The Toxic State of Masculinity in America
Real men carry guns and only wear colors that look like dirt. Oh, also, we don’t cry.
My last blog post was a political plea for the good people of this country to vote for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. Like any struggling blogger with no real knowledge about politics, I forked over $10 to promote my post on Facebook in an attempt to get more eyeballs on my content.
Despite creating my own audience with a liberal, LGBT-minded interest, my ad managed to find its way to the most conservative corners of Facebook, sparking angry comments on the post that I ignored completely in public but stewed over in private. Among the lovely comments were these gems, which sparked me to finally write the post I’m writing now:
“Your little blue tears are going to hit a red wall on Tuesday.”
“Bro shut the fuck up and be a man. If you are scared get a fucking gun like the rest of us adults do.”
And then, of course, the simple yet ever popular: “MAGA.”
In addition to being downright rude (and riddled with spelling errors, like the person who called Democrats “Natzis”), these comments highlight an issue that’s deeply rooted in American society on both sides of the political spectrum: the fragility and toxicity of masculinity.
If you’re a Millennial who went to college and/or has a social media account of any kind, you’ve probably heard someone jokingly refer to masculinity as “fragile” in response to straight men saying stupid things. For example, take the countless Tweets by straight men in response to the release of the rose gold iPhone, asking the Twitter community if it was “gay” for men to purchase the iPhone in that lovely pinkish hue.
The fact that such a genuinely stupid concern was so widespread and popularly discussed points to the definition of fragile masculinity, which Urban Dictionary explains as such: “It can be used for someone who tries too hard to fit male stereotypes for fear of looking too feminine in front of society.” For example: someone who is scared of the color pink.
Fragile masculinity is stupid, yes, but how does it become toxic? Let’s break that down.
First we must ask ourselves why straight men would be afraid to own a rose gold iPhone. The answer is quite clear: they’re afraid that if they’re spotted with a pink phone, other people will think they’re gay. Because everyone knows that the primary sign of homosexuality is owning a chunk of pink-tinted metal.
Next, we must ask ourselves why straight men are so terrified of coming across as gay to friends and random passersby. The answer to that question is also quite clear: they view being gay as a “bad” thing, something to be ashamed of and ultimately to avoid being associated with.
Lastly, we must ask ourselves the final question: why do straight men view being gay as such a horrendous thing - so horrendous that they limit the products they own and the things they are interested in just to avoid being associated with it? Again, the answer is clear: our society has taught men to value their masculinity, and being gay is associated with being feminine. Anything that threatens their masculinity is dangerous.
Hence, toxic masculinity: it trains people to hold their sense of masculine identity over common sense and rationality, leading to things like sexism, homophobia, and gun violence.
Exhibit A: sexism. Let’s look at a classic case to break this one down. The Pumpkin Spice Latte - an annual Fall phenomenon that divides the nation. You either love it or hate it. The “love it” side is comprised mostly of women and gay men with working taste buds, while the “hate it” side is comprised mostly of straight men with a fear of seeming feminine if they like it. So, they take to the streets with their “anti-pumpkin-spice” message, serving as brave social media warriors to fend off anyone who dares associate them with such a pansy drink.
But then we have bacon, a universally adored treat - at least, that’s what we’re made to believe. And here’s why: men are the ones who love bacon. It’s meaty, it’s fatty, and it’s full of protein: perfect for any man. No vegetables or spices in sight. Because men are culturally “allowed” to enjoy bacon without infringing upon their masculinity, the entirety of society has been led to believe that everyone loves bacon. There aren’t social media campaigns about how nasty bacon is, and no one makes fun of those who love bacon.
You want to know why? Because men still have the power in our culture, and masculinity is their guiding force. Bacon = masculine = a friend. Pumpkin spice = feminine = an enemy.
Exhibit B: homophobia. We already broke this one down, but let’s revisit it. Straight men are so insecure about their own identities that they reject things like certain colors and certain types of music for the fear that their association with said things will make them seem gay.
I’ve done some scientific research for this blog post and learned a few key things. You can keep straight men away from you at a minimum of a 5-yard radius if you wear a pink shirt. Play a Taylor Swift song from a speaker while wearing said pink shirt and the straight-repellent radius increases to 10 yards. Play said Taylor Swift song from a rose gold iPhone while wearing your pink shirt and you will never see another straight man again.
The above example is ridiculous, but the sad thing is that you will likely never encounter a straight man wearing a pink shirt while listening to a Taylor Swift song and texting on a rose gold iPhone. If you do, please pat them on the back for me and thank them for their rejection of cultural masculinity. Until then, think about how ridiculous it is that men are afraid of colors. They are afraid of music. They are afraid of certain types of clothing. All because, at their root, they’re afraid of being associated with homosexuality.
Exhibit C: gun violence. We need go no further than one of the comments I included above to see how masculinity plays into this phenomenon. The man who told me to quit crying, be a man, and pick up a gun to defend myself is a prime example of how masculinity can drive men to committing gun violence. Instead of being taught to express their emotions, men are taught to repress them with violence. Don’t talk it out, fight it out. Don’t cry, go shoot something. Don’t process, just get angry.
I don’t have psychological evidence because I’m not a psychologist, but the suppression of emotions can only serve to harm an individual. If they’re taught to ignore their emotions - or even to respond to them with violence - it’s no wonder that men are statistically much more violent than women. It’s no wonder that a majority of mass shootings in the United States this year were committed by white men with big guns and little regard for the lives of others.
Men aren’t taught to be human beings. They’re taught to be machines, and the code they run on is the toxic, fragile masculinity instilled upon them from birth.
So how do we fix it?
We reject the concept of masculinity. It starts with straight men examining themselves and their own thoughts and actions. But the responsibility also lies with women and the people surrounding straight men. Many women are just as guilty of promoting toxic masculinity as men are. Women teach men not to cry. Moms let their boys engage in violence and teach their girls to be soft and fragile. The problem, as I mentioned earlier, is cultural.
This isn’t an issue that is going to be fixed overnight. It will take decades of unlearning toxic behaviors just to get men to consider being open to embracing more feminine leanings. But the good news is that it’s happening, no matter how slowly. There are many straight men who couldn’t care less what colors they like and what products they own and what music they listen to. There are many straight men who fight for feminism and LGBTQ rights.
Change is coming, but we all have to be conscious of these masculine biases every single day if we want it to stay.
This week’s blog post is brought to you by Delicate by Taylor Swift, because the song’s theme is fragility and it’s one of those songs that straight men are afraid to like for fear of tarnishing their masculine reputations. See what I did there? It’s been added to my blog playlist, which you can listen to on Spotify.
If you want to put a smile on the face of your local gay (me) and be the first to be notified when I have a new post up, click here to subscribe to my posts. If you’re not ready for that type of commitment, start by following me on social (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook). Wishing you all the best.