Stupid Words You Shouldn’t Use: “Toxic Masculinity”

This will be a series in which I tell the world how it ought to speak. My recommendations are not binding, as I have no authority to impose my speech preferences on the world. Hopefully, though, I can convince you that certain words and phrases are just not worthy of being uttered by intelligent human beings.

“Toxic masculinity” is one such phrase.

I will concede that the term is not entirely useless. If it weren’t for the constant misuse of the phrase by ill-informed wannabe social commentators on Twitter, then I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post. A reasonable person can think of toxic masculinity as a pathological obsession with demonstrating one’s manliness through violence, sexual conquest, etc., combined with a pathological sense that being male entitles one to whatever one wants. The aforementioned social commentators have co-opted the term and use it to explain every act of violence any man ever commits.

Most recently, the Cleveland murder:

I’m guessing that the reason the tweeter above blames “toxic masculinity” for this incident is the killer’s saying, “She’s the reason why all this about to happen to you,” before committing the murder. He was referring to his ex-girlfriend, Joy Lane, who described him to ABC News as “a nice guy … he is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children.”

The problem with attributing incidents like this to toxic masculinity is that doing so implies that such incidents happen only because of the evil societal structures in which we exist. If only we were able to go back to some Rousseauian state of nature and be noble savages. Before the establishment of the patriarchy, I bet men never killed anyone for any reason, because there was no culture to make them toxic and violent.

Obviously, though, culture is not the culprit. If anything, culture has a moderating effect on men’s violent impulses (we have more of these than do most women, because we have higher testosterone levels). Violence, generally speaking, is maladaptive in modern society. People will like you better if you play nice. If you can’t play nice, then we’ll throw you in jail so that you can’t hurt us.

The whole idea behind the phrase “toxic masculinity” is that men are trained by society to be entitled sociopaths. As a man, I don’t think that this is at all close to the truth. I have always been taught not to assume that I am entitled to things that I want. Perhaps I’m an anomaly and my parents did an outstanding job at smashing the patriarchy in their parenting methods. But I doubt that, because most other men I know don’t display any symptoms of this so-called “toxic masculinity.”

It sometimes seems that “toxic masculinity” is used as a substitute for “antisocial personality disorder” or “narcissistic personality disorder.” You know, actual psychological conditions that aren’t entirely caused by the environment, but might have actual biological roots (i.e. brain damage, excess testosterone, etc.). But biology is anathema to these modern commentators. Everything is the result of socialization. There is no human nature. Plus, it’s obvious that not all men are antisocial or narcissistic. The threshold for accusing someone of toxic masculinity is much lower, and does not depend on the opinion of an expert in psychology.

I’m not denying that, in some communities, there are manifestations of something that might rightly be referred to as “toxic masculinity.” For instance, sometimes adolescent boys get together and say abhorrent things about the bodies of their female peers in order to demonstrate how sexually enlightened they are. But this is not, nor has it ever been, the ideal which western civilization has set up for men to emulate. Men are expected to be strong, but good. We are supposed to be capable of violence, but only for the purpose of protecting those we love from harm. Indeed, “toxic masculinity” isn’t masculine at all. Flipping out and trying to hurt other people when you don’t receive something to which you feel entitled is childish and contemptible.

Some better alternatives to “toxic masculinity” include “antisocial personality disorder,” “narcissism,” and “poor socialization.” It’s important for us to recognize that the acts of violence committed by men happen in spite of our cultural expectations for men, not because of them. To insist otherwise is basically to deny human nature.

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