Toxic Masculinity (part two)

Ok, so this is gonna be finally that essay on Toxic Masculinity and sex that I said I was gonna write.

Sex and Toxic Masculinity are an idiotically complex, convoluted and messy topic. This is because Manly Men are supposed to have lots of sex; in order to do that however, they have to be involved with those horribly deficient and nasty creatures called “women” (because having sex with men is what women do*, and is therefore feminine and therefore must be avoided at all costs by Manly Men). Prolonged exposure to these “women”, and being seen in their company, and worst of all enjoying their company could lead to ball-shrinkage and possible loss of penis, and therefore must be avoided at all costs. So, how do you have lots of sex with women, but still avoid being contaminated by their womenness?

The answer usually is to treat sex as something you take from and do to women, as opposed to something you do with and for them. Once women become the antagonists in the sex-game, sex not only stops being feminizing, but becomes actively masculinizing because it means having men “conquer” and “vanquish” women; when sex happens, it means the man won.

This has several effects on people. For one, the constant need to keep sex antagonistic requires a vast amount of toxic sludge being poured onto women, and relationships with them. Once upon a time, being married was considered a must for a gentlemen and properly established man. Now it’s a trap existing solely for the purpose of “taming” the man-beast, which men are taught to avoid. It still isn’t actually true that men don’t want relationships and commitment, but the culture teaches them that they aren’t supposed to want them, and in the most toxic environments are pressured into either avoiding them completely, or twisting them to their benefit (i.e. reducing the partner to a domestic slave and incubator either verbally or in fact; cheating; pretending that it’s not a relationship, but rather this crazed chick chasing after you).

Two, the interpretation that sex is antagonistic puts rape on a continuum with actual sex. When sex is not ever considered to be actually mutually consensual, but rather something that a man tricks or pressures a woman into doing(learning how to lower her defenses by various means is the premise of this nasty little book, which is a prime example of the antagonistic interpretation of sex), rape simply becomes the most extreme form of “getting sex from a woman”; and the concept of date rape becomes invisible altogether, since without the concept of true consensus, the only difference between sex and rape is physical force.

Three, toxic masculinity shapes the way women who grew up with it learn to interact with men, and with other women. This ranges from a form of self-hatred (similar to the self-hatred exhibited by black kids in the doll tests) and hatred of other women that causes some women to prefer being “one of the guys” rather than make friends with other women, to extreme territoriality in relationships (i.e. if your boyfriend tries to devalue you and your relationship by demeaning you and cheating on you, your only defense becomes keeping your man on a very short leash, and keeping all other women (except those “loyal” and “subordinate” to you) as far away as possible from him; remaining single is not an option), to accepting the role of evil harridan, because it is the only way you can get cooperation out of a toxic male**. IOW, toxic masculinity creates toxic femininity. And this in turn validates and strengthens Manly Men’s low opinion of women. A fucking vicious cycle.

- – - – - – - – - – - – -

*no, I have no idea how lesbians figure into this, precisely.

**all of these are situations I got to personally witness in this glorious place called ND. Seems almost the only exception were the religious folks, where the guys treat the women like precious, pure and fragile dolls, and the women acted this angelic role out *facepalm*

Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

24 comments on “Toxic Masculinity (part two)

  1. Walton says:

    Jadehawk, I know you aren’t my biggest fan at present, but I just want to say that I think this particular post (along with your previous post on toxic masculinity) is absolutely right. I have a lot of experience of this, as a man who doesn’t (and doesn’t want to) fit in with the heteronormative “manly” archetype, and I fully agree with you that it can be very damaging.

  2. ambulocetacean says:

    Hi Jadehawk, Just wandered over from the endless thread…

    How much of this antagonistic/misogynistic attitude do you think is shared by real adult men, as opposed to teenagers and frat boys? Might a good proportion of it instead be what you might call Toxic Adolescence (however overextended that adolescence might be)?

    And of the toxic adolescence, how much of it do you figure is just idiotic bravado for the peer group, as opposed to real misogyny?

    I share your revulsion at the casual use of nonetheless powerful and unhealthy terms like “bitch”, “ho” and “fag”. We never used to have too much of that down here in Australia, but it’s starting to seep in.

