This term has become very popular among gender studies and activist circles lately. Many of the claims are things a lot identify with: the need to appear to be tough in masculine gender expression, to not appear to be vulnerable, etc etc.
With the existence of men who cry over watching movies or even reading books, I understand the toxicity that entails society’s conception of the masculine. But I have a huge problem with the way, especially activists talk about this.
As a social commentator, I think the goal is to effect positive social change not to engage in extreme sports. So how we identify or talk about the problem is infinitely more important than just identifying it. What or how people turn out is to some significant extent dependent on socialization (for a significant part of our lives — parenting).
So who exactly is responsible for raising men with this toxic masculinity thing? I ask this because a “toxic male” didn’t develop his masculine from a vacuum. We are all responsible, and especially as a community, we should particularly be interested in how we deal with this topic.
Quite a number of the male population behave in ways we deem toxic because of how we as a society respond to them. And in today’s hyper activist world, how activists respond to men in gender relations is extremely educational for many men.
One of the major identifiers of the feminine is a vulnerability that doubles as a no-go-zone for the toxic masculine. Observing my little nieces and nephews, I see this phenomenon called toxic masculinity getting reinforced. The boys are consistently called cowards by their mothers when they come home crying from a fight. I mention mothers because this is exactly what I have observed.
The fathers (my brothers) spend most of their time away from the house, working, so the children have most of their interactions with their mothers. In this case, the mothers are the ones raising the toxic masculine. I believe the fathers will probably do the same if they’d spent the most time with the kids like the mothers because they are cut from the same socialization cloth. But the fact is that it is the mothers who are actively reinforcing these “toxic traits”.
And until we are targeted in our analysis, we will only be engaged in individualized drama and not a full-scale social change. The fact is that most children are still raised by their mothers all over the world. And primary education, where children pick up more socialization cues is largely dominated by female teachers who tend to reinforce this toxicity.
One phenomenon that has recently been blamed on the toxic masculine is the fact that male victims of battery and sexual violence under-report these incidents. Makes sense for them to under-report incidents like rape and battery because to be at the receiving end of battery has socially been identified as being weak (I will disagree but I digress). Societies have often then devised ways to protect the vulnerable and the weak.
That is why the feminine (often wrongly synonymous with weakness) often attracts most of society’s protection mechanisms. As a gender activist who professes to want to end toxic masculinity, you should want to extend the protections sought for female victims to male victims of this toxicity. Without doing this, you can bet that this toxicity will continue.
I have been infinitely disappointed with the gender activist community in this regard especially with regard to the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard situation which is just the most high-profile recent such case. What is clear from the publicized debacle that was their marriage, is that Johnny Depp was a recipient of battery in their marriage. In the leaked tapes in court, Amber Herd explicitly admits to hitting him.
She admits to throwing pots and pants at him to the extent that his finger was cut on occasion. She admits he runs away instead of fighting her. She then used the social construction of the toxic masculine to threaten him, to dare him to tell the story of his battery.
Explicitly, she says no one will believe she abused him because she is a 100-pound female (weak) and he is a male (strong). And she to a large extent has been right. As activists against toxic masculinity, we have largely stayed quiet over the issue even as Depp has lost jobs while Herd’s career goes from heights to more heights. So, watching this very public case so perfectly encapsulating this issue, do we think our silence helps our course to defeat the toxic masculine?
Are the men watching this going to feel safe to ditch their toxic masculinity and be vulnerable given the outcome so far of the Depp-Herd situation?