Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

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.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

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?

Toxic Masculinity (part two)

34 comments on “Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

  1. David Marjanović says:

    where having your dangly bits between your legs rather than on your chest is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a man

    :-D I need to remember this expression…

    the weird belief that going to the doctor is “girly” unless you’re bleeding to death

    Interesting. A study done in… I forgot where, and when, but I read about it in a popular article in German… found that men are whinier, with the result that they often show up at the doctor’s with something harmless that they interpret as something life-threatening, while women were more like “it’s nothing” and sometimes died because they had misinterpreted their symptoms as symptoms of something harmless. I wonder if universal healthcare plays into this.

    (and even then, you’d probably get extra man-points if you just sew your wound shut with spiderwire)

    Absolutely. Showing any sign of pain is still considered girly even where I come from.

    This goes double for mental health

    Being “hysteric” is still girly, it seems.

    show manhood attacked by “chickfood”

    [had to take something out here – comment length is limited to 4,096 characters!!!]

    the humvee AKA Hummer is most “manly” vehicle

    Could again be an aggression thing: a Hummer is big and robust enough to bump anything else off the streets (and who hasn’t wanted to do that from time to time, LOL), and it’s tough enough for driving cross-country – for aggressively ignoring social conventions like roads, ditches, fences…

    In any case, however, this is again something where the rest of the culture has a big impact. Over here, a Hummer would be seen as laughably exaggerated, as a ridiculous money sink (gas is taxed after all), as a desperate, too obvious attempt to look manly; jokes would be made about how the size of a man’s car is inversely proportional to the size of a man’s.

    (…Even though this joke isn’t applied to Smarts or Microcars. Those look cute, and real men aren’t cute or in any way associated with cuteness.)

    Similarly, racing cars (Ferrari) and fake racing cars (Porsche) are associated with manliness (or desperate attempts to gain its appearance). That’s because stepping on the gas pedal is an act of force, and accelerating fast (and beyond the speed limit) is an act of force and aggression.

    a bicycle turns you immediately into a “bike fag”.

    Interesting. Haven’t come across that yet. Must be a US thing, where having a car is difficult to escape.

    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?

    Take the peer pressure away.

    Somehow. :-|

    Education has already started helping, at least outside the US; but it’s not working very quickly. So far, being able to ignore this peer pressure still requires pretty large amounts of Asperger’s.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Fuck! I got a 503 error, “service unavailable”, that ate my comment! And all I had in the clipboard was my ć! Now I have to write the entire rest anew! :-(

    “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)

    I don’t think so; that connection is probably too remote for most.

    It could, however, be an aggression thing.

    – Eating a lot, especially if it’s greasy, is an effort. Real men are strong enough to make such an effort, to attack such a big, demanding, challenging meal.
    – Red meat is tough. Real men are tougher. And they’re strong enough to bite it.
    – Red meat. Blood. Aggression.
    – Red meat is an acquired taste. Having successfully acquired that taste could serve as a sign of having successfully become a real man.
    – Vegetarianism is often based on ethical concerns. On feelings – you know, those whiny things girls have. Indeed, it is my unquantified expression that it’s most common(ly seen) among highschool girls and female university students; never mind cause and effect. Real men don’t have emotions other than Django’s satisfaction (look into his face at 2:15 and imagine he had the canine teeth to go with it; then look again at 2:38, and note how very subtle, pokerface-like that expression is – like a Japanese smiley, not a Western one).

    Indeed, I felt myself becoming aggressive and triumphalistic as I wrote this (the first time). :-þ

  3. David Marjanović says:

    Of course I forgot at least one point upon reconstruction, perhaps because it doesn’t quite fit the aggression theme:

    – Fear is what limits one to healthy food, and fear is decidedly girly. Real men, therefore, aren’t limited to healthy food. They laugh in the face of danger, and they’re tough enough to withstand any danger. (You’ll notice how similar this is to “global warming isn’t happening, and it’s not our fault”.) Until recently, they were required to smoke like Marlboro Man.

    And yes, my constant conflation of women and children is deliberate.

    I also found a new point, which does fit:

    – Red meat is eaten with a steak knife. Not an impotent butter knife, you see; a dangerous implement that can actually cut through tough stuff if you apply force, one that could be used to kill and dismember. It’s a bit like a sword.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    (And even more like a saw. Compare the chainsaw, the ultimate tool of testosterone-fueled aggression that goes all the way to stupidity.)

