Note: This isn’t an intellectual paper written with the expectation that intellectuals will intellectualize my intellect and reduce said intellect into shards of insecurity and shame. It’s just my view and my experiences. You can take it or you can leave it, but your – or anyone else’s – attempts at invalidating me and my experiences isn’t a part of my process. That’s all yours.
I didn’t grow up in today’s Information Age. In fact, I grew up in rural New Mexico at a group home for “at-risk” children. My parents ran the place and I was just a staff kid who got in everyone’s way a lot. But I was observing and paying attention…always. When I was young, only boys were considered “at-risk” and, as such, I grew up at a boy’s ranch in rural New Mexico during the 70s and 80s. While I admit that it was a simpler time, I make no claim that the issues that I faced are to be easily dismissed as simple. I faced the same basic issues that kids face today, I just faced those issues without the internet, without “safe spaces”, without “gun free zones”, without political correctness, without warning labels on everything and without the fierce and ill-informed mob of internet “experts” and well-meaning Christians hell bent on righting society’s wrongs and without social justice warriors cowardly labeling everything that they don’t like as something to be seen as awful. There was no “violent speech” or “political correctness” or “toxic masculinity”. We (society) made all of those up as a part of an agenda that doesn’t have the courage to do what all righteous agendas seem to do; honestly identify itself. This new agenda can best be described as the “woke” movement. “Woke” is yet another term that was born out of pop culture but every bit as fictitious as the other terms previously mentioned. As defined by Merriam-Webster – Woke: aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)
As I was growing up, men were expected to be proud providers and protectors. Men were also expected to be self-sufficient; especially emotionally. In addition, men were expected to be good at a lot of things and exceptional at one or two things. Men were expected to be, or at least appear to be, unafraid. Men were expected to express their emotions with acts of service and courage for their loved ones; particularly women and especially their spouse. Contrary to popular belief, I was not raised with the expectation of not talking about my feelings. I was just taught not to talk too much about love, fear and emotional pain. Thankfully, having 3 daughters forced me to evolve past that commitment to shield the world and those around me from my vulnerability.
Then along came “toxic masculinity”. This is another one of those made up, social justice terms with an origin that is less easily dismissed. Abusers, pedophiles, criminals, “alpha male dude bros”, malcontents, anti-socials and narcissists are all at the root of “toxic masculinity”. In reality though, these are such a limited and easily avoided part of the population that the term “toxic masculinity” had to be expanded and applied to anyone who isn’t, at worst, gender neutral and, at best, gender fluid. Eventually, the definition was simplified to just be a convenient label for those who aren’t “woke” Anyone who leans towards traditional masculinity or who is Christian or who admits that they, as Eric Church puts it, “Don’t like to fight, but ain’t scared to bleed” is labeled as being a purveyor of “toxic masculinity” and a barrier to society’s overall progress and success. Those boys and men who aren’t hyperaware and actively attentive to important issues; particularly those issues related to social justice; are the prolific and oft vilified examples used to prove the existence of toxic masculinity. Sadly, abusers, pedophiles, criminals, “alpha male dude bros”, malcontents, anti-socials and narcissists have had the spotlight taken from their toxic behavior because of the inclusion of nontoxic, but traditionally masculine, males in the spotlight of the term “toxic masculinity”. As you may have deduced by now, I have a much different experience and thought process. The term “toxic masculinity” is just a thinly veiled assault on anger of any kind that is expressed by a male. Even when women get mad, it is usually as a morally justified response to “toxic masculinity” or the loosely defined “Patriarchy” which seems to be the culmination of “toxic masculinity” and “white privilege”. That type of anger is perfectly acceptable though as the only anger that must be stopped is anger attached to males and masculinity. If anyone who has a natural or nurture induced bend towards masculinity is to get angry, that anger is toxic and needs to be shut down and silenced.
And what, pray tell, are these men and boys that display this so called “toxic masculinity” so angry about?
This is where things get complicated. Anger is a human emotion and one that has it’s very dark and cruel baggage. Many a sin against humanity and against human beings has been committed out of anger. This is important as anger is, in its worst form, hurtful and even toxic. But every emotion can be taken too far until it becomes an awful and toxic version of itself. Love can even be morphed and manipulated until it is no longer love and becomes toxic and eventually turns into Munchausen Syndrome By proxy. What starts as a parent’s love and desire to be needed and heroic in their child’s life can become insanely toxic.
So, let’s look at anger. As a Christian, I tend to reference the Bible when searching for guidance.
From GotQuestions.org (Your questions. Biblical Answers)
Question: “Was Jesus ever angry?”
Answer: When Jesus cleared the temple of the moneychangers and animal-sellers, He showed great emotion and anger (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22). Jesus’ emotion was described as “zeal” for God’s house (John 2:17). His anger was pure and completely justified because at its root was concern for God’s holiness and worship. Because these were at stake, Jesus took quick and decisive action.
Another example of Jesus showing His anger was in the synagogue of Capernaum. When the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ questions, “He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).
As the Bible describes it, Jesus was angry, and his anger stemmed from “zeal for God’s house” and when He was ignored in His Father’s house. Interestingly, Jesus expressed his anger in the temple…the very place that started the modern assault on anger.
