I’m a man’s man. I like good bourbon and I am passionate about college football. I drive a big pickup truck and I like large cuts of medium rare beef. I have spent nearly my entire adult life in the military and I decided to temper that masculine influence by volunteering with the fire service. I enjoy woodworking, hunting, fishing, smoking meats, and having bonfires in the back yard with country music blaring. I’m a big, loud country boy from a small dot on the map in central Mississippi.
I am also against toxic masculinity, and I’m tired of having other people speak out on my behalf. This is my voice, and this is where I stand.
As I’m writing this, Gillette has a commercial airing #thebestmencanbe that is generating a lot of reactions online about toxic masculinity. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The reaction to this commercial has been spirited, both in favor and against its message. Credit this company’s marketing department, because I’ve never seen so much free advertising in my life. The message is simple though; can we be better as men? If the answer to that question is no, then I weep for the future of my children. If the answer to that question is yes, then why shouldn’t we start right away?
What is toxic masculinity? First off, it is *not* simply masculinity redefined.
If that were the case, then there wouldn’t be an adjective on the front end. No one is saying that masculinity is bad, or that we must feminize men. Now go back and read the beginning of this paragraph again, and again. Repeat until you understand what I’m saying. Now that we understand what toxic masculinity isn’t, let’s talk about what it is.
It’s toxic behavior, plain and simple. It’s a popular term for adult bullying. There are far more colorful terms I could use, but hopefully, we’re all on the same page here.
Toxic masculinity is what we get when childhood bullies are left unchecked and unchallenged, and they grow into men. It isn’t about condemning all men for the behaviors of a few bad apples. This is about identifying toxic people. Unfortunately, there just happens to be way more guys with these behaviors than women (the ratio isn’t really even close.) I’m sure toxic femininity could probably be a thing, but I would seriously doubt anyone that claimed it was an epidemic. The regrettable facts for men are that we have failed in raising generations of young men, and then we ignored the toxic symptoms until recently. Meanwhile, all those boys grew up into men without our guidance.
These men wield their physical strength for sure, but far more often they also wield power, influence, and authority. These bullies end up running departments, teams, and businesses.
They’ve never had their toxicity challenged, because we have spent the last several decades bubble-wrapping our children, insulating them from the consequences of their actions. These people spent their childhood bullying other children with impunity, and we are somehow shocked and outraged when their 18th birthday doesn’t miraculously turn them into responsible and caring men. We are more intelligent than this, as a species, right? We have to understand that good male role models are the key to stemming this toxicity, right?
Being a strong role model is the solution here, men. The world needs you now more than ever. Your children need you now more than ever.
It is our job to teach what being masculine truly means. It’s more than just having a protective instinct for our families; it is about looking out for the most vulnerable around us.
It isn’t living our life emotionless, it is having passion in our lives for what excites us and recognizing what depresses us and processing it all in a healthy way. It isn’t going through life angry; it is going through life focused and determined. It isn’t succeeding at all costs, stepping on whoever we must to get ahead. It is climbing that mountain with a team; sometimes you get helped, and sometimes you’re the only one helping. Masculinity isn’t about believing that people owe us their loyalty, their affection, or their efforts because we may be in a position of authority. Masculinity is recognizing that positions of authority, influence, and power should only ever be leveraged to elevate others, not to bring them down. Our masculinity is a powerful asset that we should be proud of, it’s an asset we are born with and develop over the years. It isn’t supposed to be used as a weapon of destruction; it should be used as a tool to build. Bonus points if you know what movie I’m paraphrasing with that line.
So, what should we do? Where do we go from here? We go to work. We do our part to make a difference. It’s a concept that isn’t too different from anything else that people work towards; the goal is only achieved if everyone works. We work to be the strong and independent role model for the children around us. If there aren’t any around us, we go to where they are. We spend our time volunteering with after-school programs, sports programs, academic clubs, religious organizations, nonprofit organizations- the options are endless.
Ending toxicity in our culture is up to us, men. We can’t abdicate that responsibility to women too. Heaven knows, we’ve put enough on women’s plates already. Be the change you want to see in the world. Teach our nation’s children what it means to be masculine. Teach them how to fight toxicity alongside you. This is my voice, and this is where I stand because my four children are watching me. Who is watching you?