Can masculinity, as it is currently defined, survive our culture?
Unless we’re living 24/7 in an underground bunker without access to the news or social media, we’ve heard of the uproar caused by the Gillette commercial that straight out tells us that toxic masculinity isn’t the best that men can be.
Here’s what’s interesting: Gillette specifically says toxic masculinity, and yet most of the men complaining just heard masculinity. They got angry about it, as evidenced by the incredible amount of men who commented on the viral video. They are wrong in thinking that Gillette is attacking masculinity, but they’re also right in a way.
Survival is not an option- not for masculinity in its current form.
What we’ve seen from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements is that toxic masculinity is far more prevalent than most men realize, and there’s a good reason for this.
Women know all too well just how prevalent it is because we’re on the receiving end of near-constant sexist behavior. It’s not just sexual harassment and assault. It’s the constant underlying double standards that exist in every aspect of the patriarchy. It’s the “nice guys” who aren’t that nice at all when we’re simply not interested in them. It’s the dialogue about other women that infiltrates their conversation. It’s social constructs like “slut” and “prude,” which stigmatize sexuality in women. It’s everywhere.
Men, on the other hand, are existing inside the bubble that’s created when they aren’t the ones being targeted by the behavior. It’s an invisible privilege that prevents them from seeing what we, as women, see every day. Toxic masculinity, to these men, is seen as a rarity rather than the rule.
Some of the men don’t see it because they’ve normalized it and are busy perpetuating it. Other men don’t see it because they don’t participate in it and surround themselves with other men who would never think of behaving in toxic ways. Then, there’s another group where men don’t participate in it, but they’ve normalized the behaviors they see around them because they haven’t seen the damage it causes.
Masculinity in its current form cannot survive the cultural shift toward equality.
While men may have a knee-jerk reaction of anger or fear at this idea, it’s actually a good thing for both men and women. Karin Swann postulates what post-patriarchal masculinity might look like in When Gillette asks men “Is This the Best a Man Can Get?”, what happens next? It’s a thoughtful piece that examines the evolution of masculinity when equality replaces the patriarchy.
And, like it or not, that day is coming.
Equality is what we’re working toward. Equality doesn’t look like a power differential. Equality is what might happen when a woman runs for President, and no one raises an eyebrow or ever refers to gender in any way. It’s just expected that any gender could fill that position because it’s a job that doesn’t require particular genitalia to carry out.
Equality looks like equal pay for equal work and throwing out antiquated ideas of what it means to be a girl or boy. After all, pink for girls and blue for boys was a marketing ploy. It used to be the other way around. Pink was, originally, considered a masculine color, and yet there are people who will die on the hill of pink-is-for-girls-and-blue-is-for-boys because they believe it is fact. They are the same people who spout biology in their sexist arguments but don’t understand biology, psychology, or what valid research looks like. They just know what they’ve been told, and they believe it because it fits into their pre-established dogma.
Masculinity can’t survive in the way it’s been allowed to in the past. The toxicity that has run as an undercurrent is being rooted out. Instead, companies like Gillette are starting to explore the idea of men doing better- for themselves and for women. Of course, they could stand to complete their transition by getting rid of the pink tax for their products. Still, it’s a start.
We shouldn’t be afraid to examine a new idea of masculinity.
There have always been men who don’t fit the “masculine” mold in its current toxic state. Redefining men allows boys to be boys in a way they’ve never been allowed to be before. Boys have feelings; a new definition of masculinity would allow them to express feelings other than anger in a socially acceptable way. Social acceptance of a new masculinity would allow boys to become whatever it is they like whether that’s a footballer or a stay-at-home dad, a nurse or an engineer, or whatever career suits their natural aptitude as a human rather than as a cis-gendered male in a world overly fond of pigeonholing people.
Evolving into equality and beyond patriarchy changes everything in the best way possible. I mean, what are we losing really? The toxic sexual double standard? The narrow choice of acceptable careers? The pay gap that doesn’t benefit families overall or boost our economy?
And what do we gain? We gain the freedom to be who we are. All the studies show that raising children in gender-neutral environments has a positive impact. It allows them to explore the world freely, to identify their talents and strengths without being limited by gender constructs, and to develop as more well-rounded individuals.
Toxic masculinity will tell you that it makes children gay or transgender or somehow “less” something. First of all, the very idea that someone is less because of gender identity or sexual orientation is deeply damaging. And wrong. And has no basis in reality. But beyond that, regardless of how one might think gender identity or sexual orientation comes about, it has nothing at all to do with whether or not we dress our girls in pink and buy them Barbies or send our boys out to play in the mud. Thinking of the LGBTQIA+ community as being something we can cause or something that needs to be fixed is a symptom of toxic masculinity as well as bigotry.
Moving from patriarchy toward equality and throwing out the current idea of masculinity as being intertwined with toxicity allows all men to explore and celebrate their diversity as individuals.
It allows women to do the same. It puts us on an even playing field so that we can have strong partnerships with the partners of our choice and interact in the world without power differentials based solely on gender identity.
No, the current form of masculinity can’t survive. But it is giving way to something more positive for men everywhere. Masculinity isn’t dying out as much as it’s evolving. It’s becoming something better for both men and women.
It’s okay for men to have feelings about that change.
Change is scary and hard and intimidating. But it’s important, too. It makes us better and stronger and more authentic.
We, as women, have feelings about it, too. We’re thinking that it’s about time. We’re happy to see so many men already emulating the very idea that Gillette had in mind when it said that being a man doesn’t have to be toxic.
To the men who are too busy shouting about the decline of the world and the loss of their manhood, we see clearly your toxic and fragile masculinity and recognize that this change will be a difficult one for you to make, but it’s a choice to evolve or die out. Because other men are taking notice of the freedoms that come with equality. They’re teaching their sons and daughters a new way of being a man in this world. We’re slowly seeing how equality is something that makes the world better. The toxicity is the thing that tears it apart.
Masculinity is evolving, and we are here for it.
It doesn’t have to be the death knell of all things men like about being men. It just broadens the definition and roots out the toxic ideas that have surrounded it. It’s throwing out the idea that men are trash, which circulates in our consciousness. New masculinity says that some people are trash (because they choose to behave that way), but that it’s not gender-specific. It says that we can all be better, if only we’re willing to evolve.