I really liked the commercial that Gillette made the other day talking about Toxic Masculinity and providing a gentle reminder to men, mostly, that life can be lead another way. If you haven’t seen it. Please follow the link here.
It’s sparked a major controversy over the past 48 hours with people either loving the ad completely, or hating it thoroughly. Yet, while I do love the commercial, and I really love the message, in reading the comments either on YouTube or the various comment sections in news articles posted online, there is a deeply seeded resistance to the idea of “being better”.
I think the issue of masculinity is an issue that men to take up with themselves.
It’s great having women weigh into the subject, as they are often on the receiving end of a toxic masculine man’s aggressiveness – I think that’s important. However, there’s a reason why men are like they are today. It’s not normal and hasn’t been normal in almost 100 years.
This whole ‘uber masculine’ idea came around after WW2 and the lavender/red scare of the early 20th century out of fear of – you guessed it – Russia making a statement saying that The United States will fall when it allows homosexuality. This all transpired around the 1950’s – here’s a quote from a Nebraskan Senator. Kenneth Wherry:
“You cannot separate homosexuals from subversives. Mind you, I don’t say every homosexual is a subversive, and I don’t say every subversive is a homosexual. But a man of low morality is a menace in the government, whatever he is, and they’re all tied up together.”
That’s when the real witch hunt began, along with McCarthyism, in society and suddenly gay or homosexual people (which did not have a term back then) suddenly emerged as a class of people. There’s an old 1960’s media clip about how gay people were all predators.
We can talk about this issue all day long, you can make fun of men with ‘man flu’ all you like, but if you don’t understand the origins of how this came to be – all you’re doing is talking into the vacuum of like-minded individuals that parrot whatever someone else says. There is an opportunity in this movement of #metoo, to get at the root of this problem once and for all.
The issue was also hyper-focused once again during the 1980’s and the rise of the religious right with HIV and everything else that was happening. Toxic Masculinity was born out of a social movement to clearly define what being a man was and what it wasn’t which has a direct link to protestant fundamentalism.
It’s an embitterment of both men and women concerning the male gender. The cruelty of society as a whole cutting off young boys from being able to express themselves emotionally, from seeking help if something was wrong, in looking for healthy coping mechanisms. (P.T.S.D IN VETS? HELLO?)
Men today have every right to look back on their prior generation, the people coming out of the sixties and seventies, who fucked anything that walked, smoked anything that stood still long enough. Yet when AIDS showed up they got married, had two kids, and got a house in the suburbs because Jerry Falwell said that was what ‘real men’ did.
And men, as well as women who were flower children not ten minutes earlier, fell right into lockstep and forced that world view on their children.
“In 1979 Falwell founded the Moral Majority, a civic organization that crusaded against what it viewed as negative cultural trends, especially legalized abortion, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. It also lobbied for prayer in public schools, increased defense spending, a strong anticommunist foreign policy, and continued American support for the State of Israel. The Moral Majority led a new generation of fundamentalists beyond simply denouncing cultural trends and back into an engagement with contemporary life in the political arena. Falwell cooperated with non-fundamentalists on common secular causes but remained aloof from the major fundamentalist organizations. Meanwhile, the Evangelicals campaigned on many of the same issues, thus blurring the boundaries between the two movements.”
What does this have to do with society, today? Well, religion informs the society in which it exists and is also informed by that society. It’s a two way street. You can’t have the reformation without Martin Luther and the rise of Protestantism. You just can’t. Therefore you cannot separate toxic masculinity away from the influences of the religiously influential people on American culture.
The message on what it means to be a man has been obfuscated so much that it’s present in pop culture. Write another story about an “Alpha Male”, go ahead. Keep perpetuating that stereotype. Keep feeding into it because it’s hot and sexy and he’s rippling with muscle and he’s ‘broken’ and he’s x,y, and z. I am telling you – that’s part of the problem.
The current President of the United States is the perfect example of what Toxic Masculinity is. Here’s a quote from Psychology today:
“Donald Trump is the most visible representation of old fashioned American masculinity on the current scene. He speaks in the tones of the quintessential American tough guy. He flaunts his entitlement, is outrageously rich and brags openly about it. He spends his money in the most ostentatious ways imaginable. An entire life encrusted in gold. An endless supply of young and beautiful women to enhance his masculinity. And the pretense that he did it on his own, the American masculine dream. He talks like and gives voice to the street corner “regular” guy, a tough guy with tough guy opinions. The kind of guy who gets rich by being tougher than the rest. An American everyman.
He is to fundamentalist masculinity what the Kardashians are to fundamentalist femininity. The tough guy is a rugged individualist and takes “nothing from nobody,” a particular irony for Trump, who has actually done nothing on his own. If words do not work, he comfortably uses violence and force, guns and bombs. “Get tough and get even”. He practices old-fashioned xenophobia and misogyny (Racism is not quite the right term here, as Mexicans and Hispanics are not a race). He mistrusts intellectuals, reason and too much discussion.”
If there is toxic masculinity in the world it’s because of the way society as a whole raised its children, therefore, the impetus on fixing this problem WILL NOT be placed on men alone. This shit has a serious history, and it’s reinforced daily, and all the men who don’t understand the psychology behind it are going to resist it.
It’s so ingrained it feels like a personal attack and will fall on deaf ears.
In short, Toxic Masculinity is the natural byproduct of a fundamentalist shift in the early and late 20th century. As fundamentalism emerged as a counter culture to modernism (Faraday, Darwin) it emerged again as a movement to counter sexual liberation, the civil rights movement, and the women’s movement. People want to disregard religion’s role in modern times. They believe that the wall of separation of church and state is this static, impregnable, thing. Yet, given what we know about walls (Hi there, Mr. Trump) we know that isn’t the case. While laws still exist that keep the structure of that wall in place – massive holes have been punched through allowing for cultural shifts in the attitudes of how children were raised.
One commercial isn’t going to fix this. We need a counter movement to the counter movement.