Strength without stereotypes: “toxic masculinity” response

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

According to the American Psychological Association, toxic masculinity can be identified as suppression of emotions, maintaining an appearance of hardness and violence as an indicator of power. In other words, it’s “tough-guy” behavior. 

The term does not mean that all masculinity is inherently “toxic.” Rather, “toxic masculinity” is the result of using a stereotypical interpretation of one’s gender as a mechanism for emotional suppression. For example, the behavior can include a “frat-boy” mentality in the form of peer-pressure. Furthermore, toxic masculinity can be seen in the treatment of women in cases where the female gender is suppressed in a social, academic or professional setting. 

Contemporary examples of toxic masculinity could include problems such as “mansplaining,” when a man explains something to a woman in a condescending manner. Another example is preventing the advancement of female counterparts in professional or academic settings.  We could easily fill this newspaper from front to back with examples of toxic masculinity. 

That’s why we challenge Amelia Brown’s conclusions in an article published last week entitled “A Texas girl’s take on ‘Toxic Masculinity.’” 

In our view, the piece failed to provide an operational definition of the concept of toxic masculinity. 

A claim in the article is that toxic masculinity is an attack on “male chivalry.” 

“Male chivalry and aggression have come under fire as [manifestations of the attack on toxic masculinity],” the article states. However, if we define toxic masculinity as we have above, chivalry is not attacked, but promulgated. In attacking the violence invoked by toxic masculinity, we promote true chivalry as ideally exemplified in marriage—a self-giving love and support of the other. 

Pope Saint John Paul II’s theology focuses on the self-giving love of a spousal relationship, and more specifically, addresses the role of a woman in society. In section 99 of Evangelium Vitae, he argues, “In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a ‘new feminism’ which rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination,’ in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.” 

JPII affirms that women need to overcome all forms of discrimination, violence and exploitation in every aspect of societal life.

Brown claims that an attack on male perpetrated “aggression” is a negative thing. We call that into question. A 2019 article published by the APA and written by Stephanie Pappas cites that “men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. Men are the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s.”  

We hold that an attack on violence, or rather a deterrence from it, would be beneficial to all.

Eileen Kile, a junior Politics major, responded to Brown’s piece with an alternative perspective. 

“Growing up, from the age of nine it was just me and my dad, so he would do it all. Even before that, when I was a little kid he would always do the cooking and cleaning, the laundry, and my mom would take care of me, but after she passed away, he took on all of those roles. For me, that became the norm,” Kile said. “After reading [Brown’s] article that she only wants a guy who will be in those macho roles, it was really surprising for me that it’s almost bad from her perspective.”

“That wasn’t my experience at all,” Kile added. 

Kile’s experience showcases manhood in its purest form—one that transcends gender stereotypes for the good of the household. As Kile’s life story expresses, a traditional structure is not always available in the world we live in.  Brown said that “when none of the men in a woman’s life step up to be men and provide the protection and security that empower her to fulfill her God-given role as a wife and mother, she learns not to rely on them,” asserting that the catalyst of a woman’s empowerment is derived from a man’s protection. 

We see this argument as self-defeating, because an individual must derive empowerment from one’s own inherent dignity and abilities. This applies to not just women, but also men. By insuitating that men are lesser if they do not adhere to these stereotypes, Brown lessens the intrinsic worth of men as human beings. The article attempts to comment on marital roles, but in reality it promotes qualities that Brown hopes to find in her future spouse. By choosing to limit oneself to stereotypical roles, one creates a life in which things can only be “either/or” instead of the possibility of “both/and.” 

Brown says that a strong woman can stay at home to raise her children. She doesn’t need to be a man or compete against men. She can be soft-spoken and gentle and nurturing. She doesn’t need to be “assertive.”

She is right—you do not have to be assertive, wear the pants or even wear pants to be a strong woman. However, there are real consequences to misconstruing what toxic masculinity means, as Brown does, and using that to reinforce an ideology. 

A woman can be strong, assertive, gentle and nurturing. She can go to the grocery store, raise children, get a degree, have a career and, yes, shoot a gun if she so chooses. None of these things detract from her femininity. 

Just as a man can drive a Prius and teach his sons and daughters how to play catch, he can also tenderly shape the character of his household, taking on the chores or staying home, without sacrificing his masculinity.

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