Calling it “toxic masculinity” makes it sound as if it’s something other than what it actually is: the full living out of a generations-old American male gender role that many thought was waning. It’s none other than our culture’s dominant definition of masculinity out in full force.
There are many elements of this role, such as the putting down of anything judged feminine or just not masculine enough while promoting a female role that makes women trophies and support personnel for the macho ego. Those elements have been called sexist and misogynistic, for they invoke the stereotypes of frat boy references to women as sexual objects and body parts.
Look at those men and women who laugh at Trump and company’s “boys will be boys” stuff as if it’s a joke to be humored and dismissed. They excuse, and even adore, it as if we shouldn’t expect better.
Look at how the solution to international problems is blowing something up or showing off American muscles (“Feel my guns.”). Nuance and extensive negotiations with world leaders that treat them as equals go out the window when every international disagreement feels like a man-on-man bar fight to prove that this president (and country) is the king of the hill (the effective meaning of “Make America Great Again”).
Look at how the way to deal with issues involves blasting one’s strength, whether through tweets or military displays. Look at how the President courts those leaders in the Pentagon who represent the military’s embodiment of “real” manhood, where teamwork is a group of men working together to beat, defeat, or kill other men while there’s the “collateral damage” of others that masculinity says is just the way it must be.
But behind getting the country to bet on this conditioned version of masculinity and the belief that it’s how real manliness should express itself is the central tenet that we’ve got to take our little boys and rid them of any emotions that would keep them from being victorious Captain America-type warriors. Since boys are born, like girls, with their full humanity intact, the relentless conditioning process that’s still in place today must get them out of touch with an array of human emotions.
For some it starts earlier than others, but most boys can recall the ridicule, rejection, threats, and even violence that include calling a boy “cry baby,” “sissy,” “wuss,” or “gay,” and those playground penalties for just coming across as weak. When an elementary school boy is bullied with gay slurs, it’s really about him not performing this male gender role well enough.
A boy soon learns that real men don’t hurt, show fear, or admit to confusion. He also learns that his manhood will never be questioned if he substitutes for these “feminine” emotions by hiding in cold reason, intimidation, bullying, anger, and violence. And the more he accepts this, the more unconsciously he’ll just flip into “manly” responses.
A boy learns not to pay attention to his hurts. In fact, he should “play hurt.” That will eventually keep men from going to the doctor, much less a counselor, soon enough to prevent them from dying earlier than women.
And when someone is out of touch with their own hurting, it becomes more difficult to recognize that they’re hurting others. They might even counter complaints with: “That doesn’t hurt,” or, “It’s your own fault.”
But literal violence is usually not the way conditioned masculinity’s suppression of feelings plays out. Take our newest Supreme Court justice who was nominated by President Macho-Image and approved by his most conditioned political followers. He’s a prime example of going with a principle, and his worked-out, rational, mental system, rather than recognizing that, as a result, a human being will die.
Senator Franken called it “absurdity,” but it was conditioned manhood,and its inability to see that it’s hurting another human being, on display in its more genteel, privileged, aloof, sophisticated, and, therefore, more dangerous way. In a court case under discussion, Judge Neil Gorsuch opted for his self-understanding of cold, hard law, while the other two judges on his 10th US Circuit Court panel found a clause that would prevent the death of a freezing truck driver.
The infamous case was TransAm Trucking v. Administrative Review Board, popularly known as the “Frozen Trucker Case.” In sum, when a trucker in extremely below zero temperatures found his brakes frozen on an interstate highway and the truck’s cabin heat broken, could no longer feel his feet, and had no help for 30 minutes after he called in, the trucker unhitched his trailer and drove to safety.
The trucker was fired and the case eventually came to Gorsuch’s court. His one-man dissent effectively concluded that the trucker should have just frozen to death because that is in keeping with the consistent way that Gorsuch sees jurisprudence. After all, we can’t set a bad precedent here or make an exception just because someone is going to die!
The trucker is just the collateral damage of enforcing the law in this manner. In this, he is the spitting image of his predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia. If he were still alive, Scalia would still be using his religious and legal justifications (he hid behind the trope that he was just a consistent originalist) to justify discrimination against LGBT people and other minorities while golfing with rich buddies who shared his justifications.
It’s not that they couldn’t be appropriately emotional people when it came to their friends and family. It’s that their public presentation in their profession must be rational rather than personal.
So just buck up, buddy. It’s merely more collateral damage from conditioned masculinity.
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction;Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human: and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org