Cartoon: Toxic Masculinity Stew


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Transcript of cartoon

At the top of the strip, there’s a drawing of various unidentifiable shapes floating in a liquid in a pot. Lettering on top of the drawing, in cheerfully cartoony letters, says “Toxic Masculinity Stew.”

Panel 1
A man in a chef’s shirt talks directly to the viewer. He has a mustache, is bald, and looks to be middle-aged but vigorous. He’s holding a long spoon in one hand and making a “thumb’s up” sign at the viewers with his other hand; there are various bowls arrayed in front of him, with neon green stuff in the bowls, and a big stew pot to his right. (Throughout this strip, all colors are a bit desaturated and dull, other than the neon green.)
CHEF: Welcome! Today we’ll be making “toxic masculinity stew.” Yum!

Panel 2
The chef is stirring some neon green stuff in a pan.
CHEF: We’ll start by sautéing some feelings. We’ll bury these at the bottom of the pot, so no one will ever see them!

Panel 3
The chef hold out a neon-green egg towards the viewer. The egg is visibly cracked.
CHEF: Add a delicate sense of manhood. The slightest thing can make boys feel that this has been shattered! What fun!

Panel 4
The Chef mixes something in a bowl.
CHEF: In a separate bowl, put ht eidea that “the sex” is something held by women. Mix it with the belief that if a man can’t get “the sex” from a woman, one way or the other… Then he’s not a real man at all!

Panel 5
From above the pot, we see the chef’s hand holding a shaker (like a salt shaker) and sprinkling neon green specs into the stew.
CHEF: Now sprinkle in lots of gear of being soft or gentle or vulnerable. Nothing spoils this dish quicker than boys accepting these parts of themselves!

PANEL 6
The Chef holds out a spoon towards the viewer. The spoon is dripping with a thick, neon-green liquid.
CHEF: Simmer for 10-40 years and there you have it… a lovely toxic masculinity stew! It tastes repulsive and bitter, but don’t worry. We’ll force it down.

KICKER PANEL
A tiny panel below the bottom of the strip shows a woman yelling at the cartoonist.
WOMAN: Criticizing how society harms men means you’re anti-male!

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Men and masculinity, Sexism hurts men. Bookmark the permalink. 

64 Responses to Cartoon: Toxic Masculinity Stew

  1. 1
    desipis says:

    What empirical evidence is there on the prevalence of “toxic masculinity”? Is it a substantial phenomenon or ironically just another harmful and inaccurate stereotype?

  2. 2
    Grace Annam says:

    As opposed to the harmless, accurate stereotypes?

    Grace

  3. 3
    Gracchi says:

    @Grace

    I’m a bit confused by your comment. Do you oppose the toxic masculinity stereotype, then? Or do you think that it is not a stereotype?

    PS. I believe that a good argument can be made that humans cannot function effectively without stereotypes, which is little more than abstract thinking applied to people with certain traits.

  4. 4
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    I’d be surprised if there’s enough of a consensus on what “Toxic Masculinity,” is for there to be good evidence for it’s existence. One person’s evidence for Toxic Masculinity is another person’s evidence that men on average score slightly higher on the AQ spectrum. It’s one of those subjects where those who think about it for a while are bound to become nuanced in their thinking to the point where they are practically alone in their understanding.

    I’m often described as masculine. I’m big, a like playing sports, and though I’m too old for it now, I used to love contact sports. I don’t typically enjoy character driven movies or books. I’m much more interested in stories about big ideas or adventures. I’m not mean or violent, but I’m not exactly caring or feeling. I have trouble determining whether or not someone is asking me for input, or if I’m just being asked to listen (like a whole bunch of other guys). I like escaping thoughts and feelings- not because of a desire to repress them, but because I’m at my best when doing things which require focus and a clear head. Things like extreme sports (kiteboarding, skateboarding), lifting weights, welding and most recently operating a sewing machine.

    I feel less than other people, I know this. I know from conversations I’ve had that some people think I’m emotionally repressed even though I’m content to be just like this. In fact, I can’t imagine how anyone would want to be less level headed and more emotional. I have a fantastic marriage in part because my nature makes me conflict averse. I simply won’t get angry enough to do or say anything that could threaten our marriage. My wife never has to guess what I’m thinking or feeling.

    I should make it clear right now that I’m not diagnosed with Asperger’s or anything like that. I have a normal social life for an introvert, and no trouble making and keeping friends. I’ll be attending a happy hour tonight that I organized, something I do frequently, I’m far from asocial. I think there are a whole bunch of guys just like me.

    I say all this because I think I’m healthy, even though I went through 12 years of school being told that I should be more emotional (always by teachers who were women). My writing was too impersonal. My art was too literal or “crafty.” My science fair projects lacked a human element, so I always got beat by poorly executed, but “exciting” experiments and analysis. (I’ll never forgetting losing a sizable scholarship to an experiment on the brain activity in introverts and extroverts… n=2.) I didn’t cry much when my parents took me to a park to tell me they were getting a divorce, but I did cry when the school councilor kept hounding me and reading me books about grief, ignoring my insistence that I was doing fine and able to accept my new family situation (I was doing fine). I think way too many people operate under the assumption that there is something wrong with people like me, or that we are underdeveloped. My mom would urge me to express myself, while my dad would urge me to seek out ways to shape the world and my experience of it to be happier. “life is what you make of it,” he’d say. His advice resonated more, and has been more useful for me throughout my life.

    I can imagine a reply to this, something along the lines of “your ‘masculinity’ isn’t the kind we’re talking about here,” and perhaps that’s true among the smart and kind commenters who frequent this blog. Outside of here people like me are described as toxic from time to time. The concept of “toxic masculinity,” has driven a wedge between me and a small number of people, including a feminist ex who I’m pretty sure wanted to “fix” me. Think of it this way: why is it that every time “Toxic Masculinity” comes up, the remedy is to socialize men to be less like me? Why did my councilor never think to ask, “Hey, have you considered exploring the colder sides of yourself? You might be really happy there.”

  5. 5
    Grace Annam says:

    Gracchi:

    I’m a bit confused by your comment. Do you oppose the toxic masculinity stereotype, then? Or do you think that it is not a stereotype?

    The word “stereotype” carries a negative connotation: “A generalization, usually exaggerated or oversimplified and often offensive, that is used to describe or distinguish a group.” Desipis, in their eagerness to make it clear that we were talking about something bad, piled on to “stereotype” with “harmful and inaccurate”, which suggested to me the idea that they were qualifying the type of stereotype they meant so as to distinguish it from the quite benevolent and wholesome type of stereotype. I found this amusing. I find the phrase “jumbo shrimp” amusing in a similar way.

    I think that toxic masculinity is a concept. Also, it is a continuum, not a 2-pole switch. It is abundantly clear to me there are behaviors in our society which are coded as masculine and serve to signal in-group and out-group status, which behaviors perpetuate crappy treatment of other people. Those behaviors, and the attitudes which they arise out of and reinforce, constitute a pattern which I think of as “toxic masculinity”.

