Twisted masculinity

A response to ‘Toxic Masculinity’

By Idrian Burgos, Columnist

The problem isn’t too much masculinity, but a mistaken form of masculinity.

There are a few things the August 6 article “Toxic masculinity” gets right. It’s true that the current masculine stereotype does more harm to men than good. It confines them to an image that takes most of their energy to maintain, and which may harm them in the long run. It’s also true that social, economic, cultural, and educational factors play important but underrated roles in the maintenance of this image and the patriarchal system; one can even include the media as an important factor. While the article is correct in identifying some of the causes behind destructive forms of masculinity, it left out a few details.

The article argues that present gender imagery prevents males and females from expressing their true selves. The image of the tough and self-reliant male inhibits men from expressing sensitive and caring characteristics, while the image of the caring and loving female stops women from showing strong and hardy characteristics. Such images help in shoring up patriarchy, which still affects society today, for all the advances in gender equality. The solution to this problem is to challenge these stereotypes; we need to reinvent the masculine image to give it a more humane dimension and start a wide discussion that will help in creating a more genuine, healthier, and more equal gender binary.

The truth is that neither the popular macho stereotype nor the prescribed compassionate image really helps in dealing with and resolving the issue of contemporary masculinity. Both the problem and solution presented in the article are products of the rise and prevalence of liberty and individualism, and the consequent decline and erosion of traditional collectivist norms and beliefs that guided and instructed humanity before modernity.

Pre-modern society was of a collectivist nature where social-oriented beliefs and practices guided the actions of people, men and women included. People adhered to values such as honour, duty, devotion, courage, and loyalty. Men led their households and communities for the welfare and benefit of their households and communities, just as women served in the latter for the same reason. Males believed in principles that emphasized the welfare of all and responsibility to others. Male strength and stoicism served as important tools for the maintenance of a healthy and thriving community, and for helping the community when tragedies happen. While it’s true that social and gender inequality existed during those times and men used their higher position to the disadvantage of women, it’s also true that emphasis during those times wasn’t on equality itself but on the “common good.” Society was seen as an organic entity, where each position in that society serves the good of everyone there. “Macho” characteristics were oriented to common welfare.

This old-fashioned concept of masculinity changed with the beginning of the modern period in the 16thcentury. The ideas of personal liberty, individual responsibility, and self-reliance came into importance. People saw unwritten customs and codes as chains to be destroyed in the journey to individual freedom; social constraints on individual action were thus overturned. Strength and fortitude remained values, but their purpose had changed. Men will no longer exercise their toughness for others’ good. Males won’t use their stoicism for community survival in difficult times. Henceforth, men will utilize masculinity for their own benefit. Showing courage now means getting involved in unnecessary fights. Toughness corresponds to participation in the glamorized criminal lifestyle. Being a man now equates to doing everything to become the coolest man that ever lived on Earth. Equality was attained, but individually- instead of collectively-directed.

The solution given by the article doesn’t offer a real alternative to the issue. Instead, it relativizes male and female characteristics as dependent on the individual, only reinforcing individualism’s importance and ignorance of the common good. Any true alternative to toxic masculinity must question not only the causes of the latter but also the liberal foundation that underlies both versions of masculinity. Only then will a radical alternative to the current state of gender affairs appear.