PZ is Right in Everything He Says, But He Didn’t Say Everything

There have been many articles and classes and books and lectures that have attempted to productively address toxic masculinity. And, though this may surprise many of you, there have been blog posts as well. PZ has his own up right now, which is itself responding to another (and thoroughly incompetent) attempt to address toxic masculinity in a blog post.

Nothing PZ says is wrong, but it reminds me that I am ever surprised at how often 2 of the most important points to remember about TM are left unstated. It’s not that people aren’t aware of them, at some level, but I think we get much farther much faster if we make them explicit.

First, masculinity is not toxic if it is not compulsory. If being an alligator wrestler was simply another choice someone could make to express themselves in a manner that they feel is masculine, by all means, they should feel free to wrestle any alligator that consents to the contest using whatever strategies, skills, and maneuvers seem most masculinely expressive to them.

Second, masculinity is not toxic if it is realistically achievable by the vast majority of men (and others expected to express masculinity). In fact, one measure of the toxicity of a particular culture’s masculinity might be a well-founded estimate of how many men actually achieve that cultures expectations for men.

That James Hamblin quote PZ provides entirely turns on these two facts, though it doesn’t state them in so many words:

When men seek that control — when we feel it’s our due — and don’t achieve it, we can resent and hate. Toxic masculinity sets expectations that prime us for disappointment. We turn that disappointment on ourselves and others as anger and hatred.

This statement is all about the combination of toxic masculinity’s dual nature as compulsory and yet unattainable. Ironically, the MRAs who are so relentlessly anti-feminist and so frequently deride the concept of toxic masculinity also complain relentlessly (as documented at WHTM) about being unable to attain what is expected of them as men and then being penalized for that. The problem in the MRA approach is that they blame women for failing to give them certain of those things to which they believe themselves entitled rather than the system of compulsory masculinity for creating an expectation that every man will possess things that simply don’t exist in the numbers required for every man to receive them.

Not every man can receive envious looks from other men upon the display of the body of a woman with whom that man has had sex. If every man is satisfied with his own sexual partner, there will be no envy of another man who is also satisfied with his sexual partner. (And, of course, this says nothing at all about the unfairness of such expectations being applied to gay or queer men.)

Though the MRAs will repeatedly insist that feminists are hostile to men, toxic masculinity is horrible for men. The reasons for men’s increased success in suicide has everything to do with gun culture, and gun culture in the US has everything to do with the culture of masculinity that is both mandatory (in the sense that violations of masculine expectations are punished) and designed to be unattainable (since part of being “masculine” is being better than other men – James Bond masculinity is expressed not only through consistent “victories” over women, but even more frequently by “victories” over other men, who by definition are “losing” and thus failing to achieve the demanded level of masculinity).

Though we feminists obviously have some self-interest in ending compulsory, unattainable masculinity, the feminist opposition to toxic masculinity is, among other things, a campaign to better – and in some cases to save – men’s lives.



  1. Oggie. says

    the feminist opposition to toxic masculinity is, among other things, a campaign to better – and in some cases to save – men’s lives.

    Agreed. Fully.

    My (unsuccessful (obviously)) attempted suicide was the same time my son was in Cub Scouts. I lucked out and failed.

    And today, I still cannot talk to anyone in meatspace about what I did and what was done to me. Because I really have internalized the whole idea of toxic masculinity. I know it is bad for who I am, I know it hurts me, but I cannot, mentally, get past it.

    I know that makes no sense, but for me, that’s life.

  2. invivoMark says

    You could say that toxic masculinity was my gateway drug to feminism. I knew what it was long before I had a name for it, and I knew how hurtful it was to myself specifically and to most other men and women generally. And I also knew I was guilty of perpetuating it.

    I wasn’t really that interested in feminism (though I had some vague notion that it was generally a good thing) until I understood the intersection between feminism and TM. And now I see the almost perfect overlap between those who oppose feminism (and blame it for all their problems) and those who aggressively perpetuate TM (which is pretty much the source of all their problems). It’s a frustrating thing to see.

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