    I don’t think that you can point to a single person’s expression of their own masculinity and say, “that person’s masculinity is toxic”. But you can point to behaviors and note that they are more or less toxic, and more or less coded masculine in our society.

    So it amuses me when I see someone say, “MY masculinity isn’t toxic! How dare you!” It reminds me of people who said or did a single thing which was a bit racist, who, when it is pointed out, flare up with, “Are you calling me a racist?! How dare you! No one is less racist that I am!” Which, okay, whatever, but actually, no one called them “a racist”, but rather pointed out a single act.

    PS. I believe that a good argument can be made that humans cannot function effectively without stereotypes, which is little more than abstract thinking applied to people with certain traits.

    I think I see what you’re getting at, here, and if we don’t use the word “stereotype”, but, rather, a word with a moral neutral connotative existence, I agree. Since the totality of another person can never be known (my wife of many years sometimes still surprises me), we always have to rely on a mental model, and the mental model is necessarily simpler than what it’s modeling.

    That said, different people weight different variables in their models. A lot of this weighting is socialized into us and takes a lot of work to sort out, and even some of the weighting which we deplore can probably never be sorted out completely, which makes such sorting the work of generations.

    Grace

  6. 6
    Cerastes says:

    Jeffrey Gandee – your experience mirrors mine to a certain extent, and I think most people start falling hard into the “typical mind fallacy” when it comes to what they see as parts of the “essential core of your being” or “soul” like emotions/feelings. People can accept that someone might be smarter/stupider or talented in different ways, or even more expressive of certain emotions, but can’t accept that different people may actually have different typical internal emotional experiences.

    In my case, it’s not so much that my emotions are “weak”, but rather that my emotional state is pretty robust to external perturbations (I may be temporarily pushed to extremes, but revert to my usual baseline in a few hours to a day) and that may emotions are “simple” (my wife’s words) – I respond fairly predictably and straightforwardly to various events, without much complexity or subtlety. Nobody ever makes suggestions of AS, but practically everyone who gets to know me in depth will eventually make some sort of joke about me being more animal than human, often independently of each other (due to geographic separation).

    That said, I’ve actually seen very little overlap in what’s termed “toxic masculinity” and my odd emotional life. IME, pretty much everything in “toxic masculinity” seems to originate from basic primate sexual competition, either inter- or intrasexual competition (e.g. status contests among males, differences in female preference for traits versus male status value of traits, etc.). Honestly, no psychology textbook in the world can compare to a textbook on primatology for understanding humans, and most of “toxic masculinity” is basically monkey instincts that are both amplified and made maladaptive by our unusual lifestyle. Just look at the cartoon. Reducing displays of feelings/vulnerability and emotional isolation? Dominant male primates are the groomed, not the grooming, even though mutual grooming is a bonding experience. “Fragile manhood”? Continuous jockeying for position in the dominance hierarchy, meaning any mis-step could lead to loss of status. And, of course, mating access is primarily determined by status (with a concomitant need for vigilance against “sneaker males”). Most of these were fine for a small-troop primate, but fall apart in larger societies/civilization, but such basic primate behavior is not easily overcome.

    Of course, right now I’ll predict a chorus of replies calling this “evo-psych nonsense”, as if the poor methods of a handful of researchers mean that the fundamental principle (that the brain is an evolved organ which bears marks of its ancestry and not a “blank slate”) is somehow compromised. I would encourage those people to throw their laptops off the roof and see if they float, since they apparently think the nonsense of super-string theory means we can dismiss Newtonian physics as well. Like it or not, we are just smart apes.

  7. 7
    Grace Annam says:

    Jeffrey Gandee:

    I can imagine a reply to this, something along the lines of “your ‘masculinity’ isn’t the kind we’re talking about here,” and perhaps that’s true among the smart and kind commenters who frequent this blog. Outside of here people like me are described as toxic from time to time. The concept of “toxic masculinity,” has driven a wedge between me and a small number of people, including a feminist ex who I’m pretty sure wanted to “fix” me. Think of it this way: why is it that every time “Toxic Masculinity” comes up, the remedy is to socialize men to be less like me?

    Well, this is a thread about toxic masculinity, and so far no one has suggested that we socialize men to be less like you. Also, that implicitly labels your self-description as an expression of toxic masculinity, which no one here has said. As far as it goes, your self-description doesn’t sound like toxic masculinity, to me.

    So, since you have labelled this space as a place where we might NOT respond in the way that you have experienced elsewhere, why not have a conversation which has to do with how people here actually respond?

    (Also, for what it’s worth, it sounds like we have a lot in common, though as far as I know, no one describes me as masculine. I’m an introvert; I play a contact sport; I practice a martial art; I’m tall; in stressful situations I’m level-headed and undemonstrative; I have no trouble making or keeping friends; I often ask, “Are you looking for a sympathetic ear, or solutions?”; and my wife never has to guess what I’m thinking or feeling, because if she can’t tell, I respond openly to such questions as, “What are you thinking or feeling?”)

    Grace

  8. 8
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    ‘So it amuses me when I see someone say, “MY masculinity isn’t toxic! How dare you!”’

    Grace, I wish we could switch brains for a day. If we did you might come away thinking that some people operate really well with a masculine mindset that would be disastrous for others (they may even call it toxic). Take for example, the guy who made this cartoon:

    https://thenib.com/toxic-masculinity

    It’s clear to me that this guy’s brain works much different than mine does. For him, being told by his father to just “toughen up,” and “be strong,” were toxic. I believe him. My dad telling him “life is what you make of it,” would have been equally tone-deaf. What wouldn’t work for this cartoonist works is great advice for me. When I’m mistreated or misfortune strikes, I know I can rely on a sort of mental toughness. I’m proud of it, and resent it being called “toxic.” For some, repressing the urge to vent is toxic, but not for me. Venting makes me feel worse every time. Instead, the first thing I’ll do is set my mind on some way to make my situation better materially. This is a shortcut into my 100% focused happy place, and often times I’m actually able to do something to improve my position. This is something I’ve done again and again throughout my life, be it overcoming injuries, a shitty diagnosis, the death of loved ones, tough break-ups, etc… and I think that overcoming life’s challenges this way year after year has changed me a bit. It builds a sense of security.

    I remember reading a quote when I was little, something like “when you feel afraid, just pretend that you’re brave. No one, not even you, can tell the difference.” I really took it to heart and started doing stupid stuff like jumping off roofs even though it was scary. There’s something to this notion, at least for some of us. By repeatedly mastering fear, even if it’s just a facade, some people can become braver. I doubt every mind works that way, some people might just get some form of PTSD or something, but others learn to overcome fears and accomplish amazing feats. I think something similar is going on with the kind of masculine stoicism I’ve described above. Over time I’ve become “tougher,” and more content. It’s empowering to feel a strong sense of self-control and I resent hearing it described as toxic. If I had a kid and he/she were like me, I’d be annoyed at anyone encouraging her to “stop acting tough,” and to “open up.” Like, no. You don’t even know her!

