Words by James WF Roberts Art by Liam Grant
From a male’s point of view, I do not understand how sensitive men have become. I do not understand the backlash against the Gillette ad and I don’t understand why so many men, are threatened by a gentle progressive turn towards inclusivity, or even by having more women and minorities in positions of power in films and TV shows.
Is masculinity so fragile, so under threat, that the slightest change of narrative voice from a straight, white male to a woman, LGBTI person or a person of colour apparently means that the creators have betrayed their audience? Why is toxic masculinity causing so many problems now – and are women really the only victims of toxic masculinity?
I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time now. The topic of toxic-masculinity is such a huge topic; it runs like a torrent across many disciplines and many ideas on sex, gender, nationality permeate the topic, so we are going to keep this as short as possible.
Growing up in Australia can be tough. We have a harsh environment and sometimes, even harsher people. Much like the United States, the Australian self-perception, especially for men in the country, is one that’s fierce and masculine. When I grew up, if you couldn’t kick a football or change the oil in a car, you were called a mummy’s boy or a poof. It was as simple as that. And, of course I can do neither. The automaton, repressed, switched off way so many males behave towards themselves and others, has always freaked me out.
When I grew up, if you couldn’t kick a football or change the oil in a car, you were called a mummy’s boy or a poof.
I was briefly, very briefly, in the Australian Army after being a Naval Reserve Cadet for many years in Bendigo. The bullying, the belittling – making everyone conform as one thinking, reacting, moving body seems to make sense in that context. The pack mentality and treatment of everything around you as something to be dominated works for many men in the context of football, the military and private school – it is Darwinism writ-large.
I could go on and with other examples of toxic masculinity, but I would rather not allow this article to become a diatribe of ‘poor me’. However, I am going to say ‘poor men’ rather than insisting that not all men are bigots, or rapists or bullies. The ‘not all men’ argument is like saying not all Christians are members of the KKK, or not all Islamic people are terrorists. It is a pointless argument that men online make, because they are either feeling victimised by raging feminists or feeling a sense of guilt that they could be one of those awful men.
To understand toxic masculinity, we must first look at how men are portrayed in the media, and how those tropes are fed into the psyche of men. What cultural heroes are men raised on in the mainstream? We have the Western hero – the drifter, the cowboy, hard drinking, occasional brothel visitor (surprisingly Western heroes don’t have a lot of sex). Women in Westerns are usually the school-ma’am, the wife who has been wronged, the mother or the girl kidnapped by savages or highwaymen. The cowboy is a lone figure. He rides into town. Protects the soft/Eastern men and their families from outlaws. Kills indiscriminately. Rides off into the sunset.
But this ‘survival of the fittest’ mantra, this idea of total and constant war is not a modern idea. The Roman empire is the basis of many of our cultural ideas. With the discoveries and trading of the new world in the Americas and Australia, the colonising, plundering ‘domination’ spark was re-lit in the 1700s and has never been extinguished. The warrior castes of Sparta and Rome became the colonisers, the pioneers, and then became the farmers and the landowners, and now they are footballers and UFC fighters. Now, many of those warrior-alpha males are now becoming frustrated and angry with a world they do not understand.
Emotional, sexual, hormonal and mental education in young men is almost non-existent in our cultural and education systems. I keep wondering if the rise of toxic masculinity, the new right wing and white supremacy has become as nasty and as powerful in the media again, because some men – not all men (yes, I used it again) are threatened by a world they no longer understand.
We no longer need gladiators, we no longer need colonisers and we sure as hell don’t need conquerors anymore. So my question is, what happens to the conquerors when there are no more places to conquer, the warriors when we no longer need a warrior-caste? Is toxic masculinity a natural contemporary extension of the warrior-alpha identity, that no longer is needed by society?