Over the last few months the data has begun to stack up: Toxic masculinity is not only harmful for companies and industries, it’s not only harmful for women…it’s harmful for men too.
The APA recently issued new guidelines for treating boys and men that outlined how awful the state of male mental health is. Yes, especially among white male, straight, cisgendered and privileged men.
From the report: “Although boys and men, as a group, tend to hold privilege and power based on gender, they also demonstrate disproportionate rates of receiving harsh discipline (e.g., suspension and expulsion), academic challenges (e.g., dropping out of high school, particularly among African American and Latino boys), mental health issues (e.g., completed suicide), physical health problems (e.g., cardiovascular problems), public health concerns (e.g., violence, substance abuse, incarceration, and early mortality), and a wide variety of other quality-of-life issues (e.g., relational problems, family well-being…Additionally, many men do not seek help when they need it, and many report distinctive barriers to receiving gender-sensitive psychological treatment (Mahalik, Good, Tager, Levant, & Mackowiak, 2012).”
Put another way: Toxic masculinity makes life unbearable for women and people of color but it is also literally killing men who have every opportunity in front of them. Exclusion is at the core of this toxicity. “Be a man.” “Man up.” The cliche phrases we’ve all heard for decades when boys are the least bit different.
Also from the report: “…dominant masculinity was historically predicated on the exclusion of men who were not White, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and privileged (Liu, 2005). Moreover, the ideal, dominant masculinity is generally unattainable for most men (Pleck, 1995). Men who depart from this narrow masculine conception by any dimension of diversity (e.g., race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression) may find themselves negotiating between adopting dominant ideals that exclude them or being stereotyped or marginalized.”
This has been eloquently described as the “Man Trap” or the “Man Box.” It explains how men so internalize the pressures of narrowly defined, toxic masculinity that they become their own bullies. It explains (or gives an explanation as to why) the most privileged members of society or school or a workforce can’t stand up for women and people of color.
More from the ADA’s guidelines on the seriousness of this narrowly defined norm of “being a man”: “Although the vast majority of males are not violent, boys and men commit nearly 90% of violent crimes in the United States (United States Department of Justice, 2011). Many boys and men have been socialized to use aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict (Moore & Stuart, 2005). Family, peers, and media often reinforce the connection between aggressive behavior and mas-culinity (Kilmartin & McDermott, 2015; Kilmartin & Smiler, 2015)… aggression may serve as public behavior wherein men can prove their masculinity, either against a worthy rival or against those considered unworthy of the label man (K. Franklin, 2004; Whitehead, 2005), in order to bolster confidence in their masculine identity.”
This on top of Joan C. Williams acute observation that Silicon Valley’s unicorn era has been driven more by a pursuit of masculinity than actual valuations or money. It all ties back to the growth of bro culture in Silicon Valley.
I was reading Roger McNamee’s new book Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe this past weekend, and he writes about how Web 2.0 companies centering in San Francisco—not Silicon Valley proper—introduced two new “types” into startup culture: Hipsters and bros.
I was fully part of the 2006-ish hipster gang with our ironic T-shirts and designer jeans and dive bars and all that. Where I largely parted ways with the Valley elite was when bros came into power. I’d argue the bros are far more toxic—and outright abusive to women and minorities—than the hipsters. But McNamee rightly argues that both are male-centric cultures that don’t mix well with women.
Bros are where you see the intersection of a lot of things, that also tend to go hand-in-hand with toxic masculinity: Unfettered free speech religion even if it inhibits the speech of more vulnerable communities, slavish belief in meritocracy, the libertarian ideal that individuals are more important than the collective, an idolatry of cult of the founder and disruption, and the belief that laws are made to be broken.
If it seems like everything in 2019—and 2016 and 2017 and 2018—ties back to toxic masculinity, there’s a good reason: It’s been exposed and we’re (maybe?) in the final throes of defining it, naming it, learning to treat it, and rejecting it. At least that’s the optimistic view, right?
And then we see something like the stupid backlash over the Gillette ad. What I found curious about the backlash—in the wake of so much research and data about the problems with toxic masculinity—was how narrowly the Gillette ad defined the problem. It didn’t say men should be stay-at-home dads or do all the laundry or anything too destabilizing to societal norms. It said they should stop bullying kids and groping women.
Uh…who is gonna publicly take issue with that?
A fascinating Tweetstorm explained the roots of that “backlash.” It was started by a few fringe unknowns and was blown up intentionally by the media, it turns out. The BBC quoted a guy making demands that Gillette apologize as its original source—a guy with 18 followers on Twitter. It was only after it became a media story that well known personalities started to chime in.
Here’s where I see the state of this issue right now: The data and the science are out there. Those now continuing to defend bullying young boys and grabbing women and marginalizing anyone who falls outside the narrow definition of manhood are like climate change deniers. They are flying in the face of science and all clearly visible evidence that there’s a problem that plagues all of us. They are arguing against their own self-interest and in some cases mental health. And if the media keeps looking to inflame this into a legitimate two-sided debate…Well, just look at where America is on climate change to see what we’ll have in store for us.