Manhood Isn’t Toxic, but It Also Isn’t Static

D.A. Kirk

Outer space enthusiast. Japanese history junkie. I write about politics, culture, and mental illness. Disagreement is a precursor to progress.

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112 Responses

  1. Mike Dwyer says:

    I was a little disappointed in this post. My read on it is that it says it’s okay to be into whatever you are into as a man, as long as you aren’t an asshole about it. That is certainly a general recipe for a good society and one we can all get behind, but it doesn’t necessarily advance the conversation very far.

    As I understand it, so-called ‘toxic masculinity’ is the practice of legitimizing male-dominance in a certain area. I think broadly we can also agree that is a bad thing. For example, if a company had an unwritten rule of only hiring men for management positions, that would be bad, but to me that is a bit too obvious. What has been problematic from my perspective is a couple of things; the first is the idea that male exclusivity in a given area must represent toxic masculinity. If a company mostly has men in management, there must be some hegemonic shenanigans at play. That falsely assumes that men and women are the same and have the exact same career preferences.

    The second problem with the notion of ‘toxic masculinity’ is that it has created an atmosphere where men feel guilty enjoying male-only spaces. This past weekend I was at a field trial for pointing dogs. The event had a ratio of about 60/40 men to women which is very good for something related to hunting. Even though i have seen all of the women doing the outdoor tasks on training days and I have seen the men getting food together inside the farm building, for whatever reason when we host events the women all gravitate to the food prep and paperwork, and the men all end up outside tending to horses and driving four-wheelers out to plant birds in muddy fields. I spent 4-5 hours standing in a circle of men shooting the breeze. If a woman had walked up (and they did from time to time) they were treated with complete respect and included in the conversation, etc. Still, when they weren’t there, you could feel the men relaxing just a bit and enjoying being in a male-only atmosphere. There’s a certain comfort that comes with that. Lately, it feels like admitting to enjoying that is also considered ‘toxic’. I would have liked to see the OP explore that notion a bit.

    Where I think we are starting to see some push-back

    For example, if I said I was glad there had never been a female president or that my company’s management has very few womReport

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      enjoying male-only spaces

      Is this a married man thing? I can’t recall one time where I’ve found myself wishing there weren’t so many women around.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        It might be 😉

        I am very, very blessed with a wife who believes that married men and women need time with their own gender. For years it was me, the wife and two daughters. If I didn’t have my clubs, hunting trips, etc I would have probably lost it.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I just checked Wikipedia, and came up with this:

      *Terry Kupers defines toxic masculinity as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence”. According to Kupers, toxic masculinity serves to outline aspects of hegemonic masculinity that are socially destructive, “such as misogyny, homophobia, greed, and violent domination”. These traits are contrasted with more positive aspects of hegemonic masculinity such as “pride in [one’s] ability to win at sports, to maintain solidarity with a friend, to succeed at work, or to provide for [one’s] family”.*

      That seems reasonable to me. The definition wouldn’t include male domination in a field, or male space, although it might include some of the behaviour that creates those conditions.

      ETA – Does anyone know how to create bold or italics since the site got upgraded?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Pinky says:

        Use “em” tags instead of “i” tags.
        Use “strong” tags instead of “b” tags.

        Blockquote still works.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Pinky says:

        I think Lee’s definition below is the one that is most accurate, “…any sort of behavior that is vaguely coded masculine that the speaker doesn’t like.”

        I mean, a jock pushing a nerd into a locker when I was in high school could have been called ‘toxic masculinity’ but there were also jocks that were equally obsessed with sports and were high-testerone guys that were super-cool and never caused problems. The first guy wasn’t toxifying his masculinity, he was just being an asshole. I think that’s an important distinction i.e. not all toxic behaviors done by men are toxic masculinity.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          My first reaction is to suspect someone who brings up “toxic masculinity” as pushing a gender agenda. (That was fun to type.) But the concept, as Kupers presents it, has meaning, and so I’m not necessarily going to write it off as bad faith. I usually think in terms of escalation. There are ways that people can make a bad situation worse, and some of those ways are strongly associated with the male, and some with the female. The world is better off when people de-escalate. I believe that people can act in harmony with some being more traditionally masculine or more traditionally feminine. And I think the OA would agree with that. So, while I might be more negative in another thread about “toxic masculinity”, I’m ok with the idea as expressed here.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Pinky says:

            “There are ways that people can make a bad situation worse, and some of those ways are strongly associated with the male, and some with the female.”

            Like being aggressive?Report

            • Pinky in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              I think there was a line on Seinfeld about how teenage girls don’t hit a girl they don’t like, they just spread rumors about her until she develops an eating disorder.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Pinky says:

                Exactly. Anyone who thinks that men are the more aggressive gender has never seen teenage girls weaponize social media to destroy a girl they don’t like.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Pinky says:

                Offhand, I’d say that masculinity is typically more aggressive, and femininity is typically more passive-aggressive.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Pinky says:

                My experience is that a lot of time that is tied to introversion/extroversion and it’s less about gender stuff. Anecdotally, I think black women are waaaay better at speaking their minds than white women in a business setting. That goes from the bottom warehouse workers to a VP. I have worked with some black, female engineers that are badass and put the men to shame regarding assertiveness. There is something culturally there that seems to better equip them for that.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Pinky says:

                Again, didn’t mean to hit the report button sorry. Please ignore.

                I’d phrase it that men tend towards physical violence while women tend towards social violence. When a person of the male gender wants to hurt you, he will more likely than not do so in a very direct manner that often involves physical force. When a woman wants to harm you, its going to be more indirect and involve decreasing your social status in the group.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Pinky says:

                Violence versus non-violence seems an important distinction, which is to say, I don’t like “mean girls” either, and I’ve met a few.

                I’ve had people try to hit me with the “social status kill.” The funny thing is, however, it stakes their reputation against mine. Moreover, yeah high school sucked, but I’m not in high school anymore. I’m a grown up and my social groups don’t make space for manipulative shitheads.

                In other words, “mean girls” don’t have much more power than you give them. If they do — well I won’t say it never has consequences. (Never say never, except in the statement “never say never.”) However, a person’s vulnerability to “status kill” often reveals their own susceptibility to “narcissistic injury.”

                Violence on the other hand — it doesn’t matter how mature I am or how well I choose my friends. If some skinhead decides to stomp me, I’m getting stomped.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Pinky says:

                It depends on your social networks. Generally, women tend to determine who stands wear in any social group. So the social status kill can keep you on the periphery of a social group, forcing a person to either deal with that or look for another social group where they might get into the inner sanctum.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Pinky says:

                It depends on your social networks.

