Friday, 11 January 2019

Toxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity is a controversial idea, and it's all over the media these days. It's a common catch phrase in feminist parlance, and thus the mere appearance of the term tends to provoke defensive responses in the more reactionary parts of the internet. The American Psychological Association has even gotten in on the act, addressing the concept in its recently released Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.

The document defines "masculinity ideology" as the following:
... is a set of descriptive, prescriptive, and proscriptive of cognitions about boys and men (Levant & Richmond, 2007; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1994). Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology (Levant & Richmond, 2007). Additionally, acknowledging the plurality of and social constructionist perspective of masculinity, the term masculinities is being used with increasing frequency (Wong & Wester, 2016).
Such language does, not surprisingly, trigger defensiveness among nonfeminist readers. And if they liked that, they'll love this:
GUIDELINE 3
Psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege, and sexism on the development of boys and men and on their relationships with others.
Rationale:
Although privilege has not applied to all boys and men in equal measure, in the aggregate, males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society (Flood & Pease, 2005). However, men who benefit from their social power are also confined by system-level policies and practices as well as individual-level psychological resources necessary to maintain male privilege (Mankowski & Maton, 2010). Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively (Liu, 2005).
The response to this from reactionaries, including many on the alt-left, is to see it as part of the ongoing attack on men and masculinity coming from a staunchly ideological academy. And this is not entirely inaccurate. But perhaps the idea does merit at least some consideration. Men's rights godfather Warren Farrell regarded many characteristics of traditional masculinity as the conditioning of men and boys for disposability. This observation largely underwrote his great deconstruction of patriarchy theory in his 1993 opus, The Myth of Male Power. Anti-feminists should stop and think here.

On the one hand, anti feminists like to defend men and masculinity against feminist criticism, making claims that echo those of Farrell: men are overwhelmingly the cannon fodder in every major war ever waged, they die in the most industrial accidents, they commit suicide far and away more often than women, and so on. On the other hand, though, anti-feminists also tend towards an economic and social conservatism that contributes to the evils highlighted in precisely those same claims - neoconservative warmongering contributing to male disposability in battle, neoliberal industrial policies such as deregulation and deunionization contributing to male disposability in the workplace, and so on.

He got away with being a macho man.
The rest of us might want to reconsider.
What's crucial to understand is that while the case could be made that there is such a thing as toxic masculinity, consisting of characteristics that have been historically defined as machismo, pointing this out and deconstructing it is not the same as claiming that masculinity or being male is itself intrinsically toxic. If we are to take men's psychological health and well being seriously, perhaps some kind of happy medium is the best thing to strive for here.

While machismo does underlie a lot of antisocial behaviors, there's something to be said for so called traditionally masculine virtues. Think resilience, stoicism (to a point), and qualities such as competitiveness and drive to succeed provided they do not get too extreme. We owe much that we have in our world to men who had these qualities. Additionally, we have good reason to fear the consequences of overprotecting and coddling men and women alike. The measures that tend to be advocated by feminists and progressives to curb excessive masculinity: speech codes, trigger warnings, safe spaces, bias response teams, political correctness, sensitivity and anti-bias training and so on are resulting in people being less rather than more tolerant, not to mention lacking in resiliency.

While the feminists are not wrong to attack macho masculinity, we'd do well to ask what they'd replace it with? The answer would appear to be no small amount of unearned guilt. White male privilege becomes the new original sin for those saddled with it. It becomes acceptable, if only tacitly, at least in activist circles, to ridicule if not outrightly abuse those with more privileged identities. Power plus privilege, punching up and all of that. And don't even get started on the sexual shaming, the constant equivocation between attraction and objectification, flirting and harassment, so long as it's a man or non-feminist woman that's doing it. If you liked religion's ceaseless diet of guilt based puritanical morality, just you wait until you see what woke social activists have in store. I can't see how life in any kind of association with avid feminists, at least as feminist ideology is currently structured and practiced, would be good for a male's mental health.

