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  • Robert Farago


Is toxic masculinity a toxic concept?

I’m not sure when the phrase “big boys don’t cry” became a big deal. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my contemporaries hurled that admonition in my direction on more than one occasion. And?

“Big boys don’t cry” tells boys that life sucks. So suck it up buttercup. It’s not quite “harness your emotions and think positive,” but it’s a step in that direction. And better than “Let it out. You have every right to be upset. You’re a victim!”

“Big boys don’t cry” is also a warning not to blubber in public. Again, right answer. If I had to choose one of The 48 Rules of Power, it would be “Never reveal your weakness.”

I know: Neanderthal much?

Before I get a lecture on my lack of emotional intelligence and the dangers of emotional repression, I reckon there’s a time and a place for everything (except Jake Paul’s music).

I’m perfectly happy to cry at Disney movies, which never fail to rub salt into my broken family wound. I bring a handkerchief to weddings, funerals and graduations.

Also in my defense: I grew up in the late ‘70’s, during the heyday of women’s liberation, before it took a strange turn…

Back then, anyone with a shred of decency was down with women’s demand for equal pay for equal work. The freedom to pursue their hopes and dreams in any sphere without sexual discrimination or harassment. To define their lives as they see fit.

And then men became the enemy.

Old fat white guys who golfed in plaid pants with packs of patronizing patriarchal pricks, obviously. Bible belters who wanted their women barefoot and pregnant? Them too.

Naturally, women’s libbers set their sights on – saved their greatest scorn for – the misogynistic men’s heroes. Macho men.

Women saw machismo – men embracing, celebrating and/or flaunting their manliness – as the ultimate expression of male oppression. The women’s movement vilified traditional male attributes, roles and pursuits.

The media was all-in, on talk shows and drama alike. When a soft-spoken, ectomorphic actor named Alan Alda declared himself a feminist, he became the poster child for “the new man.”

Manliness was suddenly a source of humor and derision. The Village People’s hit Macho Man was only allowable as ironic parody. Same for Wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage (top of post). And check out this video from eleven years ago.

Meanwhile, rural America stuck with Friday Night Lights machismo. No small part due to the fact that no small part of the aforementioned religious right considered women’s lib the Devil’s work.

The pendulum has gradually swung back towards the middle. Misogynistic bathwater thrown out but the baby was saved. For example, being a male parent now requires kindness and empathy along with “wait ‘til your father gets home” discipline.

We’ve come a long way since the 1979 movie The Great Santini exposed “toxic” fatherhood.

That said, there’s still plenty of talk about “toxic masculinity” amongst academics and the coastal elites. Is the term a repackaged condemnation of machismo? Of manliness generally?

Our PC friends at Bard AI have this to say about that:

Toxic masculinity refers to harmful and destructive aspects of traditional masculinity, such as aggression, homophobia, and misogyny. Examples of toxic masculinity include themes of unconditional physical toughness, showing physical aggression, being unwilling to share emotions, and showing discrimination toward people who aren't considered "masculine enough". It involves cultural pressures for men to behave in a certain way that can lead to harmful behavior and attitudes towards women and other marginalized groups

Hang on. I’ll give Bard homophobia and misogyny as toxic, but male aggression? Didn’t Bard play football as a kid?

And while we’re at, what of the obverse? Is there such a thing as toxic femininity?

Toxic femininity is a term that is not as widely used or recognized as toxic masculinity. However, some sources define it as the adherence to traditional feminine traits and gender roles in order to gain conditional value in patriarchal societies. Examples of toxic femininity may include equating femininity with motherhood, using passive-aggressive behavior to manipulate others, or adhering to strict beauty standards that promote unhealthy body image.

So traditional feminine traits are toxic, and traditional male traits are toxic. Is it any wonder that men are worried about being a manly man amongst men doing manly things? And yet…

Traditional male qualities are making a come-back. TikTok, YouTube and Instagram all offer posts celebrating and thus promoting male martial arts and military achievements.

Though guns and cigars are still living in a ghetto, videos of men driving fast cars and motorcycles, playing violent video games and learning how to fix and blow shit up are online and on-deck.

Be that as it is, we’re still left facing a simple question: is being “macho” bad behavior? If you’re PC, d’uh! But if you’re a young boy trying to find his way in the world, responding to his natural inclinations, no. Not at all.

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