                Of course it does, but if you’re an adult in a large city, then you have pretty wide latitude to choose your social networks.

                That said, what I’m really objecting to is the whole “whattaboutism” aspect of your statement. Sure, amoral women exist, but violence is different. It’s worse, and obviously so.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          Mike, the distinction you’re missing while making it is that the behavior of the nerd-pushing-tough-guy is dickish, but it’s usually defended (to the extent that it is) as “boys being boys”, or the kind of stuff “alphas” do, or “it’ll toughen him up”, etc etc, that is, the behavior is defended in gender-based terms.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

            I’ve written about this here before. Shoving your buddy into a locker because guys tend to be more physical might fall under ‘boys will be boys’ and I subscribe to that to the extent that no one is being harmed. A jock bullying a nerdy kid is just being an asshole. Anyone defending that with ‘boys will be boys’ probably did the same sorts of things and should probably talk to a professional.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              Re: that last part: yes, you’re right! So, at minimum you agree that *that* type of masculinity is toxic, yes?Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

                No – I agree that person is probably a sociopath. I just don’t feel the need to link assholery with gender, with the exception that genders are assholes in different ways.

                I also, just in general think ‘toxic’ is a dumb term in the sense that it applies some kind of poisoning effect. I know lots of kids raised by asshole parents who turned out awesome and vice versa. I’m just not that inclined to believe that assholery is a learned behavior.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                So, you prefer a different term, like “asshole masculinity” instead?

                Again, tho, the distinction you’re appealing to here – distinguishing bad behavior from a concept of masculinity that defends it – doesn’t make any sense, even on your own terms (since you’ve conceded that there are men who defend what you view as dickish behavior as being an expression of maleness, or masculinity or etc.). I mean, you’ve agreed with the critique which you insist you reject.

                But! since we won’t agree on what you’re actually arguing here (let alone the deeper substance of the issue) I’ll make the above my last comment on the topic.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

                “So, you prefer a different term, like “asshole masculinity” instead?”

                I just don’t see the utility in separating bad behavior by gender in general.

                And women also defend the bad behavior or boys. Again, there’s not much utility in separating male defenses from female defenses. How about we just say, “We should call out bad behavior wherever we see it and not attach identity to it.”

                Does this just fall under the general umbrella of identity politics?Report

            • veronica d in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              There is a difference between “roughhousing” and “bullying.” In fact, I would say the difference is usually quite obvious.

              Back in my “boy days,” I used to train in an MMA gym, wherein I got my ass kicked a lot. It was fun. In fact, I highly recommend it.

              It builds character!

              (It does.)

              But I was never bullied there. Instead, “I stepped up” and discovered “what I had.”

              I didn’t have much, of course. I was a chubby, middle-aged nerd. But my point is, I gave respect and got respect, because I did my best and people could see that.

              By contrast, I was bullied in high school, a lot.

              It has a lot to do with the difference between children and adults.


              Anyway, masculinity. Men seem to face certain pressures that women do not. In turn, men of weak character and toxic views respond in predictably terrible ways. It’s not about “do you lift.” It’s about anti-social behavior under the veneer of masculinity.

              “But whaddabout {bad things women do}?”

              Yeah, what about that?

              Men have a higher suicide rate. They have a much higher rate of violent crime.

              Look at the all the various mass killers over the last few years. All were, I believe, men. (You might find a counterexample, but not many.) All were either 1) angry incel types, or 2) had a history of domestic abuse or sexual assault (or both).

              All of them. (Again, you might find an isolated counterexample. On the other hand, if you think you have, dig deeper.)

              It is important to talk about how masculinity is supposed to work in the modern world. We don’t need many people to go out and fight bears anymore (although if you like fighting, there are several excellent sports you can attempt, and in turn express your violence in pro-social ways). Furthermore, while many women are attracted to certain masculine traits, that does not mean that women are attracted to what men view as masculine traits.

              A failure to understand the latter has led to a lot of pain and resentment.

              (Insert long diversion on how women vary.)Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to veronica d says:


                I think in general there’s a lot of what used to be more commonly called ‘impotent rage’. Incel folks seem to fall into this camp, based on their online behavior. Mass shooters often do as well. I was taken to task here some months ago because I admitted that when several female judges in family court screwed me over in custody cases I simply stopped voting for female judges. That was my way of expressing my ‘impotent rage’ at being helpless in a messed up court system. It seemed healthier to do it in the voting booth than in a lot of other ways. Apparently though, it was still misogyny, but i digress…

                Anyway I think you and I are pretty much in agreement about this in general, but I think both sexes have a need for non-destructive outlets when they have these feelings. Are there more of these feelings on the male side of the equation? Not sure.

                Serious question for you: Do you find with your personal experience that your previously ‘boy’ feelings changed with your gender? I’m asking because I was just reading an article the other day about gay men becoming lesbian transgender women and the women themselves were speculating a lot about how removing testosterone from their bodies had something to do with it. It seems like you are somewhat uniquely situated in this forum to have a ‘before and after’ opinion on the subject (and I hope none of my word choices in this paragraph are offensive – i am still learning)Report

              • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

                @Mike Dwyer —

                Given that they all happened simultaneously, there is no way I can separate out the following:

                1. Change in hormone balance

                2. Change in social role

                3. Change in self-imposed gendered expectations

                They all come together. What I can say is, I became much happier. Furthermore, even when I struggled, that struggle felt different in an important way. I’ve dealt with some hard stuff in my life, but at least now I can deal with it as the the real me. It’s hard to explain.

                It’s “rightness” versus “wrongness.” There are no better words.


                As an aside, my first couple years of transition I tried to suppress my “boy interests.” I dressed super girly. I tried to act as femme as possible. I deliberately chose “media for women.” I even watched all of Sex in the City. (It’s a reasonably good show.)

                Nowadays I don’t really care. Currently I’m dating a girl who’s into swords and stuff. She just made her own leather armor. She’s made her own chainmail. (Next challenge: we’re gonna take a forging class together.) Yeah, I guess that’s “guy stuff,” but so what? I have fun.

                This weekend she and I spent several hours playing GTA, taking turns after the other got killed. (Fucking cops!) That’s probably kind of a dude thing.

                Or something. Gender is weird.


                Regarding impotent rage — I honestly think men have it much worse these days. At least it feels that way. I know plenty of unpleasant women. I know plenty of women who lack character. Hell, I know some women who are true narcissistic abusers. Yep. But “impotent rage” — that’s a man thing.

                Counterexamples are welcome.

                (I suppose Laura Loomer might count. On the other hand, does she express “rage” or something else?)