  5. Jadehawk says:

    lol, I was wondering why I had so many comments all of a sudden. Should have figured you’re just being talkative :-p

    “Interesting. A study done in… I forgot where, and when, but I read about it in a popular article in German… found that men are whinier, with the result that they often show up at the doctor’s with something harmless that they interpret as something life-threatening, while women were more like “it’s nothing” and sometimes died because they had misinterpreted their symptoms as symptoms of something harmless. I wonder if universal healthcare plays into this.”

    it might. OTOH, now I’m wondering how “manflu” figures into this. on the one hand, healthy men avoid preemptive care like the pest, on the other when they do get sick they tend to be like you describe. there might be something else now at play that does that… “manly man” and “adorably useless husband” seem to be the two main man-tropes on TV and in commercials especially.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    Talkative? Me? You should hear my sister (…not that one, the other one). As mentioned, comment length is limited to 4096 characters for, presumably, some reason. And then the 503 error came, so I had to reconstruct a comment, and it came back piecemeal. And then I thought about it some more… :o)

    “manflu”

    Interesting. I think you’re right.

    “adorably useless husband”

    ROTFL!

  7. Rorschach says:

    “the weird belief that going to the doctor is “girly” unless you’re bleeding to death”

    Let me assure you, this is not the case, the opposite is true…..:-)

    “the humvee AKA Hummer is most “manly” vehicle”

    I don’t know that you would sell many of those in Europe, way too over the top, it’s like with owning guns, civilised people don’t need Hummer’s or guns to boast their egos….

  8. Michael says:

    I think part of the problem is in the anti-intellectualism that is driven on men. Being seen as “smart” is typically not a good thing. Better to be “big” and “strong”, thus hummers, large food portions, and avoiding the doctor.

    I wonder what it would take to make the idea of a “wholly capable man” the standard? By wholly capable, I mean able to handle all aspects of life. Balance a budget, fix a car, cook a healthy meal, etc. How to make “responsible” attractive? I dunno.

  9. Janine says:

    That bit about about bikes is a scream. When I worked as a bike messenger, I would say that it was about 90 to 95 percent men. And the really hardcore bikers were really masculine.

  10. Caine says:

    Good post. It always strikes me that security is the issue. I’m very fortunate that my husband is secure in himself. He doesn’t feel as though he has anything to prove, so he’s happy cooking, he definitely sews better than I do (I’m hopeless in that regard), etc. He’s a slob, but so am I.

    As for Farmer’s markets, he’s the one making me get up at an ungodly hour to get to them. :D

  11. Michael says:

    Ok, had an idea. Stereotypes are conveyed largely through the media, and mainly through tv. So, commercials.

    I envision a typical “guys-guy” attempting, and failing, to do important things (checkbook balancing, frugal shopping, general healthcare) while the capable, reasonable male accomplishes these goals with relative ease. The message would be that the responsible man has more money at his disposal to do whatever he wants with and he should be portrayed as clearly “better than” for being able to do so. The only thing missing is a product to pitch, without one there is no way such a culture shifting commercial would make it onto air. Imagine if an electric car was marketed as a guys dream, saving him gas money he could spend on rent for a bigger apartment.

    I do believe it is still mainly on tv where a shift in ideals must occur. Getting those ideals there without being in marketing is another question. But viral ads and videos have done it before, why can’t they do it again?

  12. Jadehawk says:

    I knew figuring out Movable Type was gonna be a brilliant move, hehe.

    David sez:“Talkative? Me? You should hear my sister (…not that one, the other one).”

    you have too many siblings for me to keep track of :-p

    Rorschach sez:“Let me assure you, this is not the case, the opposite is true…..:-)”

    Yeah, I don’t know. the manly men around here don’t, but then a lot of them don’t have insurance anyway. But when you have Spike TV (the ultimate manly-man TV station) encouraging dudes to get their yearly checkup (I think it might have even been a competition for a prize), you know something weird is going on.

    Rorschach sez:“I don’t know that you would sell many of those in Europe, way too over the top, it’s like with owning guns, civilised people don’t need Hummer’s or guns to boast their egos….”

    Ferraris aren’t exactly environmentally friendly either. Though, for those there’s at least a first step in the right direction with the Tesla Roadster, which is one sexy car, and has proven to cause testosterone outbreaks in otherwise tame nerds ;-)

    Michael sez:“I think part of the problem is in the anti-intellectualism that is driven on men. Being seen as “smart” is typically not a good thing. Better to be “big” and “strong”, thus hummers, large food portions, and avoiding the doctor.”

