I’m going to disagree with Ed Brayton, who reposted an article by Joe Herbert that blames toxic masculinity on testosterone. It starts out with facts that are rather inarguable:
Young men are particularly liable to become fanatics. Every dictator, every guru, every religious leader, knows this. Fanatics have an overwhelming sense of identity based on a cause (a religion) or a community (gang, team), and a tight and exclusive bond with other members of that group. They will risk injury, loss or even death for the sake of their group. They regard everyone else as outsiders, or even enemies. But why are so many of them young males?
In a world of nation-states, young men fought the wars that formed most countries. The same goes for tribes, villages and factions. Young males have qualities that specialize them for this essential function. They readily identify with their group. They form close bonds with its other members. They are prone to follow a strong leader. This is why young males are so vulnerable to environmental influences, such as the prevailing culture in which they happen to live, and why they are so easily attracted by charismatic leaders or lifestyles that promise membership of restricted groups with sharply defined objectives and values. They like taking risks on behalf of their group – and they usually underestimate the danger that such risks represent. If they didn’t have these properties, they would be less willing to go to war, and therefore less able to fulfil one of their essential sociobiological roles.
That’s a good question, and it is a real problem. But the first hint that the answer is going to go awry is that phrase, “essential sociobiological roles”. Uh-oh. And then it plunges deeper into overly simplistic complexity: it’s because of testosterone. It’s differential development of the frontal lobes. It’s male genes.
Ugh. No, it’s not. I have all of those things, but somehow have avoided fanaticism and obedience to authoritarian leaders and war mongering. Tomi Lahren lacks all of those things, yet somehow exhibits all the properties Herbert is labeling as masculine. You cannot simply go shopping for correlations and label them as causal by ignoring all the evidence against your hypothesis.
I could argue, for instance, that if we look at warriors throughout history, they all have arms that can hold weapons, and language even synonymizes “armed” with “holding a weapon”. Therefore, possessing forelimbs is the explanation for aggression and violence. I think everyone would agree that hypothesis is nonsense. But somehow, we’re going to be less critical of a hypothesis that having testicles is synonymous with violence?
There will be predispositions caused by hormones and cortical development, but they are going to be far less specific than “join the army, follow a charismatic leader, and have happy times killing people with your boomstick”. Testosterone makes people more aggressive? Sure. But it depends on the dose, and how it is expressed is going to be culture-dependent. Whether it makes you want to kill things or whether it makes you want to dance or create art or make love is going to be a product of your history and social environment. Testosterone is not the villain here, no more than arms are the bad guys causing wars.
I happen to like my testosterone, and I consider the role it played in shaping my biological history to be a good one — it made me who I am, in small part. I think being a man should be a good thing, just as being a woman is a good thing, just as being any of the diverse patterns of expression of our human selves is a good thing. To blame behavior on the size and shape of our frontal lobes is a phrenological kind of error.
Besides, did you know young women readily identify with their group, form close bonds with its other members, and are prone to follow a strong leader? Herbert makes the mistake of thinking general human qualities are special to one sex in order to make his essentialist argument. It’s wrong.