’t even that bad in an objective sense. They could be, of course, but being nice can be a bad thing if it’s taken to extremes. Certain traits having the mere capacity to be negative doesn’t seem like much of a foundation for an argument.

Assuming that Macintosh is read up on his feminist theory and that these are an accurate depiction of the things caused by and feeding into toxic masculinity, I have to say this is pretty weak so far. For the record, I would actually be willing to give talk of toxic masculinity some leeway if it was acknowledged as a double-edged sword. In the end of the day, the ridiculously hypermasculine alpha bro is a personality type that exists, and in many circles that kind of alpha bro behavior is deemed to be the most acceptably “manly.” So maybe there is something to say about that and the negative implications of it. That being said, the theory of toxic masculinity totally loses me for one reason: it is not evenly applied.

Macintosh and other feminists insist over and over that “toxic masculinity” is not an idea meant to deride men or paint men as an entire gender as people who have something inherently toxic within. They insist that it is the toxic part that they’re focusing on, not the masculine part. They just threw those two words together on accident, doncha know? They have nothing to do with each other! They do a piss pour job at getting that across though. To any feminist who is reading this, here is what is wrong with that assertion:

If you’re just talking about toxic behaviors, it would do you good to just call them “toxic behaviors” instead of pinning them onto an entire gender . . . apparently just because. On the other hand, if you are going to take the gendered route and ascribe the label of “toxic” to a subsection of typically gendered behaviors, then that means the label should be able to be applied both ways. Otherwise, you’re just doing what everyone accuses you of doing and pissing on an entire gender.

If toxic masculinity exists, then it would stand to reason that toxic femininity would exist as well. I, and many people in my camp, would take the concept of toxic masculinity far more seriously if it was talked about in conjunction with with toxic femininity. Since it’s apparently just the toxic part that we’re focusing on, not the masculine part, making a little room in your theory for toxic femininity shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, it’s not derisive of an entire gender to tack the term “toxic” onto it.

Note: If you are a feminist and you think the term “toxic femininity” is offensive/insulting towards women and/or makes wide-sweeping negative implications about ‘womanly’ behavior in an unfairly disparaging way that is unacceptable and a little sexist, then you should also not be okay with the term toxic “masculinity.” If you are okay with one and not the other, please refer to my previous comment about how it makes sense why people accuse your movement of hating men.

Let’s get back on topic, shall we? Toxic masculinity is apparently just a critique of a subsection of negative behaviors that totally aren’t connected to men in any way. So since these are just toxic behaviors oftentimes found together–and not aspersions against an entire gender–it would stand to reason that a large number of these toxic traits should overlap between masculine and feminine behavior. If it is only the toxicity of the behaviors that are important, toxic femininity should definitely be talked about in tandem with its masculine counterpart.

Let’s look at that list again:

emotional detachment, hypercompetitiveness, aggression, intimidation, violence, sexual objectification, sexually predatory

If McIntosh can use stereotypically evil 80s bullies and 1960s James Bond clips to show examples of toxic masculinity, I can dip my hand into popular TV and movies to find some toxic femininity very easily. And, would you look at that, the toxically feminine behaviors have some major overlap with the toxically masculine ones. It’s almost like explicitly gendering negative behaviors and traits is useless!

For the record, I’m only looking at explictely “feminine” characters to find these examples. I’m not looking at tomboys or Bran Hilda-esque characters who can be described as mannish or butch. I’m looking at overtly, undeniably girly characters to ensure that the “feminine” part of “toxic femininity” can be upheld.

Firstly, the movie Mean Girls exists. Go ahead and stack on Heathers, Hairspray, most Life Time original movies about high school girls, Pretty Little Liars. . . . I can go on for days. If you want to get mad at me for using exaggerated examples, Macintosh used fucking Biff from Back to the Future. I can use Regina George. My point is, it’s not difficult to find female characters who are simultaneously very feminine and who exhibit all of the above negative traits in a decidedly feminine fashion for decidedly “feminine” reasons, all while those negative traits are deemed acceptable “feminine” behaviors by others. Does it now makes sense for me to tack the word toxic onto the female gender term? Or would that be insulting?

Here are some more specific examples. As a note: These traits being depicted as negative in-universe or clearly being intended as flaws doesn’t matter, according to the standards Macintosh used for his own video. So don’t go whining about how “It was depicted as a character flaw!” to me. Macintosh doesn’t care, so neither do I.

Emotional detachment–Ramona Flowers (whose aloofness makes her appealing and cool), Elsa from Frozen (whose detachment is depicted as something that makes her queenly and mature, unlike her sister).

Hypercompetitiveness–once again, the entirety of Mean Girls, the popularity-driven girl-feuds of Wicked and Pretty in Pink, not to mention every single rom-com ever where two women vie for the affection of a dude.