    I do think it sucks that what works for me has become associated with being a “real man.” Every boy knows what it’s like to have other boys bully them into acting in a masculine way at the risk of being less than a “real man.” At the same time, I feel bad for the women who relate to my post above, and don’t conform to the ideal of a “real woman.” My wife fits this description in some ways, and if her stories are any indication, women like her experience horrible bullying at the hands of other women. She was under intense pressure to conform. I’m not about to accuse the girls who bullied my wife of toxic femininity. Behaving in ways we may code as feminine isn’t toxic, it’s only toxic when we fail to see that other people’s brains work different than our own and instead try to force people to conform for their own good.

    I should have just typed: often the problem isn’t the masculinity, but rather the forced conformity.

  9. 9
    Jokuvaan says:

    I think that term is too broad and too undefined to be of any practical use.

  10. 10
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Cerastes:

    Somehow I missed seeing your comment.

    I too think of us as apes- apes with the absolute minimum amount of adaption necessary to build civilizations.

    Before seeing your comment I was thinking to myself about gender norms, even those that are clearly social constructs, and wondering if our need to enforce them is the result of our tribal-ape-ancestor DNA, in much the same way that Ohio State students can’t handle seeing a Michigan football jersey on their classmate.

    It’s why “toxic masculinity” bothers me as a phrase. I don’t think that what is being critiqued here is always masculinity (though the sex and domination stuff certainly is). I think a tribe of Amazonian warriors would bully each other over exactly this kind of bullshit, and that to do so is just part of what we are as humans.

    The “women have the sex.” part of the cartoon does seem to ignore the ways sex is competitive between sexes in the animal world. It’s really no mystery why men would think that way. The “Battle of the sexes” chapter in The Selfish Gene is required reading here.

  11. 11
    Grace Annam says:

    Grace, I wish we could switch brains for a day. If we did you might come away thinking that some people operate really well with a masculine mindset that would be disastrous for others (they may even call it toxic).

    I’m curious as to why you believe that I don’t already think that.

    It’s clear to me that this guy’s brain works much different than mine does. For him, being told by his father to just “toughen up,” and “be strong,” were toxic. I believe him.

    So do I. I also believe that it would work for you, because you tell me so and I have no evidence to the contrary.

    My dad telling him “life is what you make of it,” would have been equally tone-deaf. What wouldn’t work for this cartoonist works is great advice for me. When I’m mistreated or misfortune strikes, I know I can rely on a sort of mental toughness. I’m proud of it, and resent it being called “toxic.”

    I also rely on my mental toughness. It has gotten me through some very difficult times in my life, and is arguably the reason I am alive.

    Clearly, being told to be tough, by itself, is not toxic, because for some people it’s fine. It seems to me that the toxic part comes when we say “toughen up” to someone for whom that is not helpful, on the basis of a bimodal variable (apparent gender) with has, at best, a weak correlation to whether “toughen up” is going to help or hurt.

    Once, in my youth,, I was at a stable when the stable master’s 2-year-old daughter fell while running and skinned her knee a little bit. She walked over to stable master, her father, who was busy with the project we were working on. She had that questioning expression which young children sometimes get, when they’re at a tipping point on whether they’re going to cry or not. He glanced, saw that it was not serious, and said, “Okay, honey, we’re playing by NFL rules, today. No blood, no foul. Go show it to Mommy.” She smiled and said, “Okay!” and ran the hundred yards or so to the house.

    Because of that and other experiences, the kid grew up tough. She’s a woman, so we’re probably not going to call it masculinity, but she’s tough. And if her other experiences were like that one, she’s tough in a non-toxic way.

    Now, what if her father had said, “What are you showing it to me, for? You’re not even bleeding! What’re you, weak?” That would have been a stone in the wall of toxic masculinity (or, since she’s a girl, toxic toughness). Because the message then is, “To even ask my father to look at something painful brings censure.” A well-rounded adult who’s not able to assess something needs to be able to say, “Hey, could you take a look at this? I think it might be a problem.” That’s a life skill.

    (There’s a world of difference, when someone is limping and grimacing in pain, between, “No, it doesn’t hurt”, and “Yup, hurts like a sumbitch. Hand me that wrench, would you?” The former is denial; the latter is confidence.)

    So, you can’t look at the transcript of what was said. It matters how it was said, and the context (the history, how often, the impact, etc).

    I participate in an athletic league where I coach and train adults. It’s a contact sport, and it gets rough sometimes. They need different things. Some need encouragement and perspective. Some need a kick in the ass. Some need to be told to tone it down until they have better control. All of these messages can be put across without denigrating or belittling, and I do.

    I’ve participated in other venues where it was common to deliver backhanded compliments and hazing. Those venues were contributing to the cultivation of a toxic version of toughness (and, as they were mostly-male settings, we’re probably safe to call it a toxic version of masculinity).

    By repeatedly mastering fear, even if it’s just a facade, some people can become braver. I doubt every mind works that way, some people might just get some form of PTSD or something, but others learn to overcome fears and accomplish amazing feats. I think something similar is going on with the kind of masculine stoicism I’ve described above. Over time I’ve become “tougher,” and more content.

    Yeah, no. I’m glad that you have no direct experience with PTSD, but let’s be clear: PTSD is injury. Telling someone on the cusp of PTSD to toughen up is like telling someone with a slight muscle tear to keep lifting the same weights. The result is going to be bad.

    Which brings us back to the point. Equality of input is not equality of outcome when people are different. Sure, you can be pushed beyond what you thought were your limits. You can also be pushed into a traumatic experience. It’s up to the person doing the pushing to assess and push correctly. And it’s a lot more complex than, “I have two ways to go, here, so the best thing I can do is ask myself, ‘Am I talking to a man or a woman’?” But our society wants to make it that simple.

    Behaving in ways we may code as feminine isn’t toxic, it’s only toxic when we fail to see that other people’s brains work different than our own and instead try to force people to conform for their own good.

    I’m perfectly happy to call the sort of femininity which is enforced with shaming toxic femininity. I’ve experienced both, and in my experience they have a lot in common.

    I should have just typed: often the problem isn’t the masculinity, but rather the forced conformity.

    Sure. And, in addition to that, the one-size-fits-all metric which people want to substitute for the effort of good judgement.

    Grace

  12. 12
    Grace Annam says:

    Jeffrey Gandee:

    I think a tribe of Amazonian warriors would bully each other over exactly this kind of bullshit, and that to do so is just part of what we are as humans.

    Eh, maybe? I mean, sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s inevitable. The women’s sports league I play with, right now, is really good at building people up (I’m an instructor, but I’m not the only one or the senior one or the most experienced one, and this attitude was fostered within the league long before I arrived).

    However, that’s a sports league. Probably, the closer it gets to being a matter of group survival, the more toxic it gets, because if I do some damage driving you to be tough enough to ensure group survival, that norm is perpetuated. Which is why there’s so much toxic masculinity embedded in military training, where you can make an argument that there’s more of a justification for it. And from there, it carries over back into the rest of the participants’ lives. One of the subtler bits of the collateral damage of war.

    Different cultures teach masculinity differently. I don’t think it’s inherently bad to suppose that some methods work out better than others for the participants.

