What is Toxic Masculinity?
To start, I'm going to try to understand what this currently accepted term "Toxic Masculinity" means, as it seems to be part of common media parlance, but loosely defined.... . Searching the internet, I have found various attempts at defining the term; one that seems fair to me: Manhood defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. This seems a bit vague, but may be the defining characteristics many men inherited or adopted. It certainly was not how manhood was defined for me. Competency, courage, strength of character and will - this was always my understanding of how men were to act.
It's clear to me that there are many traits of humanity that are toxic in nature, usually boiling down to some form of selfish desire, perhaps manifesting itself in the drive for power. Are these qualities only found in men? Are they taught? Practiced, propagated? Are they sociological? Biological? Let's dig deeper...
There is an old story that I have always loved:
"The Emperor Darius" (of Persia (550-486BCE)) "gave a great banquet for all those under him, all the members of his family and staff, all the leading officials of Persia and Media, all his chief officers, administrators, and governors of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia."
The story continues that when he had fallen asleep, and three kings from various provinces proposed a wager amongst themselves:
"Let each of us name the one thing that he considers the strongest thing in the world. The emperor will decide who has given the wisest answer to this question and will give magnificent gifts and prizes to the winner."
They each wrote answers and presented them in front of the king in detail. (which I will leave out for time's sake). The first said wine. The second said the emperor (perhaps brown-nosing.) But the third, who won the contest, won with his answer being "women." His detailed reason (and we can't forget the courage it must have taken to speak this way in front of an emperor before the common era):
"Isn’t the king great, aren’t men abundant, and isn’t wine strong? Who is it, though, that masters them or rules over them? Isn’t it women? Women give birth to the king and to all the people who rule over the sea and land. From women they all are born. It was women who brought up those men who plant the vineyards from which wine is produced.
“Women make men’s clothes. They bring men honor. Without women, men aren’t even able to exist. If men gather gold and silver or any valuable thing, and then see a desirable and beautiful woman, they forget everything to gaze at her. With mouths wide open, they stare at her. All choose her over gold, silver, or any other valuable thing. A man leaves his own father, who raised him, and his own country, and clings to his own wife. With his wife he departs this life, with no memory of his father or mother or country. Therefore, surely you must recognize that women rule over you!
“Don’t you work and labor, yet you bring everything and give it to women? A man takes his sword, goes out to travel abroad to raid, steal, and sail the sea and rivers. He faces lions; he walks in darkness; when he steals and robs and plunders, he carries it back to the woman he loves. A man loves his own wife much more than his father or mother. Many men have lost their heads over women, and have become slaves on account of them. Many have perished, stumbled, or sinned because of women.
“Now don’t you believe me? Isn’t the king great in his authority? Don’t all countries fear to touch him? I once saw the king and Apame his mistress, the daughter of the eminent Bartacus, sitting by his right side. She took the crown from the king’s head and put it on her own head, and slapped the king with her left hand. At this the king would stare at her with his mouth wide open. If she smiles at him, he laughs; but if she should get angry with him, he humors her so that she may be reconciled to him. Gentlemen, aren’t women powerful, since they can do such things?”
I think it's important to note, and what this story highlights, is the inherent nature for men to compete. To the victor goes the spoils! - I believe, disparagingly, to be fundamentally true. This story addresses the selfish desires to be revered and respected, alongside receiving rewards for our competency. But the strongest desire of all, as far as I can tell, and observe around me and within me, and in this story, it seems, what men are driven by and tend to compete for above all else: Women.
It seems to me if we are going to rid ourselves of toxic behaviours, we need to understand what they are at a personal level. Each individual needs to analyze his and herself in order to know where there desires lie, and why we pursue them.
The story I shared above doesn't end there. This wisest king continues:
"Gentlemen, aren’t women strong? The earth is great, heaven is high, and the sun is swift in its course, for it circles the heavens and returns again to its place in a single day. Isn’t the one who does these things great? Yet truth is also great and superior still to all of these things. The whole earth calls on truth, and heaven praises it. All of heaven’s works move and tremble at the sight of it, and there’s nothing wrong with truth. You can’t trust wine; you can’t trust the king; you can’t trust women. No human beings are trustworthy. Everything they do is wrong. There is no truth in them. They will perish in their lies. But truth endures and is valid for all time; it lives and succeeds forever. With it there’s no charade or preference, but it does what is right instead of what is wrong or evil. Everyone approves of its deeds. There’s nothing unjust in its judgment. To it belongs the strength, the royalty, the authority, and the greatness of all ages. Bless God’s truth!” He stopped speaking, and all the people cried out, “Great is truth and superior to all!”
(A blog for another day: What is truth? And how do we contribute to the lie.)
What drives us? What are our desires? Most of us won't think about such questions as these. But if we want to enhance our civilization; if we want to see things like justice, equality and so forth, we need to understand what we are driven by and why we do what we do. To me, toxic masculinity boils down to two phenomena: Love and power.
I believe what men want most is to be welcomed and wanted, respected and revered. And how do men achieve this? And how do they react when they don't receive it? How are we as a society encouraging men to better themselves - does it come from love and the desire to see good, or narcissism and our own power struggle? And what role do women have to play? This last question will be addressed in my next blog post, titled: Instagram and Toxic Femininity.