I've been thinking a lot about that word a lot lately. Masculinity. It's hard not to with the news surrounding Stephen Paddock and the Las Vegas shooting, Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault allegations, Trump, with well everything he says and does. My partner was recently watching Manhunt: Unabomber, and as I caught bits and pieces of it in the background, I found it interesting to hear the history behind the Unabomber, what were the causes that led him to those horrendous life-altering decisions. There's some kind of empathy that goes with it when you learn more about the type of upbringing a person like that had. You see them more than what their actions represent and realize there's layer after layer built onto them as a person. There's things that happen in all of our lives that shape us, change us, and influence us to become the person we are today. So what is happening to men that leads them to behave in such an atrocious manner?
Now, I'm not pointing fingers at men, saying "What's wrong with you? It's all your fault!" On the contrary, I'm looking at our culture and trying to figure out what we can all do to help the toxic masculinity syndrome that's been breeding for far too long.
"The feelings of entitlement behind so many mass shootings may explain why shooters skew not just male but white male. According to the findings of a 2013 study at the University of Washington: “Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity.” As Madfis explains, “If we’re talking about mass murderers, they often have gone through life with a series of losses—they’ve failed in lots of respects, haven’t gotten jobs they wanted, been passed over for promotion, these kinds of things. Then something bad happens, they get fired, there’s kind of an acute event” that triggers the shooting."
I recently watched a couple TED talks surrounding this subject. In the first one, I found it interesting that Tony Porter's 2010 talk titled "A call to men" ended with him bringing up his daughter and the type of world he envisions her living in. He says, "how do I want men to be acting and behaving?" in relation to her. Yet, he didn't bring up his son (who he mentioned at the beginning) and the type of world he envisions for him or what actions he can take as he grows up. Why is that? Why do we tend to focus more on the world we want young girls to grow up in but not young boys? Do we assume they're taken care of? That it's more important for girls to feel safe than to help men from acting out in a dominate manner?
In the second TED video, Jackson Katz turned the table with his talk "Violence against women — it's a men's issue". He focused on the type of language we use (based on the feminist linguist Julia Penelope's work) and how important it is to ask a different set of questions when looking at violence. Now, instead of reiterating it, I want to share with you exactly what he said: "Because this isn't about individual perpetrators. That's a naive way to understanding what is a much deeper and more systematic social problem. The perpetrators aren't these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That's a very naive notion, right? Perpetrators are much more normal than that, and everyday than that. So the question is, what are we doing here in our society and in the world? What are the roles of various institutions in helping to produce abusive men? What's the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects, and race and ethnicity and how that intersects? How does all this work?"
Jackson Katz's TED talk is from 2012, by the way.
"I understand that a lot of women who have been trying to speak out about these issues, today and yesterday and for years and years, often get shouted down for their efforts. They get called nasty names like "male-basher" and "man-hater," and the disgusting and offensive "feminazi", right?"
The language sure has shifted over the years (note the sarcasm, please). Nowadays, women just get called "nasty" if they speak up.
"And you know what all this is about? It's called kill the messenger. It's because the women who are standing up and speaking out for themselves and for other women as well as for men and boys, it's a statement to them to sit down and shut up, keep the current system in place, because we don't like it when people rock the boat. We don't like it when people challenge our power. You'd better sit down and shut up, basically. And thank goodness that women haven't done that. Thank goodness that we live in a world where there's so much women's leadership that can counteract that."
Again, this talk is from 2012, so I wonder where the women's leadership lies nowadays. In a world where the Education Secretary (who is a woman) scrapped a key part of government policy on campus sexual assault, where the President is rolling back the birth control mandate because it's important to focus on limiting women's reproductive rights rather than gun control. With all this, it's evident how scared the current administration is of women and men speaking up, wanting to shift the system, and free others from toxicity of masculinity we've been seeing. The masculinity of men carrying tiki torches, so afraid of their role in society being compromised.
"But strip away the so-called toxic aspects of masculinity: the aggression, the violence, the hate, the guns, and what are you left with? Strength, endurance, a woody-scented perfume, a liking for the colour blue? Certainly nothing that need be associated with manhood or maleness. These are simply individual qualities. The only reason to code them as “masculine” is to preserve a social hierarchy that ought to be destroyed."
We see men like Harvey Weinstein who claim they need training on how to be appropriate in the work place and to women, saying his behavior is due to growing up in a different age. To quote Jackson Katz again, "My argument is, he doesn't need sensitivity training. He needs leadership training, because he's being a bad leader, because in a society with gender diversity and sexual diversity and racial and ethnic diversity, you make those kind of comments, you're failing at your leadership." And how can we not hear that, look at Weinstein, and then look at Trump and hear the leader of the United States say "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now."
We see it. We hear it. We know toxic masculinity exits, and yet so many people will say things like "boys will be boys," and let it go. No. We cannot be silent when we hear that. We cannot be silent with any of these situations. It's time we stop being bystanders and get involved. The topic of toxic masculinity is a hard one to tackle, but it's important to recognize it than to just pretend it doesn't exist in hopes that it will go away. Young boys are still being brought up with the idea that they shouldn't cry, that conquering women is the goal, that if they fail - then their manhood is in question.
I've started coaching a group of young girls through a running program. The other day, we were outside and their male classmates yelled at them, "have fun at girls on the walk" (implying girls can't run). The girls asked me to call them jerks, but I told them I couldn't do that because I have to set a good example. I want to be a good leader for all genders. Because, while a lot of my work focuses on empowering girls and women, I don't want to leave behind the boys and men who are struggling to find their place in society as well.
So I replied to the boys, "I don't know what you're talking about. These girls run." Not at all what I would have liked to say. I would have liked to ask them why they felt the need to make fun of the girls. But I know the answer. They're jealous they don't have a group of their own to partake in. And if there was a group dedicated to empowering young boys, people would say that's only feeding into the patriarchy or something like that. Which yeah, some of those that I've seen out there seem like they're doing that. But there are some organizations dedicated to mentoring young boys, which is awesome. We need more of that. Because if we continue to only focus on lifting women up, we're going to leave behind a lot of people who are struggling to find their place in the world too.
"Well, the tyranny of masculinity and the tyranny of patriarchy I think has been much more deadly to men than it has to women. It hasn't killed our hearts. It's killed men's hearts. It's silenced them; it's cut them off."
Again, we all have our own stories and backgrounds that have shaped us into the people we are today. And toxic masculinity isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But it starts somewhere and we don't have to be silent about it. One way to start taking action against it is to take the following pledge with the Representation Project: "I pledge to use my voice to challenge society's limiting representations of gender." Other ways to get involved are signing up for their campaign and newsletter for more information, continue to educate yourself and others, and join forces with those in your life that are leading by an amazing example for our children. It's up to all of us. Not just men. Not just women. We all have to partake in this conversation and get involved to see the changes we want to see.