    And I’ve spent too much time on this for today.

    Grace

  13. 13
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Grace, I think we are much alike and mostly agree on what’s going on.

    I’m mostly being nitpicky over language which is often a waste of time.

  14. 14
    harlemjd says:

    Jeffrey – I would say that “masculinity” turns “toxic” to the extent it tries to limit men’s (or really boys’, since this is when it happens) emotional range or other choices to avoid anything coded as “feminine.” In other words, being naturally low-key and not very emotive because that is where you fall in the range of human personalities – that’s fine. What’s problematic is when people try to take boys with different personalities and force them to be like that because that it what boys “should” be and anything other than that is not a “real” man.

  15. 15
    Gracchi says:

    @Grace

    Probably, the closer it gets to being a matter of group survival, the more toxic it gets, because if I do some damage driving you to be tough enough to ensure group survival, that norm is perpetuated.

    The logical conclusion to this is then that society as a whole and women (& children) in particular also benefit from the ways in which men sacrifice in various ways for the benefit of the group (which can be society as a whole and/or the family unit). This is especially harmful to those whose natural tendencies do not fit the script.

    Furthermore, a very similar situation is true for women, who are also taught to sacrifice in various ways for the benefit of society as a whole and men (& children) in particular. Of course, the script is different to that of men, so the kind of sacrifices that women make are different and the natural tendencies that don’t fit the script are different.

    My objection is to the way that society as a whole and feminism in particular tends to respond to this situation nowadays. The way in which the male gender role benefits society as a whole and women (& children) in particular is taken for granted, while the downsides are decried. This leaves men in a no win situation. They are simultaneously expected to provide benefits to others that can only be achieved by following the male gender role, but also to not impose costs on others which are the consequence of that exact same gender role. This is an impossible demand that men cannot ever succeed at.

    I don’t see anyone really using the term ‘toxic femininity’ in a serious way, while ‘toxic masculinity’ is, which IMO shows that the debate about gender roles is itself sexist. Either both terms should be used or we should be more nuanced about both gender roles (my preference), but not a double standard.

    The double standard is very traditionalist, because the analysis tends to often be based on assumptions which fit the traditional gender roles. An example is that undesired behavior that is linked to the female gender role is generally seen as behavior that women are forced into, while undesired behavior that is linked to the male gender role is generally seen as behavior that men choose to do. This is based on the assumption of male agency and female lack of agency, which is very traditionalist.

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    …while undesired behavior that is linked to the male gender role is generally seen as behavior that men choose to do.

    I’m seriously wondering if you even read the cartoon. The cartoon is all about how the male gender role is forced onto boys.

  17. 17
    Harlequin says:

    I really like that this is made up of lots of “action shots”–I feel like that’s a little less typical for your cartoons since they’re usually conversations, but it works well here. I also just realized the chef is left-handed: makes sense that you’d have to keep track of that, but I’m so not artistic I hadn’t even thought of it! :)

    Also, the green egg is a nice bit of “eugh.”

    ***

    Cerastes, I wrote up a whole thing on how you’re wrong about the objections to evo psych, but it might be easier to let PZ Meyers take it.

    But anyway: Some primate species have males that fight for dominance, but we still criminalize assault. Whether or not something is explicable is a completely different argument from whether or not it’s bad, and from whether or not our society currently encourages (and increases) or discourages (and decreases) it.

  18. 18
    Gracchi says:

    @Ampersand

    My comment wasn’t specifically directed at your cartoon, but I don’t see it as doing anything different. The last panel seems to argue that boys voluntarily choose to accept toxic masculinity, by liking it to a repulsive and bitter stew that they nevertheless thoroughly enjoy. So I don’t see a claim here that boys are forced to eat the stew, but rather the opposite.

    My reading may be a consequence of your ‘stew’ metaphor, where you intend “they’ll eat it up” to be interpreted as “to believe unquestioningly that something is true,” rather than “to thoroughly enjoy something.”

    However, only the latter definition works within the metaphor. You can’t unquestioningly believe that a stew is true. Perhaps you make a mistake in your cartoon, where at the end you forgot that you were working within the restrictions of a metaphor?

  19. 19
    Ortvin Sarapuu says:

    “That would have been a stone in the wall of toxic masculinity (or, since she’s a girl, toxic toughness)”

    Is ‘toxic toughness’ really a concept that exists? I mean in practice I don’t ever see women perpetuating this kind of thing in a gender neutral way. At worst, they just don’t challenge it amongst men.

  20. 20
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    “Whether or not something is explicable is a completely different argument from whether or not it’s bad.”

    I agree strongly with this. While looking up various definitions of Toxic Masculinity, I noticed Amanda Marcotte defines it like this:

    “toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control. It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world.”

    I really like this definition because it captures toxic traits held by mostly men that seem to be at least partially in our nature, and these traits really are most commonly found in men. It makes sense to make us hyper aware of these things.

  21. 21
    Ben David says:

    hmmmm….. what are the ingredients of the “healthy masculinity” stew?

    I share some other poster’s skepticism at the currency of this term “toxic masculinity”. And the absence of any parallel term for for the feminine.

    And as I re-read the wonderful posts by Jeffrey, Grace, and others I notice that “toughness” has to be gender-equalized as part of making it normal/acceptable.

    So: what traits associated predominantly with masculinity are inherently positive?

  22. 22
    Ruchama says:

    I’m remembering the three-year-old son of a neighbor of mine. Some of the girls in his nursery school class were taking a ballet class, and he thought that dance sounded like fun and wanted to take the class, but his father told him absolutely not — ballet is for girls, not for boys, and if a boy takes ballet, then people will make fun of him, and “You don’t want people to make fun of you, do you?” And he agreed that, no, he does not want people to make fun of him, so he guesses he doesn’t really want to dance.

    A couple days later, he was visiting our house, and I was reading a newspaper. The back page of the paper, which he could see from the way I was holding it, was a full-page ad for a ballet company, with a giant photo of a male dancer. He got SO upset. “Boys CAN’T dance, because people will make fun of them, and you don’t want people to make fun of you, so that boy should NOT be dancing!” Went on like that for several minutes.

    That was years ago. He’s going to graduate college soon. I kind of wonder what he’d say now if I asked him his opinion of male ballet dancers.

    (His little brother was the type who’d shrug and say, “Yeah, whatever” when their dad told him that something wasn’t for boys. But this kid definitely listened to things like that.)

  23. 23
    Ruchama says:

    hmmmm….. what are the ingredients of the “healthy masculinity” stew?

    Self-confidence. Ability to control anger, or to redirect it into something productive. Ability to laugh off insults. Backing up the women in your life when they stand up for themselves. A sense of pride in helping others. Curiosity and willingness to learn.

  24. 24
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    The trouble with “healthy masculinity stew,” is that, when I try writing it down, I realize “healthy masculinity” is mostly just being a good person and has little to do with being masculine- unless it does, at which point I worry that I’m feeding into the whole “you’re not a real man unless,” gender conformity that I’d rather avoid.

