Over the past few years, the term “toxic masculinity” has entered mainstream conversation. The term refers to an unhealthy social and self-concept among men, of every nationality, belief and culture. Like any illness or addiction, not all men suffer from toxic masculinity. Being male is not a “problem” and men are not “the problem.” However, the wellness of men – and of every society and nation – is subject to the effects of toxic masculinity, so it behooves all of us – of every gender – to understand its symptomology and global impact.
The concept of toxic masculinity is used to describe behaviors among men that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Toxic masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions. Behaviors of misogyny, homophobia, and violence are considered toxic within the area of social sciences due to the harmful effects such behaviors have within society. Additionally, behaviors of extreme self-reliance and suppression of emotions are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.
Over the past few years, some very important research has been done regarding the link between toxic masculinity and environmental decline. For example, the December 2016 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research included an article detailing a series of seven studies providing evidence that the concepts of greenness and femininity are cognitively linked in male behavior norms – Journal of Consumer Research . This is to say that, “Consumers who engage in green behaviors are stereotyped by others as more feminine and even perceive themselves as more feminine. Further, men’s willingness to engage in green behaviors can be influenced by threatening or affirming their masculinity.”
Living from and with toxic masculinity is typified in behavior that cares more about self-image than about others or the environment. Within its complex of behaviors, to the toxic masculine, the feminine – and anything associated with the feminine – is abused, disregarded and only deemed valuable insofar as it serves to serve the needs of the toxic masculine ego. I would add that the toxic masculine ego can likely never be satisfied, and can subsequently never experience fulfillment. The toxic masculine ego is the ultimate insatiable consumer. Whatever it cannot consume or forcibly conform to meet its needs, it abhors and destroys.
Last month (December 2017), Scientific American published a follow up on the JCR article of the year prior – Scientific American . The authors note that, “Women have long surpassed men in the arena of environmental action,” making the suggestion that, “masculine affirmation and masculine branding may be effective in narrowing the gender gap in environmentalism.” Basically, by making a man feel manly, he’s more likely to go green.
This isn’t a bad conclusion to come to, though I do think it’s somewhat narrowly focused. I think the studies provide some backlighting to a larger social shadow that is broadly linked to the social/global history of patriarchal cultures and the heritage of patriarchal cosmology which our world is collectively attempting to transform. I believe the global transformation to a new paradigm of equitable environmental sustainability will require the social, theological and psychological deconstruction of toxic masculinity.
In my opinion, toxic masculinity is at the root of every major social and environmental challenge in our world today. From violence against women and transgendered persons to wars for land and natural resources, from mass shootings to the military industrial complex, from prohibitions against women’s’ education in some societies to corporate and nationalistic lobbies in the halls of legislature of other societies, and from species extinction to loss of indigenous sacred sites, toxic masculinity is incapable of valuing life for all time because it truly only perceives its own here and now.
Finally, toxic masculinity in leadership is perhaps the greatest threat to the viability of our world.
The healthy masculine is not threatened by emulating behaviors that are generative, relationally equal and mutual. The healthy masculine exercises empathy, values the full spectrum of human/personal emotion and has an expansive sense of compassion. There are many historical, religious/spiritual, philosophical and cultural male models of the healthy masculine. Christ is one such model.
Jesus valued the perspectives of women, children and men – of people who were different from him. He did not value violence or see it as the answer to threat. He was courageous without bravado, caring without the need to be repaid, loving without self-interest and able to share his emotions of fear/grief/joy/love/pain without questioning his value as a person. He was fearless in his conviction that might does not make right, that one’s life is made whole through healing, nurturing and caring for others and by creating a new social reality through dialogue and greater mutual understanding. His courage was not found in conquering the will or lives of others but in his resistance to living as though he was conquered (by an emperor). He was free in heart and mind and spirit, and because he was a truly free man, he had no need to enslave anyone. He was a man who gave life where there had been only death.
Christ’s hope, I think, was that all men should be freed from their emperors – from the ways of being men in history and in our day that keep all the world in thrall.
I never would have thought greenness affects masculinity
I know, right? But it makes sense to me within the historical context of the rise of patriarchal culture within the Industrial Revolution.