Today’s masculine role models seem grounded in older versions prevalent in the 1950’s. Are we returning to the stereotypes of old? I have a son and grandson and I have been hoping they would have positive models of men who are strong, caring and respectful. On the other hand, my daughter and granddaughter seem to have more positive female models and more flexibility in their life than their male counterparts do. Every time I think male masculinity is improving we see stark examples of toxic and destructive male energy. How can we encourage male role models that emphasize the best of masculinity not the worst?
What we have is many are calling “toxic masculinity”, the new buzz term for men currently in the media stratosphere. A prominent model is the soon to be president of the United States replacing Barack Obama, a man not afraid to be strong or show emotion: a reflective, intelligent, respectful model of masculinity. It seems like we are quickly propelling backwards. Is this a backlash against the gains women have made in the past 20 years and/or the roar from apparently disenfranchised white males that constitute the Trump voters?
Instead of positive male models we have “say it like it is” types, anti politically correct, pompous, narcissistic, racist, xenophobic, and misogynist etc. using Twitter at 3:00AM, trolls trash talking females, males, everyone. The images and models of masculinity we see on the screen are Captain America, Liam Neeson in ”Taken”” Walter White from “Breaking Bad” “the badass” from wimp to drug kingpin, Vladimir Putin riding his horse bare chested, soldiers killing in war films, brutal fist fights and blow them up, lock her up tirades; Police shooting unarmed African Americans, ISIS males seducing and oppressing women and blowing up countless civilians, Boko Haram kidnapping women and girls, and male media personalities talking tough. A gay nightclub is targeted in Orlando, Florida, 49 dead, certainly a message from toxic masculinity.
The male lead, Casey Affleck, in “Manchester By the Sea” is a stoic, courageous male figure dealing with his feelings with his fists and alcohol. Brutal, physically strong, and able to beat and kill their enemies. Are we training our boys and men to be brutal, strong and unfeeling? What is it like for boys and men to have to aspire to this when they know in their hearts this is utterly false and demeaning for what it means to be male? This dissonance creates a feeling of not belonging or valued. Not only is there intrapersonal confusion, society at large pays the price.
The result of “toxic masculinity” is played out in violent assaults and sexual abuse. Statistics indicate that apparently over 10 Million women have been the victims of physical assault sometime in their life in the US (NICABM website). Unfortunately statistics from Canadianwomen.org indicate that every 6 days in Canada a woman is killed by her intimate partner. There are approximately 40,000 arrests for domestic abuse a year and apparently only about 22% are reported to police therefore the incidents are likely much higher. Sexual Assault.ca indicates the following:
Sexual assault is far more common than most would suspect
Relatively few incidents of sexual assault are reported to the police 6 in 10 with a 2% conviction rate
Young and otherwise vulnerable women are most likely to be sexually abused
Most sexual assaults are committed by someone close to the victim, not a stranger
We are afraid of the “toxic masculine” and, in light of the above statistics, we probably should be. Another concerning fact is that these statistics are considered relatively stable over the past few years and willingness to report abuse is decreasing. Because stories about violence against women and children are not necessarily reported all the time, some people are under the impression that these events are decreasing. These are alarming statistics and yet our media does not reflect the prevalence or what some would call the “War on Women and Children”.
When “toxic masculinity” is admired, voted for and privileged, we have a problem and what chance has a man to demonstrate the depth of his persona including vulnerability. They drown their pain in alcohol and drugs, sports and vicarious activities with other males’ violence. Anger is the only real acceptable feeling and surprise, surprise; in 2016 we have bucket loads. Most of it is lethal and destructive. In order for anger to be a catalyst for change it has to be focused and constructive and it is definitely diffuse and targeted on those with less power to resist and challenge it. We are moving backward not forward.
I also wonder if this displaced anger that men feel is grounded in confusion about what it is to be male and the disenfranchisement they feel in some sections of society for growing income inequality and the loss of good paying, stable jobs. Maybe these models of masculinity are functional for diverting attention away from those issues requiring progressive change?
Consequently do we have any models we can look to for hope that the masculine image can be a positive force for change not destruction? I wonder if Justin Trudeau our prime minister, once portrayed as a wimp masculine model by the former ruling party is proving that he is strong but caring. He has always been under-estimated because he does not broadcast his strength. He populated his cabinet with 50% women and these ministers are at the forefront of change in Canada. He is also presenting himself as a Feminist much in contrast to the world of Trump and Putin.
Another male character is Jamie Fraser in the “Outlander” series based the series of books from Diana Gabaldon. An article by Michelle Glasson for her blog https://insightweb.me/2016/06/27/will-sam-find-an-emmy-under-the-blade-of-grass/ gives an alternate view of why Sam Heughen’s performance is not honoured the same way other leading actors performances are in the upcoming Emmys. In Season 1, in a very powerful episode, he was physically and sexually abused by another man. These are issues that are not often talked about or shown on television. He goes on to say:
“There was this place inside me. A place I think everyone has that they keep to themselves. A fortress. Where the most private part of you lives. Maybe it’s your soul – the bit that makes you yourself and not anyone else.
But after Wentworth, it was like my fortress had been blown apart. The thing that once lived there was suddenly exposed out in the open – without shelter.
That’s where I’ve been ever since Claire. Naked, alone – trying to hide under a blade of grass…“
Violence is a result, in part, of hidden pain and an inability to express feelings, particularly vulnerability. Certainly it is not “safe” for men to express their feelings of vulnerability. They are still only allowed to express anger and sadness maybe at funerals. Now they can express joy with their children, because fathers are more involved in parenting and challenging old models in this area. I worry about my son and grandson and the lack of positive models. I also worry when our neighbour elects such a mind-blowing example of toxic masculinity because it does not bode well for where we are headed. Particularly when five of his potential cabinet have been cited for domestic abuse!
So given these models are so prevalent and so toxic how can we change this trend? We can talk to our male children, friends and colleagues about these disturbing models of maleness, about expressing their feelings and about standing up to and challenging what I now see as a status quo of toxic maleness. How is it that enough men’s voices have not been able to sanction inappropriate, disrespectful and destructive behaviour?
Changes will only occur with awareness, resistance and the assertion of the unacceptability of “toxic masculinity”. We are all at risk in this environment of vitriolic discourse, domestic abuse, sexual assault and male violence against each other and the very scary potential for creating conflict with other nations. We also need to support and encourage positive male models. It is up to us as a community to resist the trend and advocate for positive male behaviour!
Your comments are welcome!