November 19, 2017

Continuing the Conversation on Toxic Masculinity

men and masculinity
There are a handful of things I miss about the early days of my atheist blogging (2005-2008), but I don't spend much time thinking about them since they are things I rarely have the time to do. At the top of the list would probably be what I used to think of as cross-blog dialogue. One blogger would write a thought-provoking post, and another blogger would write one responding to it or seeking to extend the conversation on the topic in some way. I used to do this somewhat regularly with other atheist bloggers and even a few Christian bloggers. It was fun, and it is something I wish I had more time to do now.

It was a recent post at Atheism and the City on the subject of toxic masculinity that got me thinking about this. While reading, I found myself thinking that it seems like most of what we've heard about toxic masculinity has come from women and that it might be helpful to hear from more men with thoughts on the subject. Should I leave a long comment on the post or share it on social media with comments attached? Maybe I should write something here? And then I remembered how much I used to enjoy the sort of cross-blog dialogue I used to do. Perhaps, I thought, I could write something here that wasn't so much of a direct response to that post but that sought to contribute to what I thought was a conversation worth having.

I first encountered the term "toxic masculinity" roughly 15 years ago, so I've been familiar with it for some time. I was quick to embrace it once I understood its meaning, although I admit that this didn't happen immediately. It is not a condemnation of men or masculinity in general but reflects the recognition that some aspects of traditional masculinity are detrimental to men and even to society as a whole. I read some of the early work on toxic masculinity in graduate school, and I remember it leading me to think about my own experiences as a man in some different ways.

I could relate to almost everything Atheism and the City said about his early experiences with being socialized in some of the more toxic aspects of masculinity even though I grew up on the opposite coast. Men were to be tough, self-sufficient, quick to fight, have no fear, hostile to any man afflicted with "teh gay," and demeaning to any women who dared to reject one's sexual advances. When I was a kid, I didn't stop to think that any of this might be bad for me even though there were times when it obviously was. This was one of the eye-opening things about encountering the topic of toxic masculinity for the first time.

When most of the complaining about toxic masculinity comes from women, some men feel unfairly attacked. I certainly used to. As I learned about toxic masculinity, I realized that this wasn't as simple as women attacking men. There were aspects of how I had been socialized to understand what it means to be a man and how I was behaving that were unhealthy to me and others around me. Suddenly, the feminists at the time looked less like enemies and more like allies. Of course, this was long before social media helped to turn feminism into what it is today.

I think that toxic masculinity is one of those areas where the manner in which ideas are presented can have a critically important impact on how receptive others will be to those ideas. Dismiss this as "tone policing" if you must, but I'd encourage you not to do so. Feminists howling about toxic masculinity in accusatory ways on social media after every mass shooting is unlikely to have a positive impact on most men. More educative approaches seem to have a much better chance of producing transformative experiences among men. And this is likely to be controversial, but it seems like everyone might benefit from having more men engage in this conversation.