    True. Anti-intelectualism is actually another toxic masculinity thing: this used to already be a problem during the Victorian era, but at least back then learning wasn’t feminine yet, since women were uniformly thought to be dense and too stupid to be intellectuals. Now that they’re disproving more and more academic “women can’t do x” myths, education and intellectual achievement is becoming more and more something women can and do get; and since it’s something women do, it’s womanly, and therefore unfit for a true manly man. so now we have “girls are bookish, boys are doers” sort of stereotypes.

    Janine sez:“When I worked as a bike messenger, I would say that it was about 90 to 95 percent men. And the really hardcore bikers were really masculine.”

    yeah, I know, it’s absurd. though, I should mention that within bikes there’s also degrees. mountainbikes are manlyish, especially if lots of dirt and potential for injuries is involved. roadbiking, on one of those superskinny speedbikes, in full skin-tight biking regalia, lands you squarely in the “bikefag” category; citybikes I think are in the middle, but might be a sign of a latte-sipping intellectual liberal :-p

    Caine sez:“It always strikes me that security is the issue. I’m very fortunate that my husband is secure in himself”

    that is probably very true… toxic manliness is a fierce competition, and strong, independent and secure people are rarely susceptible enough to peer-pressure to fall prey to the more ridiculous social demands. so boosting boys’ confidence in themselves as individuals, with some non-toxic rolemodels would be the counterpart to boosting girl’s confidence so that they can resist the pressures to be skinny, girly and confident. how to do that is another question…

    on that note… why is education becoming “girly”, but girls are still taught that being stupid is sexy? this shit is either seriously contradictory (kinda like the manly stud vs. clumsy husband thing), or I’m missing something here. Though, maybe it’s just that pre-feminism toxic masculinity is mixing with new toxic masculinity where things that once were manly are now “girlifying”, so you get these contradictions…

    …or maybe this shit never made a lot of coherent sense. it’s not precisely a well thought-out philosophy, after all :-p

  13. Walton says:

    Jadehawk, I kind of agree with you on this. It annoys me when, for example, a man who is viewed as too “soft” gets told to “man up” or “grow some balls”. The implications are twofold: firstly, that men are “supposed” to be all tough and hardcore and not show their emotions; and secondly, by implication, that women are assumed to be weaker and more emotional. This kind of gender archetype hurts both men and women.

    In the end, we need to move towards a society where we recognise that each person is an individual, that people’s personalities are not defined by their physical gender, and that people are entitled to form their own identities rather than conforming to stereotypes.

  14. llewelly says:

    Mock the concept of manliness mercilessly. It’s as stupid as creationism, and no-one should be allowed to forget that.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    On the subject of huge portions, red meat, and aggression: the most real man is Chuck Norris. Agreed? Fine. In fact, Chuck Norris once ate 20 pounds of steak in 1 hour, and in the first 3/4 of that hour he had sex with the waitress.

    (…Strangely, that fact isn’t at the link. But two other Chuck Norris facts about steaks are listed.)

    Though, for those there’s at least a first step in the right direction with the Tesla Roadster, which is one sexy car, and has proven to cause testosterone outbreaks in otherwise tame nerds ;-)

    That I want to see.

    why is education becoming “girly”, but girls are still taught that being stupid is sexy?

    Are they? I mean, they’re certainly not taught that being a nerd is sexy, but… in the 50s, on TV, living breathing blonde jokes were presented in all painful seriousness as desirable; that’s over.

    Mock the concept of manliness mercilessly. It’s as stupid as creationism, and no-one should be allowed to forget that.

    Can’t be said often enough.

  16. Walton says:

    I think Jadehawk makes an important point in this post (though I might be a little late to the party). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard men being told to “man up… [and finish your beer] [and lift more weights] [and hide your emotions] etc. etc.” And someone who is viewed as cowardly, or as not doing sufficiently “manly” things, gets told to “grow some balls” or “grow a pair”. It’s implicitly offensive and demeaning to women, but it’s also very hard for men who don’t fit, and don’t want to fit, the masculine archetype.

