It seems to me that now the initial hubbub, commotion, and recriminations in response to the Gillette company’s assault on “toxic masculinity” I figured maybe I should kinda take inventory about my own characteristics, traits, and behavior to see how they might compare with the criteria set down by those folks who view masculinity in general and “toxic masculinity” in particular as a dangerous threat to society.
A problem immediately arose when I tried to identify what these criteria might be. About the best I could do was to come up with some “guideline” type descriptions of what being “masculine” has meant in my life and see how they stack up against the current effort against “toxic masculinity.”
Those “masculine” guidelines I grew up with include but are not limited to: being aggressive, composed under stress, strong. dominant, and competitive. Don’t be weak, a sissy, all mushy, or publicly reveal emotions. Crying is unacceptable, except in rare, private situations. Vulnerability equates to weakness. Backing down from a fight or confrontation is cowardice, and exhibiting tenderness is permissible only in specific, non public circumstances. When faced with difficulties men and boys are expected to “man up” and “tough it out.” Quite a formidable list, huh?
Guess what? These guidelines and the manifestations thereof are what are now being targeted as the roots of “toxic masculinity” and are considered “poisonous” to both men and society — destructive mechanisms that must be rooted out and destroyed. But they were an important part of my formative years.
I got to thinking of how, as a teenager, I enjoyed a common rite-of-passage for boys and young men — playing football. You see, football requires participants to engage in violent collisions with players knocking their opponents to the ground on play after play. Success requires a player to be aggressive, strong. dominating, competitive, and unruffled – particularly by continuing to play after a really hard hit when “manning up” and “toughing it out” are expected. Yep, all these “masculine’ traits became part and parcel of me in real life experiences. But there’s more.
We understood that a male was expected to “court” a female, propose, and if the female agreed they were married, lived together and raised a family — in that order. The male was considered the primary provider for the family, that is assuring food, shelter, clothing and such was available, while the female was the primary nurturer, particularly in taking care of young children. Oh, sure, the father participated in nurturing, particularly with boys, but nurturing was definitely the dominant domain of the mother. Today, this scenario is being condemned as “paternalistic and male dominated” and its eradication is considered essential.
“Toxic masculinity” is often identified with male dominance – that is, a patriarchal society which is exhibited in many ways . One, curiously enough, is male facial hair – an area where females can’t compete with males. You see, beards in particular have long been associated with wisdom, power, and such – didja know the ancient Egyptian female Pharaoh Hatshepsut is pictured with a fake beard for just this reason? Anyway, I have no intention of removing moustache or beard thus purging myself of this symbol of male toxicity so as to conform to the “shave it off” slogan of the Gillette program. Sorry ‘bout that.
Okay, back to that despised concept of the patriarchal, “toxically masculine” society with the male as the primary provider for the family while the female has the primary role as nurturer. In our family, although my Sweetheart-for-Life has often worked outside the home and indeed has had her own separate career, I have been, and continue to be, the primary provider. That’s what society expected when we started out together over 65 years ago, has worked well for us, and has continued through today – guess we’re too old to change now. Okay, one more point.
Among other things that are now being considered disgusting, even abhorrent, is the saying “Boys will be boys.” as a means of understanding (some say excuse) the rough and tumble, often crude activities of boys — and sometimes of men as well. Incidentally, girls and women rarely exhibit either the temperament or the tendency to engage in similar behavior. Anyway, “Boys will be boys” is no longer acceptable nor are those rude, uncultivated antics long associated with boys and men.
You know, all this kinda makes a body wonder if the “new” male will have any of the “old” masculine traits at all. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a regular Greene County Daily columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.