    Maybe me and most of the guys I know are unusually nice, but we’d much rather have a proper relationship with an intelligent, articulate woman than have continual point-scoring one-night-stands or have some browbeaten little mouse chained to the stove at home.

    As neanderthal as many men can be, I think women could do a lot of consciousness raising rather quickly simply by not putting out for idiots who don’t respect them.

    I suppose, though, that it can’t be that simple. (And I don’t mean to be blaming the victim).

  3. Paul says:

    Matches my experiences with other people. Probably why I’ve never been able to relate with other guys (well, aside from my own issues).

    Interesting post. Sorry I don’t have more to contribute, but due to my aforementioned insularity I don’t really have much to chip in, aside from replying to ambulocetacean that it’s not just a teen thing. I’ve observed the same “confrontational” type relationships Jadehawk is describing in older businessmen. I mean, it’s not the only archetype (Jadehawk also mentions the “treats women like pure and fragile dolls”), but it’s by no means an uncommon one.

  4. Anonymous says:

    But ambulocetacean did say “however overextended that adolescence may be”. I’d call it arrested development, myself, and I think that some guys just don’t see any need to “grow out of it”; since it puts the advantages in their hands, they may well think of it as a “if it ain’t broke…” situation. I do know that what Jadehawk describes tallies very well with what my at-the-time adolescent son described as typical of the majority of the guys at high school with him.

    cicely

  5. Anonymous says:

    That should probably have been, “typical of the behavior of the majority of the guys….”

    cicely

  6. Paul says:

    cicely,

    Describing it as “arrested development” assumes there is a set way (or a “direction”) for people to mature with respect to how they seek sexual relationships. I see no reason to assume this, no more than creationists are in “arrested development” because they haven’t become atheist yet. It’s not that they haven’t finished their development path yet, it’s that they are simply fundamentally wrong-headed.

    There isn’t even any reason teenagers have to view sex as antagonistic. It’s something they pick up through socialization. Treating it as an “adolescent phase” completely ignores that aspect of the problem, making it “they’ll grow out of it” or “they’re just immature” as opposed to “society is messed up and encouraging these perverse standards with regards to sexual relationships”.

  7. ambulocetacean says:

    Hi Paul,

    You do make good points. None of it is acceptable and lots of men do remain chauvanistic/misogynistic assholes for their entire lives.

    It’s particularly horrific to see it among children. I play World of Warcraft and the stuff in the chat box from other players is dreadful, the worst of it coming from teenagers, I suspect. Stuff like “It’s not rape if you shout ‘Surprise!’.”

    I doubt that any of those kids really think rape is funny, much less that they would actually rape someone. But all that sort of stuff does contribute to an atmosphere/culture in which girls/women can be seen as some sort of enemy (and perhaps fair game for rape).

    I dunno. I don’t have any answers. I just thought that Jadehawk was going into all-men-are-bastards territory and I wanted to squeak “Not me!”

    In any case, I generally enjoy the company of women more than I do the company of men. And it turns that being friends with women gets you laid anyway. Happy days :)

  8. Paul says:

    I play World of Warcraft and the stuff in the chat box from other players is dreadful, the worst of it coming from teenagers, I suspect. Stuff like “It’s not rape if you shout ‘Surprise!’.”

    If it makes you feel better, they’re probably just parroting something they read on 4chan. WoW players tend to parrot a lot of 4chan memes (although the last year or two they’ve been coming up with their own). You might be surprised at the age of people that say some of the “worst of it”, though. I’ve had exposure to MMOs for something over a decade, and I’ve found it hard to discern a statistically significant difference in behavior between “adults” and “teenagers”.

    I doubt that any of those kids really think rape is funny, much less that they would actually rape someone.

    This, I’m somewhat ambivalent about. Well, about the former clause, anyway. The problem comes in when, as Jadehawk forwards as a possibility, poorly conceived notions of sexual activity/consent place “rape” on the same continuum as “sex”. This can lead to situations where “defrosting an ice queen” is funny because she was only mean due to not “getting any”, and phrases like “get her drunk and git her done” are seen as funny and charming. Actually raping someone is a somewhat different issue, but in the end it comes out to a matter of degree. Trivializing or playing rape for laughs would make it easier for someone to slip just a little further along the continuum, where rape is lurking.

