Toxic masculinity is a term commonly used by social activists to address the issues of masculinity, mainly credited to the Patriarchy. Toxic masculinity is such a partisan issue that most Conservative people do not really believe. The term toxic masculinity is not a new idea, it’s been engraved in our society for so long, pointing out toxic male behaviors have been common in the popular culture. Although, it recently gained more traction in midst of #MeToo movement.
Where did it come from originally? Toxic Masculinity was first used by psychologist Shepherd Bliss to separate negative traits of men from the positive ones. Bliss further defined that “avoidance of emotional expression”, “over-aspiration for physical, sexual, and intellectual dominance”, and the “systemic devaluation of women’s opinions, body, and sense of self.”
Several questionable behaviors of adult male, such as catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment is the leading cause of calling out the toxic masculinity. Surely, these problems and many others issued by the activists are very much real and happening right now, but what are the solutions?
This is where the media and advertising comes to play. Earlier this year we have been greeted by a Gillette ad campaign, “The Best a Man Can Be”. One can argue that this advertisement campaign is to pander for social activism cause, tackling the Toxic Masculinity. We can also argue that this campaign has failed terribly, receiving loads of backlashes. Recently, Gillette even loses $8 billion in valuation, conservative medias suggest that it’s due to the failing ad campaign, but more progressive medias highlight the decreasing consumer (caused by celebrities having beards) and more rival companies.
Toxic Masculinity is too commonly used to be taken seriously, although some of the negative traits are a real thing. Not enough discourse is taken to address this issue, the fact that the activists that like to use these terms see toxic masculinity in the perspective of the way it devalues woman makes it worse. As shown in the video, most of the solutions revolves around making men stop fighting, valuing women, stopping rough-housing plays, and stopping the use of “boys will be boys”. These ideas seem really good in paper, but this is not what an advertisement for a product should be telling us.
How the media addresses the Toxic Masculinity jargon isn’t much better at all. A few months back, Meryl Streep addresses the fact that “toxic masculinity” is not something that should be put together as two words, because women can be toxic, too. What raised my attention is that Meryl Streep also mentioned that “We hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity”. This is really important, and if I can compare this with the Gillette ads, where “boys will be boys” and young boys watching over-sexualized women in rapper songs are depicted, younger boys are the target of this issue. Young men recently have grown up believing the “toxic masculinity”, being fed with how most men, if not all are “toxic”. Heck, even here in Indonesia, we have this saying of: “all men are bastards, the ones that aren’t, they’re gay.”
(Conservative media reports; https://www.dailywire.com/news/47881/amen-meryl-streep-why-she-rejects-term-toxic-amanda-prestigiacomo)
(Progressive media reports: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/01/seriously-meryl-streep-toxic-masculinity-doesnt-hurt-men-it-kills-them)
Young boys have been fed way too many of these guilt shame, they are starting to believe that the masculinity as mere violence. Condemning the toxic masculinity and abandoning the traditional masculinity. Obviously, one can argue that the traditional masculinity values are flawed, but if we keep attacking what it means to be a man without giving proper drive for these young boys. We will create nihilistic young men and these types of men are dangerous and can cause various issues since they can be manipulated to do various unimaginable things.
Let me present my case with a video example:
On this video, a young man asks about the concept of Toxic Masculinity being unfair to young men. It’s fairly evident that these types of conversation do not think of the boys, but always on how it will benefit young girls. This poor fella does not even have his proper answers. What is interesting to note is, is the proposed solution of creating an equal upbringing for young boys and girls. We surely know that men and women are different, we want different things in life, some might argue that this is due to societal pressure but others argue that it’s due to undeniable biological differences. Even in Sweden where we can see the closest to an egalitarian society in the world, the differences of university degree choice between men and women is fairly obvious.
We can’t hope to fix the male issues by focusing solely on the benefits for woman and keep beating the dead horse of how men are bad. Feminizing young men is not really a good long term solution, when we create weak men, we will be further dismayed by the effects of what bad men can do. This is where I argue that toxic masculinity portrayal in media and advertising is unfair towards young boys. Our young boys do not need more people telling us how bad it is to be a man and how they are guilty of the sins of older generations. We need to show them what it means to be a good and virtuous men, showing them the positive masculinity, how they can harness the masculine traits and use it for the good of society by adopting the necessary responsibilities.
These changes should not come from pressure from social activists. Definitely not from our men grooming products. The media isn’t really helping either, there’s only one way, through families, it should be the main priority to get the parents, both Mother and Father who equally have the big deciding factor for the kids growing up. These shall not be done in a negative manner demonstrated previously, but in a positive mark on how to make young boys adopt responsibilities and be courageous to standing up for the right things. Popular culture such as the superheroes franchise is one easy way of telling young boys how to act