                I think a “life well lived” probably involves the capacity to take “meaningful action.” This involves, when facing adversity,

                1. Knowing what to do

                2. Being able to do it.

                So take the “failsons” and the “incels” and alt-right dipshits. Do they know what to do — in any meaningful sense? Can they do it?

                A “lack of narrative” is a real spiritual catastrophe.

                I think women more or less know what to do in life. Likewise, we can usually do it.

                When we cannot — what happens?


                Note, the “what to do” doesn’t always have to be effective. Failure is part of life. Dealing with failure is part of being a grown up. However, such action needs to feel meaningful. You must be able to say, “I fought the good fight,” and have that satisfy.

                Consider, “Hey, I asked Jenny out, but she shot me down.” Compare that with, “I swiped right on 300 Tinder profiles and got no matches.”

                The latter is soul crushing.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to veronica d says:

                I think ‘doing something meaningful’ is a good distinction. My wife often reminds me that debating People Who are Wrong On the Internet is not a replacement for political action, which is why I have joined some political action organizations in the last year. I’m sure a lot of this is attributable to social media. It’s long been observed that social media gives us the illusion of intimacy but no actual intimacy. No doubt that is contributing to some of that impotent rage.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

                Have male social roles changed that much? There are certainly people who advocate for a total fluidity in male and female social roles but I think these are a minority of the population. Many problems occur because there are lots of people of both genders that want to be free of the traditional shackles of their gender but expect that the other gender remain firmly in place. A certain variety of toxic masculine behavior is based on the thinking that women are able to free themselves from their traditional gender shackles but impose said shackles on men if they want.Report

              • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

                Have male social roles changed that much?


              • JoeSal in reply to veronica d says:

                @ Lee
                I think that it isn’t so much about roles as it is about value.

                Young males in the past were valued to a greater extent in their immediate abilities to provide were more important at the early stage of family formation.

                Currently young males are devalued for much of their youth and only valued later on as the ‘modern’ feminist will not be looking at family formation until after they have done the education and career check boxes.

                There will be a subfaction of males that are ‘boy toys’ that the young females will interact with, but those relations will rarely become permanent and be a train wreck of sorts.

                As males and females get older in this model the males that can provide (and aren’t a train wreck from all the previous shallow relationships) will become scarce and higher in value for later family formation.

                It is a idiosyncrasy of a decadent culture, as this is rarely seen in non-decadent cultures.

                That’s what I think is going on, but I could be wrong.Report

              • bookdragon in reply to veronica d says:


                I would say that, yes, you are wrong.

                Your entire argument is based on the idea that male value is entirely defined by an ability to ‘provide’, which reads to me as provide economically. From my pov as a woman with an education and career who identifies as a feminist, and who has been married for almost 30 years to a guy I met when we were 18, I think that couldn’t be more wrong. My husband’s value is in providing love, nurture, care, encouragement, support, etc. Yes, he also has a job and brings in a paycheck, but for almost 2 years after his company went under in ’08 I was the one supporting him. That did not in any way make him less valuable to me.

                Further, the concept that any man’s value in a relationship (or in some market of people looking for relationships) is based solely or even primarily on ability to ‘bring home the bacon’ is itself somewhat toxic. Because it is damaging to men. Seriously, it reduces the worth a person to little more than crash economic calculation. You might as well say that men can and should be replaced by a good stock portfolio (and maybe a gun or home security system to cover the protection angle).

                What a sad way to look at bonds between people. I hope my son is never exposed to exposed to that kind of thinking, or if he is, he reacts with ‘wow, that is messed up’.Report

              • JoeSal in reply to veronica d says:

                @ bookdragon,
                That’s fair and I am glad to be wrong.

                I hope your son navigates it with the same success you have.Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      “…but it doesn’t necessarily advance the conversation very far.”

      Your disappointment is totally understandable, Mike. Truth is, I wasn’t trying to advance the conversation as much as I was trying to reframe it. I’ve noticed lately that much of the commentary on this issue has been focused on either attacking masculinity or defending it, whereas I’m more interesting in expanding it. People evolve. Cultures evolve. Religions evolve. Seems only natural that gender roles should also be permitted to evolve. But instead we see a lot of folks trying to prevent that from happening. You have (some) on the left trying to redefine masculinity so as to exclude certain masculine tendencies that many men find appealing and routinely engage in (like the one you just mentioned about male-only socialization). On the right, you have (some) folks attempting to preserve old-school masculinity by delegitimizing new-school variations of it. All I’m really pointing out is that not only is there plenty of room for both old and new, but that the evolution of manhood into something more broad and inclusive is sort of an inevitability.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to D.A. Kirk says:

        I am absolutely onboard with the idea that ‘I define my own masculinity’ and that we should be open to new definitions. At the same time I fear that if we keep advocating for new definitions of masculinity, eventually certain ‘traditional’ characteristics get marginalized as relics of the past because “Hey, look at all these other ways we have given you to be masculine! Put down that chainsaw and let’s go to the opera Bubba.”Report

        • D.A. Kirk in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          What you’re describing is sort of a sneaky backdoor approach to eliminating traditional masculinity. I’m honestly not sure how to stop that from happening. I should’ve anticipated that as a potential outcome, but I obviously didn’t, and I don’t really have a good answer for it. Although I wholeheartedly agree that it would be a decidedly bad thing if that did happen.Report

  2. atomickristin says:

    Great piece DA! I really, really liked it a lot. I’ve thought about this a lot and I find it really important for our culture moving forward to find a way to incorporate alternate definitions of masculinity and femininity without resorting to ragging on and belittling those many people who do happily fit into the traditional gender roles.Report

  3. bookdragon says:

    I second Kristin’s comment. Great piece.

    What is described as “alpha” is what most people mean by “toxic masculinity” but those same tendencies also exist in women, we’re just usually socialized to express them differently (generally in more underhanded, passive-aggressive but still ultimately harmful ways). I think good or bad wrt expression of these traits comes down to self-control. A man (or any person – I have strong tendencies toward these ‘masculine’ traits despite being a female) who can control and direct those impulses is valuable to society. It’s unconstrained ego-driven expression that’s “toxic”. A soldier fulfills a vital role; a rage-aholic with a gun is a menace.

    I also particularly applaud your observations about how rigid social concepts of ‘real manhood’ can be harmful to men and boys. As I have said before, I am a feminist as much because I love and want what’s best for my son as because I love and want what’s best for my daughter.Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to bookdragon says:

      “A soldier fulfills a vital role; a rage-aholic with a gun is a menace.”

