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Toxic masculinity? 有毒的男子气概

中国日报网 2021-01-19 12:41


Reader question:

Please explain the term “toxic masculinity”.

My comments:

Toxic as in toxic relationship, a relationship that’s toxic, poisonous and proving to be detrimental or downright harmful.

Masculinity, of course, refers to manliness, male traits in general.

Toxic masculinity literally refers to too much of male-like qualities – which becomes toxic and harmful to themselves and to the people around them.

You want men to be men, of course, having male qualities such as being tough, resilient, etc. You want men to be muscular, for example, physically strong and well built. But you don’t want them to flex their muscles at you all the time. It’s like in the animal world, an alpha male lion growls at other members of the group all the time, like, every waking hour.

Just to show he’s boss.

Well, animals know better than behave like that. Only in the human world do things get excessively out of hand.

Again, you want men to be tough, but not so tough as to be unable to laugh, unable to be sympathetic to the weak and poor, etc. and so forth.

In short, toxic masculinity can be understood as excessive masculinity and, yes, like other things, masculinity can be too much of a good thing.

No further ado, learn more about “toxic masculinity” via a few recent media examples:

1. The term “toxic masculinity” has become ubiquitous over the past few years after lingering in obscurity for the better part of three decades. Coined by Shepherd Bliss, the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement activist who spent the 1980s exhorting men to reconnect with their “preindustrial” emotions, the phrase became popular in academic settings well before emerging as the catchall description of gendered shittiness. The coinage is now used to explain mass shootings, sexual assault, why baseball players stand on yellow high-chew buckets, and Alec Baldwin’s personal life. The Oxford Dictionary’s 2018 word of the year? Toxic.

Google searches for “toxic masculinity” have climbed steadily since May 2016. More than 90,000 news articles and 150,000 videos (and climbing) indexed on Google deploy the term. And, as ever, there’s a commercial element to the term’s rise. Want a baby onesie that says “I’ve got 99 problems that stem from toxic masculinity”? That’ll be $19.42.

How did the term get so much traction? Social media had a lot to do with it, but so did social science. In 2004, journalist Amy Aronson and sociologist Michael Kimmel put “toxic masculinity” in their seminal book Men and Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia. It stuck with people — so much so that when Kimmel’s Jessie Bernard Award from the American Sociological Association was suspended this year amid accusations of abusive behavior towards grad student researchers, the man who popularized the term wound up looking straight down the barrel of it.

But what does it mean to be guilty of toxic masculinity? Hard to say. For how much the term is bandied around, it remains poorly defined. The toxic bit is simple enough, but masculinity has always been difficult to pin down.

Whereas feminine ideals are fairly consistent over the course of Western history, masculine ideals are not. Anthropologists claim that three Ps — providing, protecting, and procreating — define modern American manhood, but that’s a localized phenomenon. The only consistent truth about masculinity has been this: Men have always feared having it taken away. This is why serious gender researchers are increasingly dismissive of the idea of toxic masculinity, which suggests that manhood itself is some form of congenital defect. What seems to be more plausible is that toxic behaviors are a reaction to perceived threats to the masculinity of a subset of men with poor self-esteem. Put a different way, what’s toxic isn’t masculinity — there’s nothing ultimately wrong with masculine behavior — but the creeping suspicion that it can be taken away and the juvenile actions that this suspicion triggers.

- Toxic Masculinity Is a Myth. But Insecure Men Lash Out at Women, Fatherly.com, June 4 2020.

2. Growing up, I don’t remember being particularly adventurous and experimental as my peers. I was often the shy guy at the back of the room wondering when school would be over so I could go home to my computer and use the new cheat codes I had sourced from a friend to play Grand Theft Auto. In popular lingo, I was a nerd, and I thrived on it.

I hardly spoke to girls, I was too sweaty and awkward around them. The only place I felt comfortable was with my fellow nerds, talking about games, cars and science fiction. When I wasn’t with the misfits, I was detached from the world. I acted like it didn’t bother me but it did.

When I graduated to university I was shoved into an entirely new environment where I knew no one and no one knew me. The most important thing was I had the freedom to do anything I pleased. I was ridiculously good at pool for some reason so I spent most of my free time hitting balls on a green table.

