For the past 18 months, my primary focus in any book that I have read has been about understanding the issue of toxic masculinity. I’m perhaps at the point in my life where I can identify it in almost any situation I am presented with, and is that me being over sensitive? I don’t believe so. You see, for the most part, I am surrounded by heterosexual men on a daily basis, more so than I am surrounded by women or gay men, but toxic masculinity is not just something that effects straight men.
Toxic masculinity, in its most simple form, can be defined as the typical ‘manly’ behaviours and expectation on others. If we take the stance that gender is a social construct, this is perhaps easier to digest, and that’s just because when we look at men, we expect them to be a certain way. You must be masculine, strong both physically and emotionally, you must be the primary force behind survival. Whenever I think about it this way, I am always reminded of the James Brown song and the finishing line of the chorus; this is a man’s world, but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl. Why? Because it is true. Without women in the future of this world, there will be no world in which to live.
I consider myself pro-feminist, because the key players in my family (since my father lives abroad) are all female. In fact, I’d sooner turn to a female for advice over a male, and since getting work done on my body (don’t worry, just tattoos) I have opted for a female artist. It’s not because I am trying to go against the grain and show that toxic masculinity isn’t part of my life, but just because these women are more encouraging.
Toxic masculinity is unfortunately a part of everyone’s lives whether or not you are aware of it, and I encourage people to begin reading up on it for you to better understand yourself and see where it factors into your life. For gay men, reading The Velvet Rage will give you the best understanding, for straight men, reading Man Up is probably easier for you to get to grips with.
As gay men, or as a gay man if I am just going to talk about myself, we are considered to have betrayed our manhood for falling in love with other men, and homophobia is part of that toxic masculinity, but we have to understand that we are still men and as such, we can subscribe and often we do subscribe to the doctrine of toxic masculinity. When you turn around and say the femme, make-up wearing, gender-fluid men within the queer community give gay men a bad name, you are exhibiting toxic masculinity because they do not fit the rigid definitions of “man” as outlined in the social construct of gender.
I am guilty of saying things like this myself, I hold my hands up to it, but I tend to only say it about one person who for the majority of my life, I have taken issue with because life is all about them and my perception is that they are one to jump on a band-wagon, further exasperated by others around them encouraging such band-wagon jumping. It is not my place however, to say they are any less a man than I, and I try not to criticise the way they choose to live their life. Nevertheless, it is indicative of toxic masculinity in my life simply because I am a man.
For men, is it about living up to this ideal of what a man should be, when being a man is just how you feel. If gender is a social construct then it is up to each individual how they define their own gender and that conversation is very much at the forefront of gender politics, as well as feminism. You can’t tell someone that they feel one gender if you haven’t spoken to them to get their own opinion on their own gender. And, if we are saying it is a social construct, then we have to help tear down things like toxic masculinity.
Unfortunately, this is going to be harder than any other obstacle, simply because the Boys Club rules the world through the patriarchal system, and that system is built on this exact same toxicity we are talking about. So what is the best course of action? I do not have a definitive answer because all I aim to do with pieces like this, is to simply start the conversation and share ideas, but I am not without ideas myself.
Education is the key turning point of any civilisation, and this is seen throughout the world as it is. When feminism is viewed as a shared consciousness, men can subscribe to it. When we see it is not full of men-hating women, it is more inviting and welcoming to men who may feel they are excluded simply because they have a penis. There was that trend not so long ago when people would tweet or put somewhere on social media that ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ and sure, you got some women commenting that men can’t be feminists, but hold on a minute…you’re subscribing to toxic masculinity.
A man, much like myself, can completely and utterly be a feminist without having to just relegate themselves to the label of ‘pro-feminism’. Feminism is a social movement, and very much the social cause of the moment, where importance has to be shifted so that women share the equal amount of the spotlight and we take note of their issues. People inevitably say that they are taking up more of the headlines in the wake of celebrity accusations of sexual misconduct, especially in Hollywood, but you know, they wouldn’t be taking up so much of it, if they had been treated equal long ago.
Men, providing they are feminists, can be part of the cause, but must understand we are not the heroes of the moment. Women are the heroes, we are just counted in the numbers to say “you know what guys, this issue is actually really important”, and it will be seen less and less of just ‘women complaining about things’. We tend to always underplay the issues of women because they are not men, and they have not ruled the world because matriarchal systems of power have never been allowed to grow.
The toxic masculinity perpetuated around the globe, says that people who are not strictly heterosexual men are lesser than. If you’re gay you’re not a real man, if you’re a woman, you’re definitely not a man, if you’re a man that cries or a man that shouts “this is what a feminist looks like” at a rally, you’re not a man, because you betrayed your manhood. I’m sorry to say this but without your mother, you wouldn’t have been given life, and you’re betraying that natural force that created you, so drop your shit and see that you need to evaluate your privilege and just how much you subscribe daily to the issue of the moment: toxic masculinity.