      Exactly! In my experience, that sort of distinction gets lost in a lot of modern-day conversations about this topic. Almost every sort of “toxic” trait can be channeled into something noble and/or productive, which is why it’s so important that we don’t try to extinguish those traits altogether.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I really appreciate it!Report

  4. Tracy Downey says:

    “The average man is likely no more able to shed himself of his most natural urges than he is to shed himself of his skin, lungs or spine. He can, however, develop the ability to both call upon those urges when it is necessary to do so and suppress those urges when they threaten to cloud his judgment.”

    I enjoyed this piece for several reasons: No matter what a woman prefers to be with a masculine man who’s secure within himself, and wants to be with a woman that embraces her feminity. For most strong women, its difficult to find. Women are taught not to be the damsel in distress because there’s a disappearance in masculine men able to handle mature relationships. They fear losing their place, or don’t know where there place is.

    Toxic masculinity as I’ve understood it is just an excuse to be a junior high school jerk at 30+. A man confident in himself doesn’t need to resort to such mockery of others if he’s secure within himself. Truly its not attractive, and it just reminds the female, “he’s still a boy wanting attention on the playground.”Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Tracy Downey says:

      My cynical take, in modern heterosexual relationships, both sides want the benefits of tradition from their partner but not to give into the traditions themselves.Report

      • Tracy Downey in reply to LeeEsq says:


      • D.A. Kirk in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Just because it’s cynical doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I’ve witnessed this behavior in a few of my younger cousins. One of them is a graphic designer who absolutely loves to work and has no interest in being a stay-at-home mom. She’s the ultimate example of a woman who shuns traditional gender roles, which is totally cool. What’s not so cool is that she gives her boyfriend a hard time for not being the breadwinner in the relationship. She does it playfully and would tell you that she’s just joking when she does it, but she does it so often (and in front of other people) that it’s obvious she’s being at least somewhat serious. It rubs me the wrong way, but it’s none of my business, so I just keep my mouth shut.Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to Tracy Downey says:

      “Women are taught not to be the damsel in distress because there’s a disappearance in masculine men able to handle mature relationships.”

      It doesn’t surprise me to hear you say that. I’ve heard other women make similar remarks as well. And I think it’ll probably only get worse as more and more men are encouraged to reject their masculinity instead of being taught how to harness it and control it.Report

  5. Chip Daniels says:

    I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t some sort of panic about a crisis in masculinity.
    My parent’s generation bemoaned the effete hippy who “looked like Tarzan, walked like Jane, and smelled like Cheetah”. When my generation wore long hair, satin shirts and hip hugger pants to the disco, it was seen as a threat to manly manliness.
    I bet there is a Claire Briggs comic somewhere on this topic as well. The “Wild West” was popularized in pulp novels of the time as a fitting place for men to rediscover their masculinity which modern industrial age had sapped.
    Captains Courageous tells the story of a delicate young dandy who learns the proper masculine roles when he falls in with rugged New England fishermen. Jack London wrote with grim delight about how the delicate Easterners either adapted to the savage Yukon, or perished.

    And so on. It is a standard in the comic book industry to portray pre-modern men like Frazetta did, where they are all massively freakishly muscled, typically wrestling a grizzly bear or something.

    But what’s odd is when we look at actual premodern societies, and how men behave in them.
    Native Americans, Bedouins, Masai tribesmen…first of all, they are remarkably ordinary physically. They are generally lean and wiry, but otherwise about as buff as any cubicle dweller walking down the streets of San Francisco.

    And what is ironic is that they don’t necessarily behave much differently than Hank Hill and his friends standing around drinking beer. They laugh and tease and play and act as gentle and sensitive as modern men do.

    I just don’t see any loss of masculinity, and the whole concept of that seems remarkably absurd to me. How does one go about “losing” their gender, especially if it is supposed to be so hard wired and innate?

    The premise of the perpetual panic over gender seems based on a myth of some Golden Age when things were Right, which seems to say more about us and our longings than anything.Report

    • bookdragon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Ah yes, the great cold North as the ultimate Maker of Men. Hence the old joke about Michigan Tech (up in the UP) as the place where “The men are men, the women and men, and the sheep are afraid” 😉Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      One could argue that Jack London, etc was about defining certain male characteristics as ‘ideal’ as a sort of goal-setting for other men. I don’t know if there is anything necessarily wrong with that per se. Both men and women tend to find mentors and idolize their elders for the same reason.Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    I’m not really sure what toxic masculinity is. The definition seems to be any sort of behavior that is vaguely coded masculine that the speaker doesn’t like. I also feel very underserved by discussions regarding toxic masculinity because the example of a non-toxic man seems to always be a gender-fluid or androgynous man, or if I’m going to be really truthful a camp, into things coded feminine. That doesn’t really work for me at all.Report

    • bookdragon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      *shrugs* Not sure where you’re getting your definition, but I’d say my husband and father are definitely non-toxic. Both are very much hetero cis males. DH is even stereotypically male in liking to work on cars and grill meat. 😉

      Of course both of them also help with housework and childcare, so maybe that codes them as feminine in your book?Report

  7. Saul Degraw says:

    The thing about the modern debates over Masculinity is that I wonder how many people feel lost between two warring internet camps. I certainly do.

    I was never good at sports. I never liked sports. I still don’t like sports. I am trying to go to the gym more often for health reasons but the entire scene turns me off. Gym lingo and slang turns me off and sounds incredibly dumb to me (Sorry Dave but if I could I would banish “Do you even lift, bro?” culture into 999 trillion atoms across the universe). I am also perplexed at guys my age (late 30s and 40s) who can seemingly talk for hours and hours on end about the sugary cereals, cartoons, and wrestling of the childhood instead of art and culture meant for adults.

    But on the other hand, I’ve always identified as a heterosexual guy. I’ve never felt any desire and/or need to wear clothing normally meant for women. I don’t identify as a genderqueer, etc.

    So much of the campaigns around masculinity on both sides feels like just a fight between false dichotomies between the extremely on-line.

    I just want the nostalgia train to stop and for people to get off.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Saul Degraw says:


      I don’t know that the ‘nostalgia train’ is necessarily linked to masculinity (though maybe guys are more prone to it?) I think there are a lot of guys, myself included, that remember those parts of our youths very fondly, but also in a humorous way. I see nothing wrong with that, so long as they are also making new memories. I have a friend who got married about 5 minutes after college, to the girl he had been dating since his sophmore year. They are still married and have a lovely family, but it’s like he got stuck in 1998. He only talks about experiences he had in high school and before they started dating and doesn’t really listen to any music after the late 90s. THAT is a little sad.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Yeah I don’t have the sports gene either, and have lost any interest in getting it. I would rather go to the opera than a basketball playoff game.

      Whats funny about the masculine panic is that no one can point to a man who has “lost his masculinity”.

