“Harvey Weinstein Will Be Arrested and Charged With Rape,” a New York Times headline reads; “R. Kelly Pleads Not Guilty to Sex Abuse Charges,” a WSJ headline reads; “Trump Mocks Al Franken for Resigning Quickly Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations,” a Washington Post headline reads; “Kavanaugh Battle May Energize Republicans Ahead of 2018” a PBS Newshour headline reads; “GOP Senator Mocks Alexandria Ocasio Cortez,” a Daily Wire headline reads… we could go on and on highlighting examples of how the media has captured subtle truths and overt outcomes of our patriarchy - namely Toxic Masculinity.
While the press paints a bleak reality, there are bright spots. Their is the #MeToo movement helping give voice to victims of sexual assault. There is President Barack Obama speaking out against toxic masculinity, in particular how exaggerating stereotypical masculine behaviors can be a trap for black men in response to racism. There is Gillette, which has released an entire advertising campaign addressing both the #MeToo movement as well as toxic masculinity (In terms of sexual conquest and violence). Their campaign is a call to action for men, “to say the right thing, to act the right way… in ways big and small.”
Gillette’s campaign also provides some interesting data. The day after their initial advertisement was released Youtube recorded 140K “likes” and 440K “dislikes;” one month later there were 777K “likes,” and 1.4M “dislikes.” This is not scientific data. It is not fine tuned marketing data. It is not necessarily indicative of what Gillette's market base, or men, or people of the world may truly think. It does not tell us if Gillette is making money off of their gambit. But it is an interesting data point, a real time response to Gillette's new campaign on a large scale. It is telling of where we are at as a people. And as Gillette’s campaign states, “we can do better as men,” because toxic masculinity is literally killing us.
While still new, research is beginning to elucidate how toxic masculinity kills us. It kills us directly by playing a role in mass shootings and suicide rates. It kills us more subtly by playing a role in depression, alcoholism, abuse, and even increasing pollution. Toxic masculinity is also a component of patriarchy which makes it an integral part of the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy and is therefore complicit in killing people of color. While death may be an extreme outcome of toxic masculinity, at the very least it’s toxicity is so pervasive that over a million people disliked a short advertisement about being a better human. Which begs the question: Why are men so broken?
We should note, men are not born broken. Patriarchy is not biologically deterministic. There are real biological differences between the sexes - but none of these differences are toxic, and the differences always overlap. Toxic masculinity is a learned behavior. And as such - it can be unlearned.
There are signs that we are beginning the crucial work of unlearning toxic masculinity. Billy Porter at the Oscars wore a tuxedo gown and stated he did it to start a discussion about how we view masculinity and femininity. Jay-Z’s latest album 4:44 confronted the ways toxic masculinity hindered his own growth and hurt his relationships including nearly costing him his marriage. And Moonlight, the Oscar winning film, challenged themes of toxic masculinity.
Because toxic masculinity is taught, we need to name it and teach the counter narrative (see here for materials on how we’ve done this in our classroom). We need to explicitly teach what patriarchy is, how patriarchy fits into other systems of oppression (in particular racism), and we need to teach what masculinity really means. As Obama expresses, “All of us have to recognize that being a man is first and foremost being a good human. That means being responsible, working hard, being kind, respectful, compassionate.”
Ian McLaughlin, Ryan Williams-Virden