    I’ll name one, just because I think it’s so important. Calculated risk Taking. My understanding is that guys do this more. It’s crucial. Every society needs at least a few people willing to put it all on the line so that we can all benefit from the businesses they build and the technologies they help develop.

  25. 25
    Cerastes says:

    Harlequin – PZ’s supposed takedown is embarrassing nonsense that shows hes never read nor thought seriously on the topic. Essentially, he comes at it backwards, interpreting everything through the lens of adaptation rather than phylogenetic signal. Frankly, I’ve never read a supposed “takedown” by anyone who even knew what that term meant.

    And I’m *far* from a cheerleader for evo-psych – the entire field is rife with methodological flaws, unwarranted conclusions, and pop-sci dreck. But the fundamental concept, buried beneath that mess, is sound: the brain is an evolved system, and should show evidence of this.

    I explicitly specified as much in my prior post, as well. And, as I predicted, that was ignored by those who prefer to deal in simple categories rather than more complex thought.

  26. 26
    Ampersand says:

    …the brain is an evolved system, and should show evidence of this.

    I very much doubt that PZ (“this is not to deny that that there are features that are clearly the product of selection,”) Harlequin, or anyone here would disagree with this broad statement. If you think this is where the debate is, then I think you’re misunderstanding some arguments.

    And, as I predicted, that was ignored by those who prefer to deal in simple categories rather than more complex thought.

    Please try not to be insulting towards other comment-writers here, thanks.

  27. 27
    Ampersand says:

    The last panel seems to argue that boys voluntarily choose to accept toxic masculinity, by liking it to a repulsive and bitter stew that they nevertheless thoroughly enjoy.

    The last panel says no such thing. It says they will eat it up, meaning that they will swallow the stew (and its ingredients), even though they don’t enjoy it (repulsive and bitter).

    To my mind, at least, it’s obvious that the strip as a whole is positioning boys as the party harmed, not as the harming party. I accept that’s not what you got out of it; and of course, you’re entitled to your own interpretation. But I don’t believe that your reading is how all readers will take it (although I suspect it’ll be how anti-feminist and MRA readers mostly take it).

    (I’m not assuming you’re anti-feminist or MRA.)

  28. 28
    Ortvin Sarapuu says:

    It sounds like “healthy mascuilinity” is just being healthy, generally.

    And I really do not think that men are more likely to make calculated risks – in fact I think saying so is pretty sexist.

  29. 29
    Petar says:

    And I really do not think that men are more likely to make calculated risks – in fact I think saying so is pretty sexist.

    Did you bother looking at existing research before telling us what you “do not think”? There are dozens of studies that come up with a basic Google search, and I have yet to find one that does not discern a gender difference in risk assessment. Except in social situations, and that only in Western cultures, males are more likely to take risks, to underestimate costs and overestimate gains. This is a fact.

    As for ‘calculated’, it’s a weasel word in this context. All risk assessment involves calculation, and judging whether risk is ‘calculated’ is very hard to isolate from the subject’s ability to make good ‘calculations’. Risk takers are often useful to others even if they are dumb risk takers. Not sure whether they exhibit healthy masculinity, though.

    If you did bother looking for relevant research, found a dozen studies like this one, authored by a woman, and then decided to state that “saying so is pretty sexist”, then there is little point in my talking to you.

    By the way, my wife is a professor of Psychology, and her specific area of research (nowadays) is Decision Making. Men are more likely to waste resources on tasks without even the possibility of commensurate return, period. I certainly do not consider this a valuable trait. What would be valuable is to be aware of our tenancy, and try to account for it when making decisions.

  30. 30
    Mandolin says:

    Alternate last phrases to solidify boys being forced to eat –

    Don’t worry. Theyll choke it down. (Less preferred)
    Don’t worry. We’ll force it down. (Preferred)

    I doubt any changes will thoroughly discourage motivated readings to the contrary, but one of these could clarify for people who are receptive to hearing the argument.

  31. 31
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    I wasn’t trying to use “calculated,” as a weaselly word. We’re talking about healthy masculinity and risk-taking on its own isn’t always healthy. My understanding is that men on average take more risks and that includes really stupid risks (there’s hundred of studies on that too). I’m trying to differentiate between the two.

    As to whether or not it’s sexist to say men take more calculated risks- this is a problem I have with the way these conversations often go. It’s as if it’s okay to talk about traits and behaviors coded masculine so long as they are bad. But if I start talking about ways in which behaviors coded as masculine are good, I’m going to sound sexist to some people. This is useful for people who want to bash males. I still think Toxic Masculinity is a useful concept, but I worry about this kind of language being weaponized. I mean, take “Toxic whiteness.” Fortunately, I’ve never actually heard this phrase in a face to face conversation. I’m guessing it hasn’t caught on yet or people find the concept itself too toxic, but it is out there. For those who employ the term, I suppose it makes sense to talk about it for the exact same reasons we talk about toxic masculinity. But oh man do i think these concepts will bring out the worst in us. Imagine a conversation about “healthy whiteness.” Nope! I’m not touching that. It’s not that toxic and healthy whiteness is incoherent, it’s that I don’t trust people to use that language in a productive way.

    FWIW, I think toxic masculinity is still worth talking about among the right people because among those traits and behaviors coded male, there’s some really nasty stuff we’re all better off talking about.

  32. 32
    Ampersand says:

    Don’t worry. We’ll force it down. (Preferred)

    Good idea, I’ll make this change. Thanks.

  33. 33
    Ampersand says:

    Change made! Thank you Mandolin and Gracchi for helping to improve the strip.

  34. Regarding the change you just made, Amp: for me, it actually weakens the irony that I thought made the original so powerful. After reading Gracchi’s comment, I can understand why you made the change, but the irony, which I think is communicated very well by the chef’s facial expression, gets at an aspect of traditional, patriarchal manhood and masculinity that I think this one misses, i.e. the idea that boys will/should welcome (eat up) the tests that make them men, no matter how difficult or painful those tests might be.

    In other words, I read the original in this way: the chef knows how horrible tasting the stew is, but he also knows that the boys will eat it up because there is (within his world) no worst fate than being not-a-man, which is what failure to drink the stew would mean for the boys—and he takes a sadistic pleasure in knowing that the boys also know this and will therefore force themselves to eat the stew.

  35. 35
    Ampersand says:

    Richard:

    That’s a good point. Hmm. I’ll think about this some more.

  36. Ok, so here’s something else. I am procrastinating instead of finishing one of my syllabi for next semester and am probably thinking too much about this, but I am confused about what it means to simmer the stew for 10-40 years. If the stew is in the pot for that period of time, and the stew is supposed to be fed to boys, who might be 10 but are obviously not much older than that, what exactly does the time period correspond to? Why can’t it just be “simmer until ready” or some such thing?

  37. 37
    Gracchi says:

    Richard Jeffrey Newman (and Ampersand),

    Perhaps I should tell you a little about my experiences to explain where I’m coming from.