  17. Jadehawk says:

    Walton dear, please get some sleep. you are giving me deja vu, since you posted an almost identical post to what you said on here a week ago :-p

  18. O hai, sorry I’m late.

    You might appreciate a recent Australian road safety commercial in which a bloke is driving foolishly (mostly speeding). He obviously thinks he is awesome, but onlookers cock and waggle their little fingers with a roll-eyed expression. The slogan: “No-one thinks big of you.”

    It’s funny – a small attempt at blocking one form of toxic masculinity with another. (Small dick= worthless? Really?) Seems similar to the verbal judo involved in labelling homophobes as obvious closet cases.

  19. Jadehawk says:

    ooh, they have similar billboards along the autobahn in Germany, which say “speeders are this cool”, with women on the billboard doing the “tiny” gesture. I always feel weird when I see things like that, because while they work for what they’re supposed to work, and highlight the existence of machismo, they feel like they’re almost reinforcing toxic masculinity with the size-obsession.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    they feel like they’re almost reinforcing toxic masculinity with the size-obsession

    Most drastic example: the claim that the size of a man’s gas-guzzling, stinking, noisy car is inversely proportional to the size of his… well, one could actually substitute “brain” here, but… :-þ

    Aaaah, psychoanalysis. So pseudoscientific, so useful for jokes. =8-)

  21. [...] to take from this: just as gender stereotyping hurts women, it also hurts men. As Jadehawk says, in her excellent essay on the phenomenon of “toxic masculinity”: Toxic Masculinity is one of those “patriarchy hurts men, too” things; the “patriarchy” [...]

  22. Thanks for your post. I blog about physical culture, bodybuilding and feminism, and have often wondered about the ways in which male bodybuilders challenge as well as reinforce toxic masculinity. Their focus on clean eating seems girly, but certain kinds of manly posing and posturing might be meant to compensate for that. Feminist Figure Girl

  23. [...] traits because those are typically viewed as positive traits. It's known as "toxic masculinity and it's daft, but prevalent (for example: Tiggers post [...]

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Huh. Forum posts can make trackbacks. The things I learn…

  25. wyrdjoel says:

    Cars mean less where I am, (hummers are for pretentious wankers) and ‘Chick-food’ association is more about the “only women diet, men work it off” Aussie mentality.

    Otherwise damn good piece

  26. [...] being, Jadehawk’s Blog which has a line that I found absolutely hilarious and utterly true!: ‘most people under [...]

  27. [...] these sorts of social pressures can go a long way to helping men break out of the vicious cycles of toxic masculinity that threaten both themselves and everyone else. Patriarchy hurts everyone, and recognizing that can [...]

  28. [...] sorts of social pressures can go a long way to helping men break out of the vicious cycles of toxic masculinity that threaten both themselves and everyone else. Patriarchy hurts everyone, and recognizing that can [...]

  29. [...] legitimate issues men face in today’s cultural milieu: disproportionate rates of suicide, the toxic effects of hyper-masculinity, the rampant heterosexism in popular depictions of maleness. Most didn’t. Alongside [...]

  30. Truth says:

    You’re completely incorrect that “toxic masculinity” causes the male suicide epidemic. Contrary to feminist assertion, there are built-in male and female dispositions. All species have inherent mating rituals, it is a fundamental fact of biology. Men and women are no different. Men have an inherent need to be useful to a woman, it’s fact of evolution.

    Feminists are no different in promoting toxic masculinity. For example, they criticize “nice guys” who sycophantically pursue women they want to be in relationships with. More often than not, they fall into the trap of calling weaker and smaller males “creepy” because that’s what the patriarchy promotes as a stereotype for these men.

    Men don’t kill themselves out of a failure for mental health intervention, it’s out of a failure to be loved and needed. You can’t just make that go away with a magic “it’s patriarchy” wand.

    To make such blanket assertions about the cause of male suicide is offensive.

  31. Jadehawk says:

    lol. you couldn’t have hit more MRA talkingpoints if you tried, silly troll.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    Making blanket assertions is offensive, “Truth”?

    Go back just to your first paragraph and try to count the blanket assumptions you’ve made without so much as trying to support them. I wish you good-afternoon.

  33. […] these sorts of social pressures can go a long way to helping men break out of the vicious cycles of toxic masculinity that threaten both themselves and everyone else. Patriarchy hurts everyone, and recognizing that can […]

  34. […] behavior. I’ve learned that this same patriarchy hurting me and mine is hurting every gender, including men. And I’ve learned that the incidental shit we surround ourselves with – the jokes, the […]

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