      In the 70’s there was a lot of handwringing over stars like Bowie or the glam rockers who wore makeup and androgynous clothing.

      But whats interesting is to hear the memoirs of people who lived that era, and those men behaved pretty much like Sinatra and the Rat Pack (for better or worse!)

      I think the behaviors that are associated with effeminacy are just behaviors that both genders dislike. Jane Austin was as disapproving of silly simpering women, as she was of shallow insincere men.Report

      • bookdragon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        I think the behaviors that are associated with effeminacy are just behaviors that both genders dislike

        I think there’s something in that – it’s human nature to dislike and look down on uselessness, cowardice, and weakness. The part that’s problematic is our culture’s insistence on associating those with ‘effeminancy’ and hence with the feminine. Is it any wonder then that so many women run the opposite direction from what’s considered traditionally female?Report

    • Dave in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Wait, what?

      “Gym lingo and slang turns me off and sounds incredibly dumb to me (Sorry Dave but if I could I would banish “Do you even lift, bro?” culture into 999 trillion atoms across the universe).”

      The world would probably be a better place.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    No longer requiring stories about Man vs. Nature, it’s weird to encounter people who would have done well in one of those stories.

    Why are you still around! You’re obsolete! We’re in Man vs. Society now and your skills are woefully inadequate.

    Maybe we could have a Man vs. Himself story where you make yourself suited for this new world that was forged by people that I don’t know about but I assume were more like me than they were like you?Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

      Where are these savage men, who battled Nature with raw primitive masculinity?

      The Inuit sure didn’t. The Sioux didn’t. Masai didn’t. The Stone Age tribes of the Amazon Basin never did.

      In all the pre-modern hunter-gatherer societies, they survived by using the same skills a team of Google coders do in this very day.

      They used social skills of cooperation and trust building, formed complex networks of relationships between men, women, families and elders.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        “How did you kill that bear?”
        “Relationship building.”Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

          That’s…actually true in the most literal sense.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            Perhaps, but there’s also the thing that involves killing the bear.

            There are stories of Great Warriors killing bears by themselves.

            To go back to your point, there does seem to me to be a kind of self-sufficiency that is no longer needed.

            I mean, when is the last time that you ate something that you killed yourself? Was it a deer? A fish?

            Have you ever eaten something that you killed yourself? I don’t ask as a gotcha because I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten something that I have killed myself.

            I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten a meal that I’ve grown and cultivated myself. Sure, I’ve eaten a bowl full of my own blackberries and raspberries that I planted myself. I’ve eaten a radish or two that Maribou has planted herself.

            There are people out there who have eaten food that they killed and plants that they cultivated because, if they did not, they would not eat.

            Saying that that is exactly the same thing as working for The Man and spending the money he gives you at the grocery store is…

            Well, it’s true on one level.
            It’s not true on another level.

            It’s the level that it’s not true on that is interesting.

            Even if we want to argue that killing a bear is a lot like writing a memo about a particular type of product being obsoleted three quarters from now so we should put together a tiger team to figure out who needs to be in the meeting to decide the engineers in charge of putting together slides comparing and contrasting new products that might replace the old product and give that presentation to middle management so they can give it to upper management.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              Perhaps, …

              Just chiming in to say this response pleases me. I found myself getting slightly agitated at reading you, Joe and Mike mocking Chip for offering what, in a different context, every one of you would view as a perfectly accurate description. Politics is a mindkiller!Report

              • JoeSal in reply to Stillwater says:

                This reminds me of the thirty foot wall thing awhile back.

                “A thirty foot wall is not really a deterent.”

                “Have you climbed a thirty foot wall?”


                I don’t know what this stuff is called but it appears to be happening more on one side than the other. It’s a bit sad it even has to be addressed in long form.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

                Who is mocking? Artifact humor is hilarious.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Wait. So your argument is that Chip’s accurate description is evidence that the left increasingly provides inaccurate descriptions?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m not mocking him.

                I am, however, saying that “manhood”, as we seem to be understanding it today, is an anachronism that is more suited for “Man vs. Nature” ideals and less suited for “Man vs. Society”.

                And if the counter-argument is that the guy who kills a bear is not meaningfully different from the guy today who… does a very “today” kinda job…

                Well, I’m going to have to say that that’s not accurate.

                Even if hunters back then did have to cultivate relationships.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:


                Joking about the transmission of knowledge in societies without Masters of Education programs is not a political discussion…unless you want to claim those for the Left?Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:


                It’s also interesting to note how many of those societies were matriarchal so even if hunting was a ‘man job’ and ‘running things’ was a woman’s job, it’s hard to say whether they even had modern concepts of masculine and feminine in the sense of power.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Mike, my above comment was a reply to Joe. I’m still getting used to the new threading.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


                Then maybe – just maybe – youi should have written the above comment in response to Chip rather than “relationship building”.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well, I said what I said the first time.Report

            • Mike Dwyer in reply to Jaybird says:

              As someone who eats what he kills (and grows) on a fairly regular basis, I will say that self-reliance is not my motivating factor.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

              Yes, and we have stories of Great Warriors who singlehandedly fought off an entire platoon of Nazi soldiers and blew up the Death Star and saved the princess.

              But the thing about the stories of Great Warriors is that they are just that.
              Stories, that even the fellow natives would say “Holy Crap! That’s off the hook!” Because it almost never happened. How could it? A thousand pounds of angry muscle and claws, brought down by a two hundred pound man with a sharp stick? Holy Crap!

              If we look at actual, real primitive people, we can transcribe their existence into modern terms.

              They had a team of wildlife biologists and professors called “Elders” who gathered the generations of deep knowledge of how buffaloes ate, mated, traveled, and how their biology worked so as to pass along to the young generation this knowledge.

              They had teams of expert hunters who were credentialed in some way, to lead the hunting party; they had ranks and job descriptions and worked in highly disciplined structure.
              They used time tested strategies to sneak up on the buffalo and overcome its massive strength and speed with cunning and numbers.

              Once the buffalo was down, they worked in teams to butcher it and carry it back, where other teams of equally highly organized and disciplined teams tanned the hides, dried the meat, cooked it, preserved it.

              Then still other teams would fabricate the hides and horns and hooves into useful tools and clothing.

              In other words…a young man whose job description was to just light the signal fire, or carry the spears, or dig out the entrails would consider his existence dull and unremarkable, and dream of the Great Warrior who put all the others to shame by doing it all himself.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                In other words…a young man whose job description was to just light the signal fire, or carry the spears, or dig out the entrails would consider his existence dull and unremarkable, and dream of the Great Warrior who put all the others to shame by doing it all himself.

                Is the discussion about being essential or is it about manhood?