    I just thought that Jadehawk was going into all-men-are-bastards territory and I wanted to squeak “Not me!”

    I can understand that, but I don’t think Jadehawk thinks all men are bastards (she has noted being in a happy het relationship). My impression is she is trying to look at big-picture things and analyze how social pressures lead to rape culture (it isn’t as simple as bad people sitting around and thinking “wouldn’t it be grand if we could just have sex with whoever we want, by force if necessary?”). In my opinion, it’s not very helpful to try and simply exclude the groups you’re a member of from the conversation and try to limit the issue to “the other” (teenagers, in your case). While that might in fact be the case, starting with a little introspection first never hurt anyone :-).

    In any case, I generally enjoy the company of women more than I do the company of men.

    I’ve always been this way as well.

  9. ambulocetacean says:

    Hi Paul,

    Yeah, good points again. I guess because I don’t move in misogynist circles or feel part of a rape-friendly culture I don’t really know what’s going on out there. It sounds depressing, though.

    It would be nice if women could reclaim feminism so it wasn’t a dirty word any more. And use it to kick some ass.

  10. Jadehawk says:

    oh wow, nice conversation going on here. Paul explained my point pretty well actually :-)

    ambulocetacean, you’re right that this behavior is present predominantly in younger men (especially in college), but they’re not the ones who create this culture. I described what Toxic Masculinity is in Part One, and I think young guys absorb this far more readily and some of them really do grow out of it. But this is adult men behavior, too. I was absolutely shocked to see the way the grown men around here treat their wives/girlfriends!

  11. David Marjanović says:

    Interesting how bullying cultures differ. Walton was, to exaggerate, tortured so he would conform to his peers; I was instead punished for not conforming – nobody expected me to ever conform; I just served as comic relief.

    Further, misogyny of this caliber seems to have been very rare in my school, so it was not (at least to such a degree) part of the stereotype that I was supposed to conform to. The girls were all more or less outspoken feminists… I mean, America is one thing, but, Walton, did you go to a more-conservative-than-average school? A public school (in the British sense) maybe? That would also explain your experience with authoritarianism…

    no, I have no idea how lesbians figure into this, precisely.

    Easy – they’re supposed not to exist. Except in porn maybe.

    And of the toxic adolescence, how much of it do you figure is just idiotic bravado for the peer group, as opposed to real misogyny?

    What’s the difference in outcomes…?

    all that sort of stuff does contribute to an atmosphere/culture in which girls/women can be seen as some sort of enemy (and perhaps fair game for rape).

    Plus, the concept of rape as punishment is very old.

  12. ambulocetacean says:

    Hi Jadehawk,

    Thanks for that. I see the connection between “adult” chauvinist culture and teenagers’ behaviour. Where do you live, BTW? The US?

    Hi David,

    Re: Difference in outcomes. Well, if individual boys/men don’t really hold the daring, macho, un-PC attitudes they profess and are simply trying to impress their peer group they are less likely to behave that way away from the group. It’s easy to be a keyboard commando on the internet or to pretend to be the most sexually bad-ass kid in school.

    That doesn’t excuse them, though. And self-imposed pressure to keep up misogynist appearances can lead to misogynist behaviour.

    When my girlfriend was in high school she became unpopular with her male classmates because she stopped one of them trying to rape a girl who was passed out drunk.

    I suspect the concept of rape as punishment is a very old one. There has been some stuff in recent years about village councils in Pakistan ordering women to be gang-raped. Not for anything the women did, mind you, but for things that male relatives did.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/05/world/main678317.shtml

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Well, if individual boys/men don’t really hold the daring, macho, un-PC attitudes they profess and are simply trying to impress their peer group they are less likely to behave that way away from the group.

    I think this runs into trouble when they think the peer group is watching. That may not be the case much in an anonymous urban setting, but…

    trying to rape a girl who was passed out drunk

  14. Jadehawk says:

    “Thanks for that. I see the connection between “adult” chauvinist culture and teenagers’ behaviour. Where do you live, BTW? The US?”

    yup, in North Dakota

  15. Gregory Greenwood says:

    I just wondered over using the link you kindly provided on Pharyngula. I just wanted to say that I really think that this article and its predecessor are spot on. All too many men seem to behave in exactly the way tou describe. I wonder if expanding ‘sex-ed’ to a broader concept of ‘relationship-ed’ might help with this problem? I wonder if it is possible to inculcate the values of a functional relationship into young people with education, or at least to offset the worst excesses of childhhod indcotrination into the ‘manly man’ trope?