    I was violently bullied as a kid and when I went to authority figures, the usual response was: fight back. Unfortunately, I am extremely reticent to use violence when relatively emotionally balanced and have a very high capacity to bear abuse without becoming so enraged that I become sufficiently emotionally imbalanced to enable me to be violent. In the rare cases where the built-up frustration did enrage me and I used violence against my tormentors, I found it temporarily effective. However, this happened too rarely to keep my tormentors at bay permanently.

    I noticed that violence used against girls was typically punished by authority figures and that in the adult world, men could go to the police to have them intervene, when they experienced the level of abuse that I experienced. I found it highly unjust that as a boy, similar remedy was not available to me and I was instead left to my own (lacking) devices.

    Your narrative, where boys accept the negative aspects of masculinity merely because they would otherwise be shamed for being “not-a-man” sounds like relative paradise to me, compared to my lived experience. If your narrative were accurate, where boys actually have a choice, but do not exercise that due to shaming, I would have expected the authority figures to (offer to) punish my tormentors upon recognizing my difficulties at complying with their initial advice, where this would then have resulting in me being socially shamed/ostracized for being ‘girly.’ However, this never happened to me.

    So in summary, my experience is that I didn’t believe and still don’t believe that I had any alternative to this expected part of the male gender role. I could either succeed and experience the upsides and downsides of this part of the gender role; or I could fail and experience the downsides of failing to comply with my gender role. There was never the option of finding remedy in a non-‘traditionally masculine’ way.

    So this is why the original phrase frustrated me somewhat, because it implies that by rejecting some parts of the male gender role, the boys would be unharmed; while it is merely the voluntary acceptance of these elements that damages the boys. What makes gender roles so hard to shake is exactly that this is not the case, because society regularly merely allows people to achieve things in accordance with their gender role, with no alternative.

  38. 38
    Ampersand says:

    Gracchi:

    Ironically, your story is, in virtually every detail, identical to mine. I’m sorry that happened to us.

    One thing that is different: I’ve talked to multiple women who suffered horrific, ongoing bullying without the authorities intervening at all. It’s all anecdotal, of course, but maybe you think girls have it easier than they actually do.

    Do you like the revised last line better?

  39. 39
    Petar says:

    OK, I tried. I really did. It’s been days, that it has been gnawing at me, and I was hoping that someone else would do something about it. But I cannot stand it anymore.

    Please, please, please change the “licked” to “liquid”, it’s been driving me crazy.

  40. 40
    desipis says:

    I tend to agree with RJN@34 about the change, although for somewhat different reasons. I would agree that boys willingly “consume the stew” and that this is an important aspect of the issue. However, I would see that willingness being driven at least as much by an underlying biological instinct as it is by social shaming (which itself is driven as much by biological instincts as cultural norms).

  41. 41
    Ampersand says:

    Please, please, please change the “licked” to “liquid”, it’s been driving me crazy.

    Whoops! Thanks for pointing that out. Fixed.

  42. 42
    Mandolin says:

    1) Masculinity looks different in different cultures. This is important to remember when making biological arguments. You can still make them, but it’s probably easier if you argue that boys are biologically oriented to identify local masculinity and create identities that are unlike those of girls in order to maintain something like a binary (and girls likewise). There are still exceptions, but for the most part that’s an easier evidential load to pull than the idea that the local definitions of masculinity are biologically determined, unless you’re limiting what counts as masculinity very severely.

    2) I was bullied *by* the authorities.

  43. 43
    Gracchi says:

    @Ampersand

    Thank you for your sympathy and my sympathy to you (and others here who were bullied).

    I believe that there are both boys and girls who had/have it worse than me, including having authority figures encourage and/or join in on the bullying. AFAIK, scientists generally find that the level of victimization is fairly similar for each gender, but that the nature of the bullying differs (male bullying is more violent and female bullying is more ‘social’). Whether one is worse than the other or the other worse than the one is presumably not objectively answerable. It’s also not that interesting a question if you want, as I do, to have society to put in more effort to reduce both, because then there is no need to justify focusing (more) on victims of one gender than the other.

    Anyway, I do think that the changed line is a substantial improvement.

  44. 44
    Mandolin says:

    Gracchi— cheers and agreement.

    Fortunately, I think lessening one type of bullying is likely to lower others also.

  45. I’ve been prepping classes all day, so this is the first chance I’ve had to come to see what’s going on.

    I also was bullied mercilessly when I was a kid; my experience took place in the context of some pretty profound antisemitism. So I empathize Gracchi, Amp, Mandolin and all.

    I just wanted to make one clarification. When I wrote:

    …the chef’s facial expression, gets at an aspect of traditional, patriarchal manhood and masculinity that I think this one misses, i.e. the idea that boys will/should welcome (eat up) the tests that make them men, no matter how difficult or painful those tests might be.

    and

    but he also knows that the boys will eat it up because there is (within his world) no worst fate than being not-a-man, which is what failure to drink the stew would mean for the boys

    I did not mean to suggest that the boys have any real choice in the matter. I meant, rather, that it is part of the mythos of patriarchal manhood and masculinity that boys will willingly, proactively, choose to “eat the stew” no matter how bad it tastes. The irony I saw in the original got very sharply—and, for me, far more powerfully—to the point that the boys are in fact forced to eat it, whether they/we want/ed to or not. (I also saw the cartoon as being more about the bullies and how bullies are created than about the experiences of those who are bullied.)

  46. 46
    desipis says:

    Mandolin:

    You can still make them, but it’s probably easier if you argue that boys are biologically oriented to identify local masculinity and create identities that are unlike those of girls in order to maintain something like a binary

    Yes, that is the argument that I would make. I would also point out that progressives tend eschew having positive male exclusive groups. Creating a positive conception of masculinity is seen as “sexist” because it’s seen as implying that women can’t be positive in that way too. This leads to the only local masculinity options being traditional masculinity or whatever masculinity boys and young men come up with on their own, both of which are likely to contain “toxic” elements. In short, boys willingly eat up the stew because there’s nothing else being put on the menu.

  47. 47
    Sebastian H says:

    I’d put the last few comments in a slightly different perspective.

    There are almost certainly pretty large differences between the genders (or else feeling like you’re the wrong gender wouldn’t be such a problem). Much of the modern history of studying gender has been about denying that reality until very recently (again around the time awareness of trans identities came to the fore so gaining traction only in the last ten years or so). As such, gender studies hasn’t even made the attempt to separate non toxic and toxic masculinity because until recently it effectively treated the social construction components as implying that masculinity was not real.

  48. Just a quick response to Sebastian:

    One reason I try to be conscious to group manhood and masculinity together in conversations like this—and I’m sure I don’t always succeed—is because I think talk that focuses exclusively on terms like toxic masculinity often misses the point that the toxicity comes from the way those behaviors are organized into manhood, into the need to prove manhood, to maintain it, defend it. John Stoltenberg made what, for me, has been a useful distinction between masculinity as a performance (and I don’t think it matters for my point here whether or to what degree that performance is biologically determined) and manhood as an ethic, as a value system, that organizes that performance towards a particular social/cultural/political end.

    And I am talking here specifically about traditional, patriarchal, male dominant notions of manhood. I am not trying to suggest that any and all value systems to which we might attach that name would be, by definition, similarly toxic.