                Because, like it or not, even if the guy who holds the spear agrees that the guy whose job description is lighting the signal fire and salting the offal is just as much a man as he is… the guy who lights the signal fire dreams of being the guy who holds the spear.

                For some reason.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “Because, like it or not, even if the guy who holds the spear agrees that the guy whose job description is lighting the signal fire and salting the offal is just as much a man as he is… the guy who lights the signal fire dreams of being the guy who holds the spear.”

                Sounds like the plot a Disney movie. But then they release Brave and everything gets screwy.

                Sidenote: Due to the success of ‘Vikings’ on the History Channel there is a pretty interesting debate about shieldmaidens within the heathen community that really touches on some uncomfortable gender-role stuff.Report

              • JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I’m not sure if you fellas have a accurate view of it. Being around big herd animals is dangerous as fuck. Being a hunter of old must have been like being the plumber in modern times. Someone had to do it, but not everyone was cut out for it.

                I wouldn’t even bet that the people of old held in high regard the hunters, as much as had some form of reserved distress that it had to be done.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                @Mike Dwyer — I never seen anyone assert that shieldmaidens were as common as they are in the show. On the other hand, the show takes all kinds of liberties with history, so why not this one? After all, chicks with swords are badass (as any reasonable person will agree).Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                Oh, I don’t have any problem with the show (I love it). Yes, they take a LOT of liberties. In the heathen community they seem to really have a problem with the concept of shieldmaidens. They are right that there is very little archaeological evidence to support the idea, however I think it is really just a reflection of the bad inclinations within some parts of the heathen community. Some of them are really big on ‘traditional’ gender roles and warrior culture and the idea of shieldmaidens threatens them.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “the guy who lights the signal fire dreams of being the guy who holds the spear.”
                Yes, exactly!

                There is that Greek myth of Phaeton, who is just an ordinary kid shoveling manure, but who discovers his secret identity as a Jedi Knight, er, Olympian God. Except when he is given permission to drive the flaming chariot, he messes things up because well, he really isn’t as magnificent as he wishes he were.

                Dreams of glory, of a Heroic Age, where the world is a simple place and great things come easily to ambitious young men are literally, the founding myths of most civilizations.

                One of the common threads is history is the interplay between impetuous young men who imagine manhood consists of solitary heroism, and the elders who counsel that manhood is also about patience, discipline and the conquest of the ego.Report

              • bookdragon in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                Also the theme of innumerable movies – bunch of heroes goes out to take on the Big Bad and they get their butts kicked. Then they learn to work together as a team instead of fighting as individuals and go back and win!

                Alternately, Lone Hero learns that he needs the help of his squad of normals to overcome SuperBadGuy.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                So we just need more old people saying “no, masculinity is like what I’m doing now” instead of the young people saying “masculinity is like what I’m doing now”?

                I suppose we’d need to cultivate a society where the elders are held up as being wiser than the youth who should know their place within society.

                You down?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “a society where the elders are held up as being wiser than the youth ”

                Now that I am pushing 60?

                Damn skippy.

                Now get offa my lawn.Report

            • bookdragon in reply to Jaybird says:

              Our stories of Great Warriors now are (in terms of physical courage) people who fight back when a rando with a gun decides to go on a shooting spree, especially if the person who fought back wasn’t armed, or (in terms of shear grit) people who fight back when rich&powerful interests harm them, their families or communities.

              It takes different skills to fight a grizzly vs fight the govt or fight a corporation, but in most cases today the grizzly fighter is not the fighter you’ll be looking for.

              Still, there does seem to be some deep appeal in the idea of being able to survive on your own against nature red in tooth and claw. So maybe we need to take a lesson from Star Trek and set up an analogy to the Vulcan kahs-wan so modern men (and women) wouldn’t have to act out because of some primal insecurity about needing to prove themselves against the ancient standards of worth.Report

            • Maribou in reply to Jaybird says:

              “There are people out there who have eaten food that they killed and plants that they cultivated because, if they did not, they would not eat.”


              You say that as if you don’t know your own wife has been one of those people (when I was still pretty little, and never for more than a few weeks, and I only ever killed fish, retrieved birds, and took dead animals out of snares/traps, rather than having shot or trapped anything myself…***). I’ve also been in the situation where there was no cultivated food, or opportunity to hunt/trap/fish, and almost nothing in the cupboard …. which was far worse.

              But typing that out makes me realize I’m actually not sure whether you do know I’ve been one of those people, or not. Maybe you do and you were thinking of me when you wrote it.

              Of course my experience is different than that of people who had no other sustenance available for years, or lifetimes.

              But it’s also very different from that of many people on this site who’ve never killed or cultivated anything.

              ***I prefer not to kill animals if I can avoid it / delegate it to someone else, and I think it’s been about 30 years or a little less since I’ve killed anything vertebrate –maybe only 25 since I last killed a fish? — but if it ever came down to kill or starve – I’d be setting traps to feed us and the kitties without hesitation. My objection to ammo in the house would also go away. A duck is a duck, and I know where to find ducks near here. Squirrels too. (And yes, I think about such things regularly, even though I’m miles away from enacting them these days. You never really forget not having enough food.)Report

            • D.A. Kirk in reply to Jaybird says:

              “I mean, when is the last time that you ate something that you killed yourself? Was it a deer? A fish?”

              When I lived in the pacific northwest, I did a ton of fishing and caught myself a lot of dinners, mostly trout and salmon. Those were satisfying meals, and not just because they tasted good.

              I’m a vegetarian these days, so I don’t go for fish anymore. That said, I find it oddly comforting that if a zombie apocalypse ever does happen, I at least have the necessary skill to feed myself and whoever is with me.Report

        • JoeSal in reply to Jaybird says:

          “All that bifacial percussion flaking? You didn’t build that.”Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        The entire Plains Indian culture of nomadic warriors chasing buffalo on horseback was driven by young males heading out to the prairie to escape their matriarchal, agrarian societies. Similar motivations have been argued for the Viking Age and the exploration of the American West by Europeans. Nearly every culture at some points sees males feeling the need to go off and explore. Absent that option, it has also been argued that this impulse leads to bad behaviors or artificially creating a similar experience. This can cover everything from urban crime to the Boy Scouts to camping trips to frat hazing and hipsters opening free-range butcher shops.Report

  9. Mike Dwyer says:

    “In the 70’s there was a lot of handwringing over stars like Bowie or the glam rockers who wore makeup and androgynous clothing.

    But whats interesting is to hear the memoirs of people who lived that era, and those men behaved pretty much like Sinatra and the Rat Pack (for better or worse!)”

