By: Solomon Idowu
Image Credit: Stephen Whitehead
Having written an article on the “negative” tenets of masculinity in the first article released by this publication, I have had instances where that stance has been challenged, critiqued and ultimately laid bare. This has been done through reading, informing myself, listening to others speak and a deep retrospection/introspection on the subject matter. And in this period, I discovered my opinions at that time –some of which were wrong, and I would tell you why- must have been influenced, however subtly by popular culture on “toxic masculinity”. So the questions that needs to be answered is if masculinity in anyway in itself is inherently toxic? My answer to this is no, and here is why.
Before we can progress further, we have to try to give an exact definition on what toxic masculinity is, and what it constitutes of. Can you try and give the phrase a proper definition? No? I thought so too. Well it turns out you are not alone, as the phrase is quite difficult to define, as the attributes given to the term is generally as likely to happen amongst women as among men, which then goes on to invalidate the phrase itself, because if these characteristics are common in both genders, it would be wrong to restrict it to just one under a generic term.
One of the main criticisms of masculinity that has given this term any weight is the fact that according to statistics, males are more general more aggressive, violent and commit crimes about 3 times more than women. And proponents of these view of masculinity use that scenario to paint the fact that men are the violent ones in society, and are the oppressors, due to their masculinity. To them, femininity is all good, and masculinity is all bad. But this ideology becomes even more ridiculous when you look at the numbers; for example, if men commit violent crimes 3 times more than women, does that not imply that women commit violent crimes too? If men are generally more aggressive, those it not imply that there are women who are also aggressive? Where does the drive for the violent crime women commit come from? Where does their aggression come from? Their toxic masculinity too? As you can see, it is simply nonsensical to attribute clearly human traits and attributes to one gender simply because they perpetrate it more.
I recently read a post on Twitter by the handle @nnaemmy2001 which I quote “In our present day world, we are told not to discriminate based on skin colour, body size, aesthetics, disability etc. This rule seems not to apply when you have a penis. What is the point of raising boys to be better men when the simple reality of having a penis makes them bad?” The notion of toxic masculinity lumps all men as criminals and make it seem like all men are either bad, or have an innate, almost inevitable potential to be bad simply because they carry the XY chromosome. Boys and men should not have to go through undue guilt and shaming due to this notion of toxic masculinity, for actions they themselves did not or do not carry out. No man should be made to feel responsible or discriminated against for actions that are not taken by him.
It is extremely counterproductive to saturate the minds of boys and men with the wrong idea that there is something intrinsically bad about them, something they have no control over, a thing that is wrong, and they can’t change, but exists, simply because they are male. Is there even a point to raising boys to be functional men if we are going to also tell them this? Yes there might have been actions in the past that some men generally imbibed, that they do genuinely have to unlearn and ensure younger boys are not being brought up with the same ideas. But because a wrong behaviour has been carried out by some members of a particular demographic for a long time -behaviours that are now being corrected- , does that then make that particular demographic intrinsically bad? We could use the example of Fulani Herdsmen to make this more relatable. Does the fact that the larger percentage of bandits today are Fulani make all Fulani people bad people? No? I thought so too.
Violence, anger, aggression, domination and a lot of other undesirable qualities are not traits isolated to men alone. There are women who abuse others, both men and women. Since there are women who exhibit these same traits, are we then going to label it as “toxic femininity” as well? These traits should not be attributed to manhood alone if woman also carry it out. Toxic behaviours are not limited to a particular gender. Unacceptable behaviour is just that, unacceptable, regardless of gender or person.
The negative effects of asserting that there is something toxic about masculinity go far beyond affecting boys and men. If it is true that masculinity is toxic, then it would also have inevitable negative effects on women, because as women carry on more traditionally masculine roles and responsibilities, where does all the toxicity associated with those roles and responsibilities go to? Or is it going to somehow disappear?
In conclusion, Like Dr. Cam Sepah, an Executive Psychologist and Professor at the University of California San Francisco Medical School said, “there are toxic behaviours, exhibited by both men and women that we should absolutely not condone and should be punished, but it’s not something inherent about masculinity”. There has to be a line drawn between a male person being masculine and a male person being a bad human being. Like he said, masculinity and femininity are inherently tonic. The inputs of masculinity is important to society just as much as the inputs of femininity. If you look back through history, we can see numerous instances where masculine traits have been vital to the survival of humanity. Exhibiting masculine traits is not bad, it is not wrong and it is definitely not toxic.
The world needs men, so rather than castigate their masculinity, what should be done is to properly socialize them. Teach them how to relate with others ideally, teach them positive competition and its importance. Tell them that while they do not have to overly assert their masculinity to be seen as men, there is nothing wrong with masculinity. Teach them how to control their aggression. Help make boys and men useful and responsible by teaching them to be in control of their masculinity and channel it to the right areas, because for society to thrive, we need optimal input from all parties involved.