Coincidentally, we have, for most of my life, described to kids that their body is their temple. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but many children and young adults today have endured unspeakable violations of their temple…and many of them are boys or men whose temple’s were violated when they were boys. While you may be rightfully thinking in the extremes of abuse and sexual perpetration, kids also see insults and criticism and negative feedback as violations of their temple. As many kids see it, “My temple should be sacred, right? You wouldn’t let someone spray graffiti in your church so why should I tolerate insults about me or my body or what I believe or what I feel or think?”
Now that we are looking at the same picture of how anger became so prolific and so pervasive in our culture, we can begin to question why there is an agenda with a desire to eliminate anger. I can’t speculate on that as I am not a part of that agenda. I can, however, offer my observations on how anger is handled in today’s world around young people; especially boys and men.
Anger, and the conflict that comes along with it, is almost universally seen as bad and negative and unnecessary and barbaric by cultural elites and enlightened souls; the “woke”. While Christians started this by claiming that anger and conflict were unchristian and sins, teachers, coaches and those involved with young people glommed on to the concept that anger and conflict were both bad and to be avoided. You see, when I was young, there was a binary choice that every boy had to make; violence or words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Much to my surprise, we have now invented the made up and completely fictitious term, “violent speech”. The truth is, “violent speech” is just a way to control when, how and where someone expresses themselves. It is control masquerading as morality. “Your temple is to remain quiet, young man!” So, what’s a boy to do?
Well, if Dr. Sigmund Freud is to be believed, “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
What we are seeing today is the uglier ways that unexpressed emotions in males come forth. We have sent the message to boys that they are unimportant, toxic, unnecessary and to be ashamed of. Furthermore. When a boy dares to stand up and express frustration or dares to venture in to anger, he is almost immediately told that, in order to get his needs met, he will need to calm down, sit down and offer some uncharismatic and dishonest impression of an apology to someone who has taken offense, not to his feelings towards them but, because he dared to even be angry. It my experience, this leads only to two roads; rage or addiction. Both options tend to be rather toxic, but altogether avoidable if capable, non-fragile people who are neither bothered by nor judgmental of masculinity support the expression of unexpressed emotions that were, indeed, buried alive.
As if the agenda to quash anger weren’t enough, we have, in the same timeframe, had a rightful push to promote girls into the hierarchy of everything while somewhat unjustly demoting boys to either being “woke” and in complete support of feminism…or simpletons who are mindless purveyors of toxic masculinity.
Boys literally have no choice as to their gender before they are born. God, or for those less faithful, some predetermined spin of the genetic wheel determines their fate until they are old enough to have that fate determined by women claiming equality without any requirement that the equality be measured. Don’t agree with every female? You’re a villainous supporter of the patriarchy. Speak out against the narrative that women are superior, and the victims of systemic sexism? You will quickly be labeled as embracing “toxic masculinity”. So, boys and men are led to believe that they have to sit quietly and accept it when a female says, “I’ll kick your ass!” There’s nothing that you can do as it is a classic “no win” situation. You can either fight her and risk being an abuser, fight her and suffer the jeers of “you got your ass kicked by a girl!” or sit silently and smile along while being boxed into a situation that you neither asked for nor have any solutions for. This dynamic produces significant anger that must be dealt with – either by the boy or by society when the boy’s emotions are buried alive and left to come back in uglier ways when he becomes a man.
And this is where the real “toxic masculinity” starts to take root. This is not men being evil, but it is equally, if not more, toxic. Boys simply fight the norms or learn to hate themselves. If they fight the norms and choose just plain old masculinity, they are usually relegated to being alone and limited in their social and dating opportunities. They even get the label of being toxic and masculine for just refusing to embrace femininity. Imagine a child expressing, in public, the following: “Men are expected to be providers and protectors. Men are expected to be self sufficient; especially emotionally. Men are expected to be good at a lot of things and exceptional at a couple of things. Men are expected to be, or at least appear to be, unafraid. Men are expected to express their emotions with acts of service and courage for their loved ones; especially their spouse. You do not have the expectation of not taking about your feelings, but all will expect you not to talk too much about love, fear and emotional pain. Try not to let life beat that out of you.” You can probably imagine the reaction that would await them at the conclusion of this expression. The demanded silence of boys and me produces significant anger that must be dealt with – either by the boy or by society when the boy’s emotions are buried alive and left to come back in uglier ways when he becomes a man.
On the flip side, if boys internalize the hatred for masculinity, they learn to hate themselves and all men. As a side effect, they are usually relegated to seeking feminine acceptance and approval exclusively. “I hate me because, due to a lot of things that I cannot control, I can’t actually BE me.” I can think of no greater violation of the sanctity of my temple that to have to choose between isolation and self-loathing. This dynamic produces significant anger that must be dealt with – either by the boy or by society when the boy’s emotions are buried alive and left to come back in uglier ways when he becomes a man.
So, I propose that we abandon the label of “toxic masculinity” for all those who aren’t headed down the path of narcissist, abuser, criminal, pedophile, murderer or rapist. Labeling masculinity as toxic not only creates shame in boys but also absolves femininity of toxicity. As a father of three girls, I can tell you that masculinity does not have the market for toxicity cornered. There’s plenty to go around.
I propose that we start teaching kids, both boys and girls, to handle their emotions, respond instead of reacting, and learn to deal with conflict in respectful and in solution-oriented ways. I propose that we stop teaching toxicity and start teaching honesty, healing and hope.
Maybe, within a few generations, we can start to eliminate toxicity by refusing to allow ourselves to be lazy in assigning it to a gender instead of honestly assigning it to the human condition.
Heath Kull – President