    Heh. I took the wife to see KISS for her first time last night. Her comment afterwards was that she was surprised how effeminate Paul Stanley was. I reminded her that we lived through all of the hair bands of the late 80s and she agreed on the point, but I think she was just a bit shocked to still see someone doing that in 2019, especially someone in their late 60s.Report

  10. Aaron David says:

    Are some traditional masculine traits going by the wayside while we pick up new ones? Of course. And the same with feminine traits. Is there some blending of these traits as society constantly changes and reforms with time? Again yes.

    The real problem is that people, in their infinite variety, sometimes do or say or believe things that we don’t like. And we, being people, have found a new term to disparage that. And as has been pointed out in the comments here, this has been going on for a very long time, probably as long as we have had tribes with a pecking order. Because all this is just a way to redefine that order.

    At the same time, there are “toxic” people of either gender because they are just toxic. Whether from bullying or passive aggressiveness, using their gender as a weapon, lying, whatever. Trying to fit in the box of “girls rule and boys drool” doesn’t help anyone.Report

  11. JoeSal says:

    Masculinity is a individual construct, let society lament.Report

  12. Em Carpenter says:

    Being protective and chivalrous is fine.
    Getting aggressive and punching a dude because you think he looked at your woman is toxic masculinity.
    Being attracted to and pursuing women romantically is fine.
    Grabbing a woman’s ass as she walks by because you want to and think you’re entitled to is toxic masculinity.
    Encouraging your son to play baseball or other sport is fine.
    Berating him as being a sissy because he prefers to read is toxic masculinity.

    There is a clear difference, in my opinion. And toxic femininity is a thing too.Report

    • North in reply to Em Carpenter says:

      A great summary. I think the problem may be that there is a strand of anti-toxic masculinity on the left that gets focused on and signal boosted by the right that goes way beyond this.
      Being protective and chivalrous as not as fine but problematic* and toxic.
      Being attracted to and pursing women romantically not as fine but as blinkered unless you also are attracted to and pursue men and trans women and men.
      The sport of baseball and any masculine codes activities in of themselves being portrayed as problematic and outdated.

      I think that’s part of the difficulty and why the left and right talk past each other so much. When you use words like “feminist” or” toxic masculinity” a lot of the righties and lefties have entirely different definitions of those words in their head. As a lefty myself I, of course, think that the right wing versions are usually false and see right wing media investing a lot of effort in caricaturing what those terms actually are because the caricatures are so much easier to denounce and argue against than the real things.

      *A favorite word for both internet far lefties and the right wingers who signal boost them.Report

  13. Doctor Jay says:

    I’m late to this party, which I regret. I think mostly any point I might make has been made by others, except for one that is quite personal to me.

    It’s deeply curious to me that men, like me, who do mathy stuff, or code a lot, or design circuits, or those Silicon Valley type things, aren’t really considered to be doing something manly, even though the fields they work in are strongly tilted toward males. We definitely have a bias in the culture that says “math is male”. Google struggles to hire more women as coders, and they probably do better than pretty much everyone else here.

    And yet, doing math or programming is not very manly. To wit, the OP mentions Silicon Valley as containing “often-mocked nerds and geeks”.

    These days I’m old, and it doesn’t bother me much. At the same time that’s a real head-scratcher.

    My personal take is that the whole Man(TM) brand is managed by a certain class of men to advance their own benefit, and that whenever someone taunts you with “be a man”, it’s because they want you to do something that isn’t actually good for you.

    And yeah, that’s totally toxic.Report

  14. Oscar Gordon says:

    My wife’s definition of toxic masculinity is simple, it’s any behavior that puts the male ego and pride before anything else, at the expense of anything else.

    Granted, that codes to general bad behavior regardless of gender, but in men it often leads to violent and abusive behavior, so it gains an extra element of danger.Report

  15. Maribou says:

    As others have commented, I do wish “toxic masculinity” could be seen as a subtype of masculinity, rather than a description of how the person using the phrase feels about men in general. I feel like the fact that it’s become so blended says something about how conflicted society in general feels about masculinity in general….

    I mean, no one thinks using the phrase “disordered attachment” means the speaker thinks attachment in general is bad, it’s pretty self-evident that attachment is a *good* and it’s upsetting when it gets fucked up / pathological….

    I hope some day we get to a point where attaching a negative adjective to masculinity will seem similarly clear, and easy to parse, as a carve-out rather than a blanket attack.

    But we’re a long way from that kind of society-wide healthy attitude toward gender (any gender! all genders! we in communities have fished-up relationships to all of it), and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think centuries of patriarchy had something to do with that….

    And anybody who daydreams out loud about the good old days (to be clear, not at all saying the OP or most comments here are doing this – but it’s a common daydream and one I’ve heard many times) – when things were clear and men were men and women were women – fills me with largely impotent rage about all the ways almost all of my female (and some of my male) ancestors were abused alongside of, and often to enforce, those clear standards. (The abuse reinforced the standards, the standards upheld the abuse. Marital rape, women as chattel, little boys dragged to whorehouses at the age of 11, on and on and on…. It’s not that all of their lives were constantly full of abuse that stemmed from weird gender shit, but it affected them all (almost all) at one time or another… )

    Good old days, my aunt Fanny.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Maribou says:

      Or as a friend of mine puts it, if I say I ate a cheeseburger for lunch, I’m clearly not saying that all burgers have cheese. I called it a cheeseburger precisely to distinguish it from the default, non-cheese, burgers.Report

    • veronica d in reply to Maribou says:

      As others have commented, I do wish “toxic masculinity” could be seen as a subtype of masculinity, rather than a description of how the person using the phrase feels about men in general. I feel like the fact that it’s become so blended says something about how conflicted society in general feels about masculinity in general….

      That’s certainly the intended meaning of the phrase, which seems pretty clear. I think a failure to understand this comes from either 1) cherrypicking “bad takes” from Twitter or 2) deliberately refusing to understand, because grievances are fun for everyone.Report

      • Maribou in reply to veronica d says:

        @veronica-d I think your assumptions about where the failure to understand the meaning of the phrase comes from, themselves come from bad assumptions.

        I don’t think what you say here covers a range as broad as feminist student employees of my very liberal university, my conservative and social media averse mother-in-law, and at least two of the female engineers I know.

        And that’s just a few of the women, before I even start thinking about the men I know who read the phrase wrong.

        But – and I could be wrong about this – I assume I know more people well, as in we spend time together socially because we care about each other, who object to the phrase and (IMO) misparse it, than you do. So, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that on either of our accounts, but I think our sampling methods are pretty different.Report

        • veronica d in reply to Maribou says:

          The point is, even when I say, “Here is how I’m using the term,” I’ll still get sidetracked into a long conversation with “resentment guy” over all the bad ways the term gets used, instead of the manifest toxicity.