Plus I think we have grounds to be skeptical how sincere feminists really are in their anti machismo. Try actually arguing with one and you'll fast see what I mean. Their go-to responses sound more like school yard taunts than cohesive defenses of a world view that has whole academic departments devoted to its study and propagation. It's almost a law of the internet that pro vs anti feminist arguments will eventually default to accusations of not being able to get laid. One wonders if this is a sound rhetorical strategy for a movement claiming to be so concerned about the sexual objectification of women?

As a bit of an aside, hasn't current year feminism also enabled the rise of a kind of female equivalent to machismo? Scratch the woke, social justice veneer and how much of what so often passes for "independence" and "liberation" these days really just boils down to an oversized pickup truck with a "Silly boys, pickup trucks are for girls" bumper sticker in place of a set of brass balls hanging from the trailer hitch. While expressed somewhat differently: female sexual power is expressed by rejecting men whereas male sexual power is expressed by conquering women, do both feminism and machismo not thrive via the cultivation of a dismissive attitude towards love, honor and respect for the opposite sex? Do both not foster hyper competitiveness, a he or she who dies with the most toys wins kind of mindset and perhaps above all, very large and very fragile egos? Looks that way to me.

Then again, maybe feminists have since figured out that men being awash in machismo might be a good thing for them. Irony of ironies, yes, but it does stand to reason. What they like to call toxic masculinity prevents many men from admitting when women have pulled one over on them. I can't count the number of times I've seen women appeal to macho masculinity to shut down even sound intellectual critiques of feminist theory, "you just can't get laid" being the stereotypical example. Machismo's go-it-alone individualism mitigates against men organizing for their mutual protection and benefit in the face of an increasingly feminized legal and education system. If personal confrontation, preferably a punch-up is the best way to solve problems, and as a corollary to this if book-learning is sneered at as wimpy and unmanly, then men will be a lot less likely to study the institutional structures - think education and mass media primarily - that feminism has relied on for its successes.

And organized feminism isn't the only institution that benefits from what can be called toxic masculinity. They're hardly the tip of the iceberg:

  • If I were a statesman, and I wanted an endless supply of cannon fodder eager to go overseas to fight and kill for the business interests of my campaign financers,
  • If I were a conservative politician, and I wanted an electorate who was actually willing to vote into power someone who would give away the store to big business and sell away consumer's and worker's rights and abolish the social safety net,
  • If I were an authoritarian politician, and wanted a military and a police force that had no qualms about busting skulls in order to keep me in power and keep my financial backers rich, 
  • If I were a contractor for a private corrections firm, and wanted a steady supply of convict labor,
  • If I were an industrialist and I wanted a work force willing to work their hands to the bone in exchange for minimal compensation,
  • If I were a marketing executive and I wanted to an eager market to sell wasteful status symbols to on high interest credit,
  • If I was a woman and I wanted to rinse men, either in the dating game or in family court, 
then how would I want a substantial portion of the male population to think? Seems like machismo, toxic masculinity so called, fits the bill quite adequately. Don't whine or complain even if you are getting screwed over. Just be willing to work, work, work and pay, pay, pay and maybe drink excessive amounts of alcohol, drive a car stupidly fast or punch someone or something when the pain gets to be too much. Just don't think too long about what you're doing and why. Don't peer under the hood of the political, economic and sexual systems and ideologies that have been structured so as to structure your life, and not in your benefit. Doing that is wimpy, egg-headed and worst of all, potentially feminine. And above all, don't find common cause with other men like yourselves whose lives and whose blood keeps the whole facade going. Organizing is for pansies. Be tough, go-it-alone and maybe you'll be rich and powerful one day yourself. 

One wonders how many epitaphs that last sentence would make?

No comments:

Post a Comment

An Alt Left Trichotomy

My observation of people drawn to alternative politics is that they're guided by certain categories of philosophical passions. Plus, p...