Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Discussing Toxic Masculinity

Ask a Feminist: Michael Kimmel and Lisa Wade Discuss Toxic Masculinity, Signs Journal

Feminism basically offered women a symmetry between the social and the individual. The social observation was women as a group are not in power. And individually, women didn't feel powerful. So feminism basically said, let’s address both of those: the individual powerlessness and the social powerlessness. When you apply that same syllogism to men, men are in power, everyone agrees, but when you say therefore men must feel powerful, they look at you cross-eyed. They say, “What are you talking about? I have no power. My wife bosses me around. My kids boss me around. My boss bosses me around.” So with women you have a kind of symmetry; with men you have an asymmetry. All of the power in the world has not trickled down to individual men feeling powerful. This is important because you have a whole bunch of political groups out there who are saying things like, “You know, guys, you know how you don't feel powerful? You're right, the feminist women, they have all the power. Let's go get it back.” That's the men's rights guys. Then you have the guys who are saying, “Yes, you know how you don't feel powerful, let's troop off into the woods, and we’ll chant, and we'll drum, and we'll do the power rituals.” That’s the mythopoetic group.

 

I think our task has to be to address the asymmetry between the social and the individual, and here's how we do it. Our analysis of patriarchy is not simply men's power over women; it's also some men’s power over other men. Patriarchy’s always been a dual system of power, and unless we acknowledge that second one, we won't get an idea of why so many men feel like they're complete losers in the gender game, and they're not at all privileged, and they’ll resist any effort toward gender equality. I think we can make them allies.***

 

I have found in forty years of activism that the toxic/healthy dichotomy doesn't resonate for many men. I feel that when we come to them and talk about toxic masculinity, they very often think that we're telling them they're doing it wrong, that they're bad, and they have to change and give up their ideas of masculinity, the toxic ones, and embrace the new one. Basically we’re asking them to renounce Vin Diesel and embrace Ryan Gosling. And men won't go for it. They're too afraid to let go of things because you think they're unhealthy. So I feel like the toxic/healthy thing keeps guys a little bit askew—not exactly full-on resistant, although some are, but not engaged.

 

So I found it better—this is my own activist work,  . . . —but I have found it better to ask men what it means to be a good man and then contrast that with what it means to be a real man.

 

So I was not there to tell them that their behaviors were toxic. I was there to tell them that they are already experiencing a conflict, inside them, between their own values and this homosocial performance. So my job then shifted, not from scolding them to saying, “How can I support you living up to, not my definition of a good man, but yours? You already know the answer to this. You already do it very often, in private. You already do it when you stand up for the right, for the little guy, when you do the right thing. You already do it. How can we, grown-ups, how can we, the rest of society, support you in living up to your own standards?” I think that's a more effective way to reach these guys than it is to say, “You're doing it wrong, here’s how to do it right.”***

 

But I've done that same thing about good men and real men with frat guys when I've worked with them and they say to me, “Well, I know you're here to tell us that we shouldn't exist and fraternities should go away, etc.”

 

And I said, “Maybe not. Here’s a little good man / real man thing for you. Okay, bring me your charter, bring me the charter of your fraternity.” So they bring me the charter. And I said, “Now show me the part in your charter where it says ‘And we will have parties where we get girls so drunk that they can't stand up and they pass out so we can fuck them.’” And you know what? It doesn't say that in their charter. Nowhere. But here’s what it does say: “You’re men of honor, you’re men of integrity, you are about service, you’re about citizenship. I don't want you to live up to my ideals. I want you to live up to yours. If you can live up to your own ideals, you’ll have a reason to exist. Otherwise, no. I’m not okay with it.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2018/01/discussing-toxic-masculinity.html

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