  16. Jadehawk says:

    Yes, I really do think that including relationship-ed into sex-ed would do wonders if done right.

    Unfortunately, what your suggestion did is give me the mind-pic of the stereotypical health-class taught by Coach Anderson, now including relationship advice from said coach, as well :-/

    or worse yet, the same Christian purity-nutsoids who do the “licked cupcake” and “you’ll run out of oxytocin if you have sex too often” speeches now handing out relationship advice.

    Neither of these scenarios sounds like a good idea :-(

    OTOH, at least colleges should have them. Most American colleges have these “Managing live in college” introductory classes, which are mandatory for freshmen; maybe some lessons on date-rape culture specifically could be squeezed in there somewhere.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Oops. There’s a <headdesk> missing at the end of my previous comment.

    “you’ll run out of oxytocin if you have sex too often”

    ROTFLMAO!

    Most American colleges have these “Managing live in college” introductory classes, which are mandatory for freshmen; maybe some lessons on date-rape culture specifically could be squeezed in there somewhere.

    This sounds like a very good idea — as far as I can tell, which isn’t much, because I’m not familiar with American college culture. In most of Europe, there’s not a single bed on any campus, if there even is a campus and not just a couple of isolated buildings scattered around the city.

  18. Jadehawk says:

    Oops. There’s a <headdesk> missing at the end of my previous comment.

    probably got killed when the comments were transferred from the previous site. That’s what you get for using HTML brackets instead of asterisks like normal people :-p

  19. David Marjanović says:

    <span mode=”autism”>I try to reserve the asterisks for onomatopoetic expressions. I’m not quite sure why I bother, but I like pretend-HTML commands…</span>

  20. Walton says:

    One of the reasons I was such a blustering hawkish right-wing idiot when I first came to Pharyngula was, in truth, my insecurity about my own “masculinity”. This was created by exactly the kind of culturally-entrenched toxic masculinity you describe.

    In my teen years, reading Starship Troopers, Tom Clancy novels, Kipling poems and the like, along with absorbing all the cultural messages around me, made me think that I had to be a “real man” and “toughen up”. Of course I always fell short of these artificial standards – because it just isn’t who I am – and was self-loathing and miserable for years. And I covered up my insecurity about not being a “real man” by holding the most aggressive right-wing views I could muster. That’s why I must have come over as a total idiot, in many respects.

    But I’ve now, finally, come to terms with my real identity. I don’t have to live up to testosterone-soaked heteronormative ideas of how “real men” are supposed to think, feel and behave. I can be happy and comfortable with who I actually am. And so I’m now politically liberal, willing to acknowledge that I’m quite a sensitive and emotional person by nature, and no longer in denial about the fact that I’m attracted to other men.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    So, how do you have lots of sex with women, but still avoid being contaminated by their womenness?

    By claiming you wanted sex all along, even when you don’t. Not constantly wanting sex would probably mean you’re contaminated.

    For the moment, I’ll file that study under “American university life must be scary”.

  22. Jadehawk says:

    You’re right; not constantly wanting sex with women means you’re “gay”, or a “pussy”, but definitely not a Manly Man.

    And while this stuff is worst at Universities because it’s such a small community, it’s not really unique to them. That’s how all of modern America works on some level; the toxic masculinity is ever-present.

    And I think this partially explains why so much toxic sludge is poured onto women, especially sexually active (and pro-active) ones: making sure women are only passive in the sex-game means a man doesn’t ever need to say no And if he does find himself in that situation, he might try to go for the loopholes that will allow him to say no: she was fat; she slept with X, Y, and Z, and therefore definitely has herpes; etc.

  23. Kim says:

    You should link to the previous article in this one. I just wandered over from a new post on Pharyngula, and I doubt i’ll be the only one. :)

  24. Kim says:

    No, I’m just blind and the link wasn’t where I expected. Feel free to delete the last comment and this one.

    Though having the link at the top where you mention it’s part of a series would probably still be good.

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