I’m a little late to this discussion, because I was trying to stay out of it. But then I realized staying out of it is part of the problem. It’s never too late to discuss this kind of thing anyway, right? Sure.
Now, let’s talk about that Gillette ad.
Toxic masculinity. What the fuck is that?
I can hear all the “nopes” already. For those of you who stuck around to read more, thanks. Let’s continue. First, toxic masculinity doesn’t mean being manly or masculine is bad. It doesn’t apply to all men either. Toxic masculinity is what happens when we teach our boys that they have to be tough all the time or that expressing emotion is feminine, which means they’re weak. It’s teaching our boys and our girls that violence means power and that emotional “toughness” is strength. It’s not an attack on men or masculinity. It’s directed at a cultural norm we’ve created that negatively affects both men and women.
“What about toxic femininity?” I’ve heard over and over again. “If one exists, so does the other. Women are bad too, you know.”
Good point. If toxic masculinity is telling boys they can’t be kind or sensitive, some believe toxic femininity must be telling girls they can’t be strong or aggressive. They must be soft. They must be obedient. They must not threaten what we’ve made our boys into, or violence will ensue, and it will be their fault, not the man’s.
Toxic femininity is a term used when women are abusive toward others. We usually do this in less obvious ways than using our fists, so it’s not always easily identifiable. Toxic femininity uses society’s misconceptions of what feminine means to control the people in their lives. Passive aggression, emotional manipulation, and threats of self-harm, playing up the role of the victim, when no victimization is occurring, for example, are toxic behaviors. When women use the way that men have been raised, whether that way is right or wrong, to control or exert power over them, we are being toxic. When we view other women (more importantly other women who don’t share our beliefs and/or values) as adversaries, that’s toxic. When we make men feel like ‘less than’ simply because they’re men, that’s toxic.
Yes, toxic behavior doesn’t just apply to one gender. It’s a “human” disorder and last time I checked, most of us can say we’re human.
Some of you still feeling attacked? Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think this is all liberal nonsense aimed at making us all into touchy feeling pussies who hate all straight men and dream of a world run by women, for women.
Let’s try another approach.
Toxic masculinity is NOT:
- Men enjoying traditionally masculine things, like sports, rough housing, barbecuing, etc.
- Men expressing an opinion that disagrees with someone else.
- Men expressing negative feelings, such as anger or outrage, for legitimate reasons.
- Straight men. Just because a man is sexually attracted to women doesn’t mean he is automatically bad or aggressive. He’s just straight.
- Men flirting. Flirting is natural and it is harmless, as long as it stops when the subject of your interest makes it clear they’re not interested or uncomfortable.
Toxic femininity is NOT:
- Women expressing anger or outrage for legitimate reasons. (We’re ALL entitled to express our feelings, as long as we’re not hurting someone else in doing so.)
- Expressing an opinion that disagrees with someone else’s.
- Women rejecting the gender roles assigned to us. (Example: Mother, nurturer, lover, blah, blah)
- Women wearing masculine clothes or clothes that “show off” their body.
- Women flirting. Flirting is natural and it is harmless, as long as it stops when the subject of your interest makes it clear they’re not interested or uncomfortable.
- Women who are gay or anything other than straight or who simply just aren’t interested. (In other words: just because a girl isn’t sexually attracted to men (or a man) doesn’t mean she hates men.)
Personally, I didn’t like Gillette’s ad. I felt like it was using an explosive issue to market a product, so the important message I’m sure was intended got lost. I just rolled my eyes and forgot about it until everyone started losing their shit. Whether the ad should exist or not, though, if you’re threatened or angered by someone asking you to be your best self, you need to do some serious self examination. I don’t care who is doing the asking or why, you should always want to be the best version of you that you can be, whether you’re a man or a woman.
I was surprised by the number of men who got all bent out of shape about the ad. I was shocked at WHO felt attacked. Men who (as far as I know) aren’t toxic, were angry and (sadly) dismissive of the whole concept of toxic masculinity. I was also surprised to see women (who damn well know better) misusing the term and applying it to any behavior/opinion from a male they didn’t like. All of this made me sad and I worry about what it means going forward.
So, once more, using the term toxic masculinity is not an attack on all men. If you’re a decent guy, masculine or not, you shouldn’t feel threatened by it. Toxic behavior is everyone’s burden. It belongs to the parents, both mothers and fathers, who teach their boys that being a man means you have to be physically and emotionally tough, or that emotion is unacceptable because it’s not “manly.” It belongs to those of you teaching boys that it’s okay to dominate ANYONE. It belongs to the men and women in the workplace, who witness sexual harassment, but look away. (Whether it’s a man harassing a woman or a woman harassing a man). We all have a role in changing toxic behaviors and part of that is not making excuses for it or ignoring its existence.
And just because toxic femininity exists doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem with toxic masculinity. Saying “well sure, this is wrong, but look what you guys are doing” doesn’t excuse someone else for being an asshole. If an asshole jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a higher cliff just to spite them?
So, how does one know if they’re being toxic?
- If you think you’re right or “know better” simply because you are a man or a woman and the other person isn’t, that’s toxic.
- If you are using physical force to oppress/control/punish someone else, that’s toxic.
- If you are using emotional shit (withholding sex and/or affection, making threats, accusations, etc.) to get what you want, also toxic.
- If you view another person as “less than” simply because of their gender, sexual orientation, religions, whatever, that’s toxic.
- If you manipulate anyone in a way that gives you more power, more control or more whatever it is you are trying to get, and removes power from the other person, again, that’s toxic.
- If you are using your vagina to get something, rather than earning it, you are toxic.
- If you’re using your dick to get something, rather than earning it, you are toxic.
- If you’re a selfish piece of shit who cares more about your needs and your satisfaction than anyone else’s, whether you love them or barely know them, you are toxic.
Basically, instead of focusing on gender stereotypes or dividing behaviors into male or female categories, and saying things like what’s good for the goose, blah, blah, blah, let’s agree that EVERYONE should strive to be decent human beings, period.
Stop manipulating and trying to control people you’re supposed to care about. Let’s stop hating and/or blaming others for what’s wrong in the world and, instead, let’s work on changing the worst parts of ourselves so that we’re all better. Raise our boys to be strong, sensitive, decent people, and raise our girls to be strong, sensitive, decent people.
And when someone asks you to be better, don’t get mad. Just do it.