This was supposed to be a single post, but then that sex conversation broke out on Pharyngula’s Endless Thread, and issues from that kept invading this as I was writing it. Since it was all rather tangential to my point here, I cut those bits out and will make a separate post about toxic masculinity and sex some other day. This post is about toxic masculinity and environmentalism.
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Toxic Masculinity is one of those “patriarchy hurts men, too” things; the “patriarchy” part is the part where men are better than women; the “hurts men” part is where having your dangly bits between your legs rather than on your chest is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a man. For that, you must under all circumstances and at all times avoid accumulating women-points by doing or saying things that are considered feminine; best is to do the opposite of “feminine”, which of course then would be “masculine”, and gives you man-points.
Now, what precisely is considered feminine (and therefore having its opposite considered masculine) is almost completely arbitrary, but it’s one hell of a long list. It starts at such relatively harmless things as peeing while sitting down, but it also includes things that have real consequences to men (hence the “hurts men, too” part), like the weird belief that going to the doctor is “girly” unless you’re bleeding to death (and even then, you’d probably get extra man-points if you just sew your wound shut with spiderwire), so men miss out on a lot of preventive care because it’s not manly, and they end up suffering health consequences. This goes double for mental health; men are still more likely than women to commit suicide, and toxic masculinity is a main reason for that.
Toxic Masculinity has other, broader effects as well. Something I hadn’t much considered before, but am starting to notice more because it touches on issues I find important, is that it affects how far and how fast progressive changes to society can be advanced. Toxic masculinity seems always at the forefront of every imaginable backlash to progressive politics, most obviously of course in terms of women’s and LGBT rights (because they clash with the very basis of patriarchal thinking). But it also clashes with efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.
I’ve recently read this article from my free monthly trial of Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (because I’m dirt-poor, and can’t afford subscriptions to these kinds of things :-p ) about meat consumption and masculinity. It talks about three commercials (this and this, and a third one I couldn’t find on youtube) which show manhood attacked by “chickfood”, i.e. small portions, veggies, tofu, et cetera. “Chickfood” stands in contrast to “manfood”, which in the first commercial are giant slabs of red meat, and in the second one it’s a ginormous, fatty burger. Now, why precisely healthy food is chickfood I don’t know (it’s probably some weird hunter-gatherer pretension where meat=manly, greenery=womanly), but it being “chickfood” means men must avoid it in order to avoid turning into girly-men. Now, the first problem is simply that this manly food is unhealthy, so being forced by the rules of toxic masculinity to eat it or else turn into a girl is already bad for men, on an individual level. On a societal level though, this also means that shifting away from highly processed foods, giant slabs of red meat and other highly inefficient forms of food threatens toxic masculinity, and as such is being actively hindered by this “eating less meat will turn you into a girl” peer-pressure/backlash. At the same time, the words “sustainable” and “organic”, and “vegetarian” are considered essential chickfood labels. And god forbid you actually go to a farmer’s market! On a Saturday morning, when every self-respecting manly man is recovering from a proper hangover!
And the same goes for transportation: the humvee AKA Hummer is most “manly” vehicle; a Honda Civic or a Toyota Prius already makes you pretty girly; a bicycle turns you immediately into a “bike fag”. And for saving electricity (what sort of man doesn’t have a ginormous entertainment center?! or wears a sweater, like that girly-man Carter?!), and for recycling, and for recreation (ATVs are manlier than biking and hiking), and for a whole bunch of other things.
So, the big question is: how do you move forward in creating a healthier, more sustainable society when men are being told that doing so will make their penis fall off?