‘Toxic Masculinity’ And The Man Problem

Toxic masculinity. We’re all tired of hearing it. The phrase has lost whatever power it held and it’s nothing more than a pair of buzzwords. Yet it’s true – however you define toxic masculinity, the problem with men persists. And I’m afraid pop journalists and third-wave feminists are going about fixing men all the wrong way. They want boys, not men. Even worse, they want men to be women – not physically but mentally. There’s an inherent problem with this solution that requires little explanation:

Men are not boys. Men are not women. Men are men.

What is required today is good men. Men who are complete; men who are strong; men who are virtuous. We don’t need more women. As far as society is concerned, they’re doing just fine thanks to a century of successful activism and protest. We need to realise that not all masculinity is toxic. Indeed, it is the same brash bravado that drove Alexander the Great over the Hindu Kush or inspired Leonardo da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa. It’s the same masculine energy that expects a man to kill and be killed for his country, but also come home and be a loving father.

A man’s greatest virtue is his strength. This is the strength that has evolved in us over millennia of brutal competition between one another and against the elements. The strongest survive, the weakest die. This is the greatest truth of human biology. I’m not necessarily speaking of physical strength, although that has come in handy for us on more than a few occasions. It’s why we unconsciously laud our sporting stars. To reach their level of achievement requires absolute mental and physical strength. I’m speaking of a mental attitude and emotional fortitude that has seen us achieve the highest highs in a world of the lowest lows.

Celebrated national icon Tim Winton recently explored similar themes in an April article for The Guardian.

‘Life is not a race, it’s not a game, and it’s not a fight.’

I wish. Truly, I do wish Tim was right. Call me unfeeling, but Tim is wrong. If you don’t want to win, then someone else will gladly take your spot at the top – man or woman. Competition is the driving factor of much of humanity’s success. It’s what drives us to be better, to innovate. It’s why democratic capitalism is the ideology of the day. It’s pure human nature at its finest. A man was not engineered to hold hands in a circle singing kumbaya. Sorry.

But Tim Winton was right in one assessment of toxic masculinity. Boys are missing the key rituals that dictate what makes a good man. We are never told ‘Ok, you’re a man now. Time to straighten up and do good by your community.’ Tim goes on to explain that the closest thing Australian men have to a ritual of maturity is the first beer or first root. Both of which tend to leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth.

This is where the idea of strength becomes grossly skewed. True strength turns to a ‘tough guy’ attitude; an attitude of false stoicism and perverse bravado. This is what turns men into alcoholics, wife beaters, and sorry shells of their former selves. It is when a man feigns his strength and confuses support and care for others with abuse and belittlement. Perhaps most tragically, it is the reason why when the last blow is struck and our macho man just can’t maintain frame anymore, that he turns that aggression inwards and ends it all.

This is certainly not the strength in men that I am calling for. There’s already plenty of that useless falseness reeking in the construction sites, school halls, and dive bars of our country.

Jordan Peterson, in his endless wisdom, has a lot of advice for our young boys and men who struggle to find their way. But there is one quote that has struck a particular chord with me:

‘You want to be the useful person at the funeral.’

And this is where the façade of the man consumed by toxic masculinity falls apart. He has clung to a false representation of himself for so long and now he simply cannot bear the emotional trauma. He reveals to his community, his family, his friends that he is indeed broken – he reveals that behind his usually unsmiling, uncrying affront he is nothing but a blabbering drunken fool. The people that love him cannot turn to him for hope and strength. His bitterness and anger have reached a boiling point.

The righteous, virtuous man shows his emotion here. He cries when everyone else cries because death is sad. But he cries with his head held high and his shoulders back. He arranges the service, he organises the will, and he gets up on stage and does justice to his deceased loved one. Instead of trying to preserve a never-ending foolish version of boyhood, our society should be looking to promote true men, real men. A man who keeps his barbaric nature in check with his love for culture and the arts. A man who can laugh at his mistakes and cries when he needs to. But most of all, we need men who can lead and be an example for the future.

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Jay is a writer and content producer for The Versatile Gent.

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