          That inability to get past the surface words to the ideas behind them reveals something.Report

          • Maribou in reply to veronica d says:


            My point was that when I talk about there being a societal issue with masculinity in general, and that I think the blendedness and inability to listen to assertions of, like, basic definitions around the term have something to do with that, I’m not just talking about resentment guy having an issue. All those people I named and lots more have an issue with the term, and it’s not boil-downable into “resentment” either.

            I really wish you wouldn’t insist so often that other people’s perception of nuance and complexity where you see a stark set of non-overlapping categories is something that needs to be corrected or explained. By you. It has a silencing effect on me that, yes, I do resent. And I’m usually not much of a “resentment guy”.Report

  16. pillsy says:

    OK maybe I missed some nuance here, but I absolutely believe toxic masculinity is a thing. Does this mean that all masculinity is toxic?

    It does not. Hence the qualifier.

    Nonetheless there are a lot of aspects of masculinity that an curdle into something that poses an actual danger, both to men and the people around them. I mean we argue from time to time about violent crime, but when you get right down to our men perpetrate the majority of homicides by some overwhelming percent, and are the victims of homicide at some less overwhelming rate.

    That, uh, sounds literally toxic.

    Maybe it’s time for a story about me. I think I may have told it before but I think it’s painfully relevant here.

    I’m a man, which may not be obvious from the duck avatar and inscrutable nick name.

    Way back in college, I decided to stop to buy a soda at a local establishment. For whatever reason, the guy behind me in line decided to start some shit with me.

    He asked if I was gay. Except he didn’t use the word “gay”.

    Did I just walk away from this dubiously sober guy who had two inches and 50 lbs on me, secure in my masculinity and my conviction that there is, indeed, nothing wrong with being gay?

    Reader, I did not.

    I immediately replied, “Why don’t you ask your mother?” and walked away.

    He followed me outside, tapped me in the shoulder, and when I turned around he punched me in the face, breaking my nose in three places. I needed surgery to repair it.

    And part of me still looks back on perhaps the most objectively stupid thing I’ve ever done and still thinks, “Hey, that was pretty awesome.”

    I dunno, folks. That doesn’t seem like a very adaptive attitude on my part. And when you get right down to it, it’s hard to escape the sense that the dude who smacked me wasn’t in the grip of an even worse idea of what it means to be a man.

    And why do I pin this on “masculinity”? Maybe because I can’t remotely imagine having that interaction with a woman. If I’d told you the same story, but had said my assailant was female, would any of you have believed it for a second?Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to pillsy says:

      “If I’d told you the same story, but had said my assailant was female, would any of you have believed it for a second?”

      Probably not. However, if you told me that instead of punching you, the (theoretical) woman in question decided to get revenge on you by saying terrible things about you behind your back, ruining your reputation and destroying multiple friendships in the process, I’d believe that. The point being that while it may manifest itself in different ways depending on the genders of the parties in question, the desire for revenge (which I think you’d agree is toxic in itself) is not a gender-specific problem. I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s a lot of pushback against the concept of toxic masculinity. The motivations behind a lot of toxic male behaviors are the same motivations that drive toxic female behaviors, yet the focus is almost exclusively on only one of those two genders.

      To be clear, I’m don’t necessarily disagree with your argument. Just sort of playing devil’s advocate here because I like doing that! =)

      P.S. Thanks for reading and commenting!Report

  17. David says:

    Given the pushing of individuals from backgrounds that do not mesh with modern society into modern society and their treatment of women I believe you may wish to think deeper on your thoughts of “toxic masculinity” as if that is continued to be pushed and attacked then what you will have left is a society that is scared to death to stand their ground or defend anyone in the face of a horde of people looking to rape, traffick and otherwise harm members of society mainly targeting women and children as we have seen in Europe on a massive scale.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to David says:

      Was just listening to Heather Heying talking about the mess at Evergreen State and one of her comments was how fearful the females on college campuses have become. Her comment was that she backpacked through Madagascar by herself as a graduate student but these girls are afraid of every boy on campus.Report

    • bookdragon in reply to David says:

      I think the point is that toxic masculinity heavily contributes to the mindset of those who rape, traffick and otherwise harm members of society mainly targeting women and children. The men who stand up and fight that are not doing anything toxic, though since women also stand up and fight it, I’m not sure standing ground and defending against this can be described as masculine either.Report

  18. Stillwater says:

    Here’s an interesting reddit post on the origins of the term “toxic masculinity”:

    “Toxic masculinity” is often tossed around as an example of harmful or misguided feminist theory (commonly in a distorted, misinterpreted form) by MRAs. I was recently even told that the term is an insidious propaganda technique attempting to falsely associate men with negativity. In debating the issue I’ve started to research the term’s history, with rather interesting results.

    Most surprisingly, the phrase doesn’t appear to have been developed as feminist theory. Rather, early sources that I’ve found using it (dating from the early to mid 90s) are all associated with men’s movements and literature attempting to help men and boys overcome negative cultural issues. For example, Social Psychologist Frank S. Pittsman’s book Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity (1993) suggests that toxic masculinity may be the result of an absent father (107). This isn’t part of a feminist critique of patriarchy or anything of the sort; it’s a male-centered exploration of how our culture is failing boys and what we might do to improve upon it.

    A good deal of the early discussion of toxic masculinity comes from the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement. The MMM wasn’t explicitly anti-feminist, but it was reacting against what it saw as negative consequences of (among other things) second-wave feminism (or at least negative issues brought to light by it). Fearing that feminist emphasis on women’s voices and problems was muting the voices of men and that men were without a positive, ritual way of developing and celebrating masculinity, the MMM saw men as emasculated and in crisis.

    To the MMM, the current state of Western culture was preventing men from realizing a positive masculinity. This resulted in a harmful, distorted, competitive, and aggressive hyper-masculinity. Shepherd Bliss, who invented the term Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, also seems responsible for the term “toxic masculinity.” Shepherd contrasts this toxic masculinity to what he calls “deep masculinity,” a more cooperative, positive form of masculinity which he seeks to recover. He lays this out at some length in response to pro-feminist criticisms of the MMM in the edited volume The Politics of Manhood: Pro-Feminist Men Respond to the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement (1995) (301-302).

    So there’s my contribution to Men’s Mondays. Toxic masculinity was a term invented by men’s activists (but not MRAs) to help address problems facing men that weren’t explicitly being tackled by feminists. Obviously the term has been appropriated by feminists and is often employed within feminist theoretical frameworks, but let’s maybe at least stop saying that it was created as feminist propaganda to denigrate men.