He was just a little boy, maybe two or three years old. His pregnant mother wanted something to keep him occupied while she was busy with the baby. So she bought him a baby too, a realistic looking baby doll he could care for while she was caring for hers. Then her husband came home and found his boy playing with a doll. He ripped it out of the boy’s hands and threw it in the trash. No boy of his was going to play with dolls. No boy of his would be a sissy.
One day a week a boy would go walking down our street, obviously in tears. I wasn’t very old when I asked my Mom why. She responded that the boy was going to karate class and his Dad felt that walking there would toughen him up and make a man of him. I couldn’t see how he’d be made a man when he was only a boy just a bit older than me and I thought it was awful that he was being forced to do something that made him cry. It was obvious my Mom did not like what the Dad was doing either but there wasn’t anything either of us could do.
We carefully carried our cat, who was skin and bones, to the bus and climbed aboard. Pumpkin had been fine when we left for a family wedding and a quiet memorial service but was painfully thin when we returned, despite having someone over daily to care for him. Tests showed he had terminal cancer and I booked his euthanasia right away. There was no point in prolonging his suffering.
Colin was hit especially hard because Pumpkin was his cat or rather he was Pumpkin’s person. All Colin needed to say was, “Come here Pumpkin” and the cat would trot happily beside him. Pumpkin would spend hours just sitting while Colin built with lego or played with his toys. And now was our final moment with him. The kids said their tearful goodbyes then I carried Pumpkin into the back room and petted him until he was gone. Then we headed for the bus.
Both kids were quietly crying beside me when a lady got on. She looked at all of us then her gaze focused on Colin.
“Stop that right now,” she chided. “You have no need to be crying. Boys don’t cry!”
“We just left the animal hospital,” I replied, waving vaguely behind us. “We had to put his cat to sleep.”
The lady was immediately embarrassed and apologized to me but it was obvious how she felt.
Toxic masculinity is a stereotype that affects everyone. It’s the image of the ideal man. Strong and silent. Always brave. Skilled at fighting but is usually above it. He never cries and rarely shows any sign of emotion. He’s stoic. I’m sure everyone can come up with something that describes the ideal man. The man every male, and person assumed to be male, is supposed to be.
The thing is, that ideal is not only limiting, it’s dangerous. According to Wikipedia, these stereotypical traits “are correlated with increased psychological problems in men such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.”
Plus toxic masculinity is rooted in being the opposite of stereotypical femininity. If boys are supposed to be strong, girls are weak. Boys are silent while girls chatter up a storm. Boys are logical while girls are ditzy. Boys don’t cry while girls will sob at television commercials. Boys are strong in math and science while girls get flustered at the simplest equation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those traits, it’s the assumption of gender for each that’s the problem.
If a girl likes things that are traditionally considered male, she gets the moniker of “tomboy”, a word with no negative connotations. There is no positive or neutral term for a boy who likes things traditionally considered female. Some people now use the term “gender creative” but it’s neither well spread or well known.
Toxic masculinity has to see women as lesser because otherwise it loses the only weapon it has for men to conform. If there’s nothing wrong with being female, insults like sissy (originating from sister) and girl (as in “you throw like a girl”) would mean nothing or they would be something positive. Both misogyny and homophobia have their roots in toxic masculinity. Misogyny due to negative stereotypes about women and homophobia because if a man is putting himself in the position of loving another man he must be taking on the position of a woman and therefore is lesser. Toxic masculinity doesn’t care about a woman loving another woman. They’re both lesser so it doesn’t matter.
As feminism lifts the image of woman and what it means to be feminine, it also pulls up society’s image of homosexuality and of the men who don’t meet the standards of toxic masculinity. Feminism assures that it’s okay for men to cry, to enjoy cooking and sewing, to want to stay home with the children. It’s okay to like the colour pink. It’s okay to give your son a baby doll and it’s okay for him to prefer dance over karate. And it’s just as okay to enjoy sports and shooting a game of pool with the guys. People are allowed to be themselves.
That’s not to say feminism is perfect, infestations of TERFS (trans exclusionary radical feminists) break out regularly like cockroaches for example, but the concept of equality for all is something positive to strive for.
I’d like to see toxic masculinity gone. Smashed into a million irreparable pieces. I’d like to see masculinity as simply meaning the act of being male, with each male individual deciding for themselves what sort of man they are. And if they’re a man who enjoys golf and making bead jewelry, so be it. I’d like to see a society where men aren’t berated for crying, for loving strongly and deeply, for showing great empathy with their children.
I’d like to see a society where a small boy isn’t berated for crying and told to be a man.