There’s a crisis in masculinity apparently, well, according to Emma Thompson in her Newsnight interview regarding the accusations against Harvey Weinstein at least.  Women have been the subject of this kind of behaviour since time immemorial, and Harvey Weinstein is the tip of a very big iceberg.  This is all true.  Women have been the subject of harassment, discrimination, degradation, and foul play throughout the ages, but what does it have to do with masculinity?

I think the confusion lies with the overlap of the social science term: toxic masculinity, which looks at the damage to society – on both males and females – caused by the concept of gender stereotypes of male domination through the idealisation of toughness, violence, and emotional restriction.  But this is a loose definition at best, and completely disregards the societal need for these behaviours, in order to uphold the values and standards we deem appropriate in our culture.

Much like the misguided suggestion that saturated fats are evil, therefore all saturated fats are evil, people tend to look at these issues at a macro level, not a micro one.  Harvey Weinstein is a predator.  A bullying, rapist, who used aggression and fear to dominate women – and probably men in his business ventures – in order to get what he wanted.  Toxically masculine.  But spin the situation to a police officer turning up to a violent incident, they need to use those same toxically masculine traits to dominate and control the situation.  This is where the word “appropriate” is important.

A soldier, a boxer, a mixed martial artist, a police officer, a paramedic, any member of an emergency service or security team, regardless of gender, will all at some point in their career have to be assertive enough to dominate a situation.  They will need to be tough and demonstrate physical courage, they will almost certainly need to use appropriate levels of violence in order to achieve this, but this doesn’t make them toxically masculine.  This is them doing their job, and knowing what is appropriate, and what is not.

 

Take this incident for example.  A woman gets verbally assaulted because she dared to say “excuse me” when a man barged past her.  His resultant barrage of abuse only gains an audience.  People film it, rather than stepping in and doing anything about it.  The one man who tries to help, looks meek, scared, and completely dominated by the angry guy.  2 other guys are filming it and passing comment, but not stepping in and helping.  And this is the result of a society that confuses masculinity, with toxic masculinity.  While I know lots of women who claim they would have smashed the guy’s face in, in reality, he would have torn them apart.  He was on an adrenaline fuelled rage, and was physically bigger than the women who said this.  If they started something, the likelihood is they would have ended up in hospital. But the fact that no man stepped forward to do the right thing and dominate the situation in order to deescalate it, is a direct result of the demonisation of being masculine.

The average male is constantly bombarded with messages that he needs to open up about his feelings, he needs to embrace feminism, and above all else, he needs to stop being masculine, because these are all behaviours that will end toxic masculinity as described above. And to an extent, this is right.  Men do need to learn how to vent their frustrations and stop bottling up so much emotion; they do need to recognise that women have been oppressed since time began, and behave appropriately towards them; but this doesn’t mean they have to stop being masculine and turn into “girlie men” to coin a phrase by Arnold Schwarzenegger.   We don’t all need to turn into blubbing babies who need to rely on our female partners to physically carry us out of harms way.  We just need to find an appropriate way of dealing with these internal issues ourselves, at an appropriate time, and in an appropriate place.

We are forcing men too far away from masculinity.  Men are more concerned about doing what’s perceived to be right of them in this new age model that is being defined by women, rather than instinctively doing what they consider to be right for them, at that time.  I remember holding a door open for a woman, and she gave me no end of abuse about me being a pawn of the patriarchy, and that I clearly thought she was too weak and feeble to open the door herself, so I had to patronise her by doing it for her.  I gave up a seat on the underground for a woman and she had a go at me for suggesting she couldn’t stand on a train for 10 minutes like the rest of the men there.  I know these are isolated situations, and are in the minority, but it’s no wonder men are confused about what behaviour is deemed appropriate.  In a much darker situation, I remember coming out of a night club in Bishop’s Stortford, and saw a man punching the living daylights out of a girl.  I stepped in and knocked the guy unconscious.  She went spare at me because she knew that when the guy woke up, he would take what happened to him, out on her.

Only experience can guide us on what is the best and most appropriate behaviour for any given circumstance, but the birth of radical feminism, the vilification of masculinity, and the increasing nature of selfishness in today’s society, are all beginning to muddy the water.  When my young daughter is old enough to marry, I want her to find a man who is strong enough to be able to protect her, respectful enough to support her in all her endeavours, and courageous enough to do what’s right, and appropriate, by them both.  So rather than claim that all masculinity is toxic, why don’t we focus more on teaching our kids what is appropriate behaviour?

Image taken from a link site to an article by Emily Bobrow in the Economist 1843 where she investigates the trials of modern man.

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