I played pool with very strong personalities whom at the time, felt like they were virility and masculinity personified. They were big men who smoked, drank heavily and always had a number of pretty women by their side. As I got to know these men, they knew me too. I was a 21-year-old virgin that hadn’t had an alcoholic drink all his life.

Because these men saw themselves as macho men and according to them I wasn’t I was subjected to intense mockery and ridicule. They would often say that the reason I didn’t drink was that I looked thin, delicate and had soft hands. They were implying that I wasn’t man enough, or rather, I didn’t look the part.

Bowing to the pressure, I was initiated into the world of irresponsible drinking. It turned out that I could handle alcohol quite well, I could drink heavily one night and be in class the next morning. This boosted my confidence and made me feel like I was a virile Viking. This newly found feeling was intoxicating and so was the vodka and the lifestyle that came with it.

Eventually, the student becomes the teacher. My roommates and I were too broke to afford fancy booze, so we opted for the cheaper, more effective drinks with illegal alcohol percentages. We went from drinking on weekends to drinking every day.

Every time we went out, I would be showered with praise and adoration because of how much I could drink and still function. I was the man! I was so lost in the misleading validation that I didn’t realize I was flunking in school (or should I say I didn’t care) and my hands had a slight tremor. Two years of heavy drinking does that to a person.

Most of my drinking buddies dropped out of school or deferred. I found myself almost alone with an insatiable quench for alcohol. I must have known that I had a drinking problem, but I would be damned if I voiced it. How would that make me look? Like I wasn’t man enough. Before any thought became an action, it had to be cross-checked to the international rule book of masculinity. Vulnerability was a big no.

Being around the company I kept had made me subscribe to the dark realm of toxic masculinity. Crying was weak, talking about emotions was stupid, and texting a girl first was even more stupid. What made me a man was my drink, my fists, the number of women I had slept with and my ability to cloak my mental, psychological and physical pain.

I had been driven to alcoholism by a need to reassert my manhood and feel like I was a member of the boys club. Peer pressure and toxic masculinity are possibly one of the most common ways in which young men engage in alcoholic behaviour. Alcohol becomes a problem when it is no longer a means of leisure and becomes a measuring stick to determine who is the biggest, baddest man. I went down a dark path and I couldn’t see the way out into the light.

- How Toxic Masculinity Led To Me Becoming An Alcoholic, by Brian Muchiri, Potentash.com, July 2, 2020.

3. As if the first two waves of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States weren’t enough to inspire serious political changes to stop the coronavirus, health experts have sounded the alarm that a third wave is underway. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising across the nation, specifically in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Montana, as the seasons change and the election nears.

It’s certainly taken a lot of resilience and strength to persevere through this pandemic — particularly given the backdrop of political chaos, uncertainty and immense change in our daily lives. Yet perhaps it is this attitude of “staying strong,” and acting stoically — which is rooted in a culture that favors and thrives off toxic masculinity — that has hurt and continues to hurt us the most.

Toxic masculinity, which has become a household phrase over the last few years, is when the archetypal image of masculinity, like displaying strength, becomes harmful to oneself. In 2005, in a study of men in prison, psychiatrist Terry Kupers defined toxic masculinity as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.” The phrase is used to describe the issues men face or sometimes, wrongfully, justify them. Certainly, in a patriarchal society, toxic masculinity not only defines people but politics — as its mores trickle into our entertainment, discourse and politics.

Notably, the pandemic response is being led by the most psychologically compromised, toxic men in America. As I wrote last weekend, President Donald Trump’s insistence on depicting himself as so strong as to be able to “work through” his COVID-19 illness is deeply harmful, and apt to put Americans’ lives at risk who mimic his behavior — either by working while sick or hiding symptoms.

Meanwhile, Trump’s re-election campaign has tried to frame Trump as a “warrior” — masculine, strong and void of emotion. The administration’s individualistic, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric personifies toxic masculinity, and trickles down to Trump's underlings, too. In June, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal claiming there was no second wave of COVID-19, despite all the evidence to the contrary. “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” Pence wrote then, adding “our greatest strength is the resilience of the American people.”

Yet as psychologists will warn, there is a dark side to resilience.

- Toxic masculinity has become a threat to public health, Salon.com, October 18, 2020.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


Do a number on him? 彻底挫败某人


Wild goose chase? 劳而无功的事


Alternative medicine? 替代疗法


All hands on deck? 召集一切力量


Left in the lurch? 陷入困境

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