Aggression–Carrie packs a double-whammy of this since not only does Carrie go nuts and kill everyone, but her almost exclusively-female bullies physically assault her while she has her first period and multiple other times throughout the story. This is also ignoring Carrie’s mother, who physically and mentally abused her specifically for not being a proper lady. There’s also Cinderella, where her step-sisters rip the dress straight off her body to stop her from going to the ball because they’re jealous of how pretty she looks.

Intimidation–Cinderella, again, with the Wicked Step Mother’s abuse. There’s also Heathers and Gossip Girl where thinly veiled threats to ruin each other’s lives and reputations are like currency among all of the female frenemies.

Violence–Neon Demon immediately comes to mind. If you want an example of female violence being upheld as okay, there’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, where Lisbeth’s violence is depicted as her asserting herself against evil and domineering men (the story is all about misogyny after all). There’s Hard Candy, where the main character’s violent actions are also depicted as empowering a girl against a domineering man. It’s actually kind of interesting how most of the cases I can think of for this one are examples that depict female violence as acceptable and/or empowering for women as long as they’re violent towards men, whereas it’s a “bad example” if they’re violent against each other.

Sexual objectification–most rom-coms and their obligatory shirtless-love-interest-ogling scene. Magic Mike exists. Almost every single Will Smith movie is contractually obligated to show him naked to some degree, and you’re kidding yourself if you think that’s for the dude’s in the audience.

Sexually predatory–almost all of the examples above depict their female characters aggressively pursing The D, with the male characters being depicted as little more than sexual conquests to be bragged about and held over the heads of other girls as a symbol of status. So there is that.

* * *

If you think that these don’t work out, they’re of the same caliber of examples as the ones used by Macintosh. If you don’t think they are, please explain to me why his examples of toxic masculinity count more than my examples. If you don’t think these are reason enough for toxic femininity to exist, then I don’t see why toxic masculinity has any more of a case going for it.

While it is good to point out negative, dare I say toxic, attitudes and behaviors and try to counter them, my issue with the feminist–and social justice in general–approach is that there is no gradient. It doesn’t matter how minor something you do is. It always feeds back into some looming, horrible, undeniably evil thing that you, yes you, are directly contributing to with your benign, harmless actions and un-acted upon thoughts. It doesn’t matter. You have the personal opinion that men should be the main breadwinner of the family, and it’s not like you act on it or anything, that’s just something you think? You’re contributing to misogyny. You give your daughter an off-hand comment about how she shouldn’t drink anything weird at the club? You’re supporting rape culture. You like classic James Bond films? Well, you’re propping up toxic masculinity, which in turn props up those other two things. Way to go, jackass! No gradient whatsoever.

Talking about negative behaviors and how to deal with them is fine. Talking about negative behaviors like they’re something inherent in one group specifically is border-line insulting and oftentimes just downright wrong. I do not doubt that there are Biff-esque people in real life who could be described as “toxically masculine,” but to give this label to any and every male behavior that could concievably maybe fit the bill if it was extreme enough even though it’s perfectly benign now is taking it too far. It’s assigning some egregious fault where there isn’t one. It’s making a wanted criminal out of someone who’s jay-walked a few times. Because hey, both are crimes! If you jay-walk, you’re pretty much eventually going to murder someone, probably. And if you don’t eventually murder someone, at the very least, your jay-walking shows that you’re okay with people committing all other crimes. So, no matter what, you’re going down for contributing to crime in the area.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Toxic Masculinity

  1. This was well said.

    I do believe we have something toxic going on, related to masculinity, to changing cultural definitions of what it means to be men. School shootings, street violence, terrorism, something is going on here within men and I think we can call it toxic. Although we certainly do see something akin to toxic femininity, men are still responsible for some 95% of violent crime.

    That said however, we’re also making the problem worse by shaming men for the things that are quite common and ordinary to them, so attacking the very essence of masculinity and a labeling it bad and shameful.

    Your list gave me a chuckle, “emotional detachment, hypercompetitiveness, aggression, intimidation, violence, sexual objectification, sexually predatory,” because in their more positive forms those are all the very things we admire most in men. I mean, even to be “sexually predatory,” to be engaged in “sexual objectification,” in the context of a stable relationship, is really nothing more than having a healthy sex life. I’m trying to imagine what the politically correct version would be, something like, “I’m totally attracted to you brain not your body, but only in a completely passive and non predatory manner?”

    • While I wouldn’t chalk school shootings and terrorism up to misplaced ideas of masculinity (though it may be a part of it, other factors seem to have the hog’s share there), I would say that street violence, with its roots in brotherly connections/male bonding, has it to blame. The issue here, of course, is that the only people who think street violence is okay are the people who engage in street violence, so painting even that as a portrait of toxic masculine traits seem to generalize far too much. One of the main things you hear the average Joe on the street say about prototypical thugs is that “they’re not real men,” so one could easily have a concept of masculinity that outright excludes these kinds of behaviors. So whose to say which concept of masculinity is the default one that represents ALL masculinities? Naval gazing over.

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