Sex & Gender

men have the right to be vulnerable – toxic masculinity hurts everyone involved

December 12, 2016

Over the past few years, the social movement that once worked to dismantle labels evolved into one where everyone’s identity seemed to be defined by the box they fit into. My box happens to be “cis-gendered, heterosexual female.” That means I agree with the gender I was assigned at birth and I am attracted to members of the opposite sex, at least that’s how it was explained to me by folks who are more educated on the subject of gender identity than I am. I have always loved “masculine” guys, the ones whose hobbies involved doing something athletic and physical, the ones who stuck up for me if another guy tried to disrespect me, the ones who would hug me when I was down and did whatever they could to fix it and make everything alright. My experiences with great guys shaped my views of what being “manly” meant, whether that was accurate or not.

If you asked me to define the traits of a masculine man, I would describe someone who is independent, assertive, strong, and confident. Of course, these traits are not specific to dudes. Any person of any gender or sexual orientation can be independent, assertive, strong, and confident. Traditionally, men were expected to be providers, protectors, and head of households. These days, though, many guys reject that expectation. So what exactly does it mean to be a man, then?

Unfortunately, we can’t really have a conversation about men without addressing toxic masculinity, the antiquated social attitude that men are, by nature, violent, sexually aggressive, emotionless, and competitive. Boys who were raised hearing things like “stop crying, be a man” and “emotions are a feminine trait” too often grow up with a dangerous idea of what being masculine means. The breakdown of Toxic Masculinity by Geek Feminism is one of the best I’ve seen on the interwebs. Some of the examples they give of how toxic masculinity shows up in real life are:

By Nikki Lynette*, AFROPUNK contributor

  • The pervasive idea of male-female interactions as competition, not cooperation.
  • The pervasive idea that men cannot truly understand women, and vice versa–and following, that no true companionship can be had between different sexes.
  • The expectation that Real Men are strong, and that showing emotion is incompatible with being strong. Anger is either framed as the exception to the rule, or as not an emotion.
  • Relatedly, the idea that a Real Man cannot be a victim of abuse, or that talking about it is shameful.
  • Men are just like that: the expectation that Real Men are keenly interested in sex, want to have sex, and are ready to have sex most if not all times
  • The idea that Real Men should be prepared to be violent, even when it is not called for.
  • Though not reinforced much in fictional media, in real life it is widely expected that a man would abandon his pregnant girlfriend, and is incapable and/or unwilling to take responsibility.
  • The myth that men are not interested in parenting, and are inherently unsuited to be single parents.
  • Discourages men from becoming involved in the lives of their children.
  • Encourages household inequality, which hurts all involved.
  • Assumes that in case of divorce, children will go with their mothers, instead of examining each situation individually.
  • Emasculation: the idea that there is a range of feminine interests and activities a Real Man would not hold, and that disprove a man’s masculinity regardless of his other actions.

Because toxic masculinity has become so problematic and pervasive, there seems to be a social movement in place that is dead set on attacking maleness in general. The lack of a fundamental knowledge of what real masculinity looks like has brought forth the emergence of the “fuckboy.” A fuckboy is toxic masculinity’s bastard son who grew up hearing variations of “we don’t love these hoes” recited in rap lyrics on the radio. He is an inhumane wrecker of souls sent here by Lucifer himself to waste people’s time. He is emotional, but only as it pertains to himself. He is confident, to the point of being narcissistic. He has no concrete identity and never feels bad about being hypocritical or inconsistent, and is completely okay with doing things that are hurtful and wrong. When it comes to toxic males, there is pretty much nothing you can say to one of them to convince him that he is not a “real man.” Personally, I consider straight men who have an inability to connect emotionally with women to be the opposite of masculine. If heterosexuality is a romantic attraction and a need to bond emotionally and socially with a person of the opposite sex, then what do we call a man who is unable to do so?

At this point, I’m sure some of you are thinking of ways you can blame women for what’s wrong with men. And in some ways, women are culpable. Yet, a friend who did her senior thesis on Intimate Partner Violence recently told me that the highest percentage of violence and abuse occurs within male homosexual relationships. The ugly truth is, for all society has gained in the growing acceptance of varying gender identities and sexual orientations, we have lost a lot in the acknowledgment of what it means for a man to be a grown ass man. We downplay the significance of fathers as being secondary to mothers. We enable men to lack integrity and explain away their cheating and whoredom when we say “men will be men.” And worst of all, we overlook the good guys who don’t display traits of toxic masculinity and write them off as “soft.” We have all heard the saying “Good guys finish last,” right? It’s almost as if we don’t care that patriarchy and heteronormativity hurts everyone, including men.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here… I think I speak for all straight women when I say that we don’t like bitch ass niggas. And if you are the type who misuses and violates women, the type who lies and manipulates and just generally makes a woman’s life harder than needs to be, then I am talking to you. You’re a bitch and I don’t like you. Women like me want men who are our equals, men who actually want to work together to better one another, to have each other’s back, and to achieve a better life. We want men who are strong enough to pick us up when we are down, but vulnerable enough to let us do the same for them. If that is not what manly men do, then what is? Being strong has been an expectation of men since the stone ages, but somehow, in all this time, nobody ever stopped to tell dudes that vulnerability takes strength.

It’s really sad that, when we talk about manly men, so many of us automatically picture this Ike Turner type of dude who beats a woman’s ass in order to assert his maleness. Would it really kill us to see masculinity as something that exists on a spectrum and stop invalidating males by teaching them that if they don’t fit into a particular unhealthy ass box then they aren’t man enough? Men who are afflicted by toxic masculinity today didn’t invent it themselves. This is yet another example of why we need to normalize conversations about mental health and behavioral issues. Many sufferers don’t know that they have a problem.

In an era when we have never been more connected as people and never had more access to information, I would love to see a social movement compassionately urging men to let toxic masculinity go. Many people, including me, believe that guys are better than that and capable of so much more. But it’s hard to hold on to that belief when so many men keep proving us wrong.

*Nikki Lynette is a rapper, singer, producer, songwriter, visual artist, blogger and on-air personality. And a goddess with real locs. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram at @NikkiLynette