  49. 49
    Mandolin says:

    Sebastian – there would still be a problem with feeling like the wrong gender if the difference were how genders were *treated* rather than essential so that argument does not necessarily require biological bases. (One notes body dysphoria is a thing and also may contribute to senses of gender misfitting.)

    Unless you’re not making an essentialist biological argument, in which case, well, yeah. In modern America, there are sociologically significant differences between genders.

    (Honestly, I’m with the strain of sociobiologists who argued that differences in gender norms are a social reaction to the biological issue of pregnancy and nursing which means people’s needs are broadly sorted into two categories on that basis.)

  50. 50
    Sebastian H says:

    “Sebastian – there would still be a problem with feeling like the wrong gender if the difference were how genders were *treated* rather than essential so that argument does not necessarily require biological bases. (One notes body dysphoria is a thing and also may contribute to senses of gender misfitting.)”

    I’m not sure I understand this. If you have it without biological bases, trans-gender is just a subclass of body dysphoria *where the usual solution is to change more about the mind than the body*. We don’t counsel people with body dysphoria to spend most of their time getting the body their mind’s eye wants, we generally counsel them to work at changing their mind’s eye.

    If gender is just a social reaction to the different physical needs of the sexual body, we don’t need trans people to change their sexual bodies. If that were the case we would need to spend more time teaching them to have a mind’s eye that is closer to their already existing physical body just like we do with anorexics. (Intersex people would be an edge case, but the more typical trans person would not.)

    To be clear, I’m NOT arguing in favor of that view.

    I’m arguing in favor of a view where gender exists on a continuum, but the continuum is largely male-female. MANY of the traits we associate with ‘male’ or ‘female’ are mere social constructions of the patriarchy to enforce a wide variety of things. But at least some important ones aren’t. And some of the time they don’t match up the way society expects which is why it is possible to have a gender identity which doesn’t match your sexual body.

    So in the context of ‘toxic masculinity’ and gender, the problem in talking about it is that until very recently the main thrust of the discipline has been that the word ‘toxic’ doesn’t really modify ‘masculinity’. It is just there for emphasis. Only recently have we revisited the idea that ‘masculinity’ might be a real thing at all (and largely because trans has forced the issue).

    You seem to be saying that trans doesn’t force the issue, but unless you think we should treat it the way we treat other dysphorias (and I don’t think you are saying that) I don’t see how the problem can be avoided.

  51. 51
    Ampersand says:

    There are almost certainly pretty large differences between the genders (or else feeling like you’re the wrong gender wouldn’t be such a problem).

    As a side note, there are also people who don’t care which sex they are, and would be okay being either sex. There’s nothing wrong with that, just as there’s nothing wrong with people who have very strong feelings about being one sex or the other. It’s just another spectrum.

    I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming that the differences between the sexes are mostly a matter of overlapping bell curves. Whether or not it’s a “large” difference depends on which end of the bell curve we focus on.

  52. 52
    Grace Annam says:

    Sebastian H:

    (or else feeling like you’re the wrong gender wouldn’t be such a problem)

    Haven’t got time to reply to the main conversation, but I was struck by the framing, here.

    My problem, prior to transition, was not that I felt like I was “the wrong gender”. My problem was that the gender I was was invisible to the people around me (or actively denied by them).

    Just wanted to point that out. Carry on.

    Grace

  53. 53
    Mandolin says:

    But the bell curves can change cross culturally, and a lot of what’s called cross cultural research actually isn’t, but rather a slightly wider subset of Western Europe or sometimes first world countries.

    Sebastian, I hear you, and am absent energy to reply. I’m just tired right now, you deserve a reply if I can manage later.

    At any rate, I think the productive thing is to imagine a healthy American masculinity.

    I might consider:

    Protector of those who need protection
    Self-confidence in ones abilities

    …honestly I don’t know how to come up with a list that doesn’t apply to both genders. I guess it’s emphasis that matters.

  54. 54
    Gracchus says:

    Here’s the problem – whatever traits we describe as “healthy masculinity” would by definition be harder for feminine people to achieve.

    I’m just not comfortable telling young girls “yes, you can be [X healthy trait], but it’s going to be harder for you than it is for a boy – and that difficulty isn’t something that we can change”.

    Whatever positive traits are identified with “healthy masculinity”, we need to fight to open them up to girls. Not that denying them to boys is a way to open them up to girls, but claiming that there is something essentially male/masculine about them is standing in the way of that.

    You can have emotionally and mentally healthy people who are masculine, of course. But their emotional and mental health will be incidental to their masculinity.

  55. 55
    desipis says:

    Gracchus:

    But their emotional and mental health will be incidental to their masculinity.

    I disagree. Men’s emotional and mental health will be dependant on their ability to express their masculinity. If the only ways to express their masculinity is through negative traits, then men are in a double bind. Either they suppress their masculinity or engage in “toxic” behaviour, both of which will result in harm to their emotional and mental health.

  56. 56
    Jake Squid says:

    Why does one need to express their masculinity? I’m not even sure there’s a consensus on what masculinity is, which could just be me.

  57. 57
    Harlequin says:

    I’m neither male nor particularly masculine, so I’m writing this from an outsider’s perspective and it may not be useful. But in case it is–

    One way I’ve tried to explain toxic masculinity to people IRL is to describe part of it as the reductio ad absurdum version of positive traits. For example, positive = self-reliant and dependable; toxic = never ask for help for anything ever because it will make you look weak (cf higher male suicide rates). Positive = treats others well and relates well to others; negative = if you can’t convince a woman to have sex with you there’s something wrong with you. Positive = works to be worthy of others’ respect; negative = demands deference and forces it when it isn’t received. That dichotomy is not a complete explanation–the second example also requires a healthy dose of misogyny, for example–but I’ve found it helpful because it seems to encode a path forward as well, by showing alternate pathways that satisfy the same social urges but aren’t as destructive.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the “positive” examples I can come up with have to do your conception of yourself and most of the “negative” examples have to do with trying to manipulate and control the way other people see and treat you.

    I think I’m with Mandolin that the difference between healthy/positive masculinity and healthy/positive femininity would ideally (for me) be a difference of emphasis not a difference of kind. And like Gracchus’s most recent comment, I think, given that we live in this world and not in my ideal world, that we need to be careful in making sure those positive traits are still accessible to girls’ and women’s self-concept. (And probably also continue to fight the thing where femininity is seen as worse than masculinity regardless of which gender(s) are performing it.)

    Side note–we’ve had a Gracchus and a Gracchi on this thread. Is this the same person (or…people) in the singular and the plural?

  58. 58
    Sebastian H says:

    “Why does one need to express their masculinity?”.

    Why does anyone need to express their gender identity?

    Unless I’m misunderstanding you, you’re asking incredulously about why cis males need to express their gender identity. But if they don’t need to, why do trans people need to? I feel like I must be misunderstanding you because the seem to literally be the same question.

  59. 59
    Ampersand says:

    I think, in this context, “masculinity” and “gender identity” are not the same thing.

