I’m going to expound on the notion of ‘Toxic Masculinity’ in this 3-part blog series. The first is from the perspective of Culture and the second is from the perspective of Hermetics, and the last is Gender. We’ll start from the perspective of culture.
To be clear, I’m not saying your rape didn’t happen or your sexual assault didn’t happen. This is not what I’m saying. In no way am I attempting to silence survivors of abuse, discredit them, or resist their experience in any way. I acknowledge that rape happens, sexual harassment and assault happens, and that these are simply unacceptable behaviors that need to be addressed in our communities and in our society.
I hope we’re clear on that before continuing on together.
When I say, in my opinion, that “toxic masculinity” is not real, I’m canceling an ironically toxic IDEA or TERM that is causing untold damage to our community. It is violence to use the term, and this violence is the very problem we are trying to eliminate.
The following is an excerpt from “The Classroom Origins of Toxic Masculinity”: One of the first appearances of toxic masculinity in the mainstream press was in a 1990 New Republic article by Daniel Gross.
“The Gender Rap: ‘Toxic Masculinity’ and Other Male Troubles” focused on a new-age movement that appeared to resonate with a healthy number of American men. Gross credited Shepherd Bliss—with coining toxic masculinity as a phrase “to describe that part of the male psyche that is abusive.”
Scholars also later point to psychiatrist Dr. Terry A. Kupers as the source of “toxic masculinity” as we now know it, particularly his definition in a 2005 prison study: “Toxic masculinity is the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.”
Kupers had been studying incarcerated masculinity for most of his career, but in the ‘80’s he was involved in the pro-feminist men’s movement and realized he could integrate his knowledge of gender with his knowledge of prisons. Kupers found that Connell’s hegemonic masculinity, when applied to prisons, was in fact toxic masculinity—which is to say prison is toxic masculinity in its “pure form.”
He points specifically to black men who are disproportionately incarcerated by America’s “justice” system. These are men for whom institutionalized racism has shut them off from “positive ways” of expressing masculinity, excelling at school or at work, for instance, causing them to resort to “negative ways” like crime.
In prison the lack of individual agency is complete, so the toxicity is equally complete. “I don’t think it’s a matter of them being inclined to fight with each other and gain dominance; they’re not,” Kupers says. “Rather they’ve been deprived of all the more positive avenues to get ahead so they choose to maintain their manhood in the prison yard.”
Many people now view masculinity and the gender roles it creates as a combination of behaviors shaped by several factors, including age, race, class, culture, sexuality and religion.
As such, what defines masculinity can take many different forms. What one society or even subculture views as masculine, another may reject.
Masculinity, then, becomes a shifting set of ideas rather than a hard, narrow set of rules.
Feminists have highlighted for us how the male dominated hierarchies, like the Patriarchy, have been oppressive, antagonistic, and abusive of both female bodied individuals and the feminine virtues. Some have even concluded that masculinity itself is essentially violent.
While this perspective has its uses, particularly in the liberation of the masculine and feminine energies from the constraints of patriarchal stereotypes, there are still aspects of this view that are problematic.
For example, because of this term, there’s apparently a problem with men being masculine.
Actually, like the patriarchy, ‘toxic masculinity’ is an attack on femininity as well as masculinity. Those who use shame to attack or control are caught up in structures used to dominate not only women but also men. The use of this term is based on FEAR.
“Hegemonic masculinity” from the above prison studies and patriarchy are NOT the expression of pure masculinity, or “Divine Masculinity” as we like to call it in the Mystery School. Masculinity is NOT rooted in abuse.
“Hegemonic masculinity” like “patriarchy” are immature expressions of power control issues, usually based in some sort of stunted developmental phase in a person’s life.
In using the term toxic masculinity, I do not believe we’re talking about something real, we’re talking about a term that was created to describe how men operate in a fabricated (or unreal) environment where they completely lack agency (i.e. prison culture).
The term describes a category of behaviors that we already have words for. I believe what we mean by “toxic masculinity” is already clearly (and accurately) defined by “misogynistic behaviors that lead to emotional and sexual violence”.
The problem with the term toxic masculinity is that it becomes impossible to separate “toxic” from “masculinity.” Shepherd Bliss in the citation above emphasized that the expression he invented is “not meant to condemn all males.” I propose that this term inadvertently shames all things masculine, and thus lacks the nuance necessary to have an honest discussion about what behaviors are desirable and undesirable in our culture and in our collective consciousness.
And ‘toxic’ anything is again, in my opinion, a violent and ultimately non-useful method for addressing the societal issue of immature humans doing violent things.
Words matter and ‘toxic masculinity’ is woefully inadequate for the task of transforming culture.