    For a trans man to express his gender identity means, I think, merely presenting as male. (Note that he IS male, regardless of if he presents as male.) This could be done with dress, with attitude, with appearance, with voice, and many other things, often in combination. It might be as simple as saying “I prefer he or him.”

    But nothing about this requires him to be masculine, in the sense of “he is a masculine man.” There’s no reason a trans guy can’t be an effeminate man. Trans men, like the rest of us men, are found at every point on the femme-butch continuum.

  60. 60
    Ampersand says:

    Actually, thinking about trans may be a red herring. Whether we’re talking about cis or trans men, “gender identity” and “masculinity” are not the same thing.

    But another way, my gender identity is male. It will remain male even if I’m a totally effeminate man; even if I entirely reject the idea that I have to express my “masculine side.” The two are separate traits.

  61. 61
    Sebastian H says:

    I’m not convinced that they are particularly separate. Why is ‘gender’ (as divorced from sex) so much more privileged a category than ‘masculinity’? At the very least they are correlated closely. We can observe people wanting to be identified as masculine or feminine at least as often as people who identify with a gender that doesn’t match their sex.

    But even if they if they are separate, is masculinity/femininity less defensible than ‘gender’? I.e. should we tell the masculine lesbian that she ought to femme it up because masculinity is toxic? Should we tell the fey boy to butch it up because femininity is socially constructed? On some level I don’t understand the difference between “I am a man” and “I want to be identified in the masculine” they are closely equivalent statements.

    I know three trans men who are super obsessed about chest hair because they think it makes them more masculine. Is that something you want to be discouraging?

  62. 62
    desipis says:

    Ampersand@59/60, I disagree. “Male identity” and “masculinity” (at least its behavioural component) might have a difference of degree, but not of kind. Telling a cis man that he’s “not a real man” due to his behaviour causes the same kind of harm as telling a trans man the same thing, even if the degree of harm is more in the later case.

    A “totally effeminate man” isn’t going to have zero masculinity, even if most of his masculinity comes from physical attributes. Simply calling oneself a “man” is an act of masculinity by asserting membership of the male group, even though it might not be a particularly strong act. For some men, this may be sufficient to satisfy their need to express their masculinity, but others may have a need for something more significant.

  63. 63
    Gracchi says:

    I think that a big problem with discussions about things like ‘toxic masculinity’ is that behaviors/tendencies are often assumed to be either good or bad, while in reality they are nearly always both. Men are more prone to violence in some ways (although less than commonly assumed) and also better at it, in part due to biology. This has obvious downsides, in that men are more likely to harm innocents or harm in excess of what is reasonable.

    On the other hand, we also see that this causes men to make sacrifices for society as a whole and women/children in particular. For example, in several of the terrorist attacks in Europe over the past few years, it was civilian men who tried (and sometimes succeeded) to stop the terrorist. Similarly, police and infantry are overwhelmingly men. At a more personal level, being insufficiently violent can open one up to be abused/bullied by others.

    A good argument can be made that modern society has less need of certain behaviors/tendencies, but this is merely an argument for weaker gender roles, not for their elimination. Even then we have to actually show that this is true. I often see fairly extreme assumptions being made about certain behaviors no longer being useful, seemingly based more on wishful thinking and blinding oneself to inconvenient facts, than based on a strong analysis.

    Another common argument is that it’s more healthy to have moderate behaviors/tendencies and that we should thus push all men and women into the same moderate behaviors/tendencies. However, this is actually an anti-diversity argument based around the idea that it is best if everyone is close to identical. It seems very doubtful that this is correct. From the view of society, we probably need some people to have very unbalanced behaviors/tendencies to do important jobs that a much more balanced person can’t do or is much worse at.

    From the view of the individual, quite a few people presumably have natural behaviors/tendencies that are not moderate and getting them to act moderate may require strong pressure or may be impossible. The former has similar oppressive elements to gender roles in the first place. Given that there are biological differences between the genders (only the extent is really in doubt, but differences like only female bodies being able to gestate and nurse babies clearly exist), we can also expect that ‘gender neutral’ socialization doesn’t actually result in equal outcomes.

    Currently, many people judge unfairness by the lack of equal outcomes and jump to conclusions about the causes, despite a lack of scientific evidence or even having the scientific evidence show something different. This predictably results in interventions that fail, because they don’t actually address the true causes; or worse, in discrimination because people forcibly want to equalize the inequalities that they notice (which usually is actually merely a subset of all inequalities). I don’t think that this can work.

    Instead of starting with a grand narrative and grand design of equality, I am more in favor of starting small. First work to understand how we actually treat people differently in specific ways, testing our theories with science (and with a willingness to be proven wrong) and then making gradual interventions to improve society. It’s usually better to make small moves in the right direction, than to make great leaps in often the wrong direction. The former seems to often feel ineffective in the eyes of many, while the latter feels like one is making large advances, but I think that this is a perceptual fallacy.

    The end result should not be defined by a grand ideal, but by what makes people actually happy. Reducing gender roles should be a means to this end, but historically, a lot of harm was done when the means became the end.

    PS. I am a different person than Gracchus. I took the name as a reference to the Gracchi brothers, who both served as tribune for the plebeians and tried to institute anti-aristocratic reforms, but who were both killed for it. Presumably because their lack of social skills made them unaware of how far they could go, so their criticisms and demands exceeded what was acceptable to those in power. Somehow this resonates with me. Presumable the other commenter called Gracchus has a similar appreciation of Roman history.

  64. 64
    Gracchi says:

    In a world where gender roles exist, a person who violates them is going to face repercussions from others. This can mean being treated unfairly, but also losing out on opportunities, because the person doesn’t match the needs of (most) others*. For instance, one can be less attractive as a partner when one is less masculine or feminine.

    Of course, the complement of this situation is that a more masculine man and more feminine woman is generally going to be treated more fairly (what is considered fair for their gender, that is) and is going to have more opportunities.

    Most people seem to identify with and be proud of the traits that get them treated better and/or gives them more opportunities than those who lack these traits, regardless of whether they actually worked for the traits or whether they were lucky enough to be born with them. One can argue that this is irrational and/or oppressive to others, but the actual extent to which a trait is luck or choice is probably unknowable, especially at the individual level. Humans may be better off overestimating their agency, rather than see the world as a maelstrom of caprice.

    Anyway, I think that this means that gender identity is going to be linked to masculinity or femininity for most people unless we get rid of gender roles entirely, which may be impossible (see my earlier comment). One can try to counter this by vilifying masculinity or femininity, but if society still actually rewards masculinity or femininity in many ways, it may simply lead people to feel like failures no matter how masculine (for men) or feminine (for women) they are.

    If relationships/sexuality requires a difference between partners, for people to see relationships as an enrichment in their lives, it is perhaps also very hard to prevent this from aligning by gender, given that most people are heterosexual. Currently, a major reason for gender identity seems to be that people feel that success in relationships requires adhering to the gender role and they justify adhering to the gender role by making it a part of their perceived identity, rather than face the truth.

    * A less masculine man or less feminine woman can make some choices to reduce this, like surrounding themselves with more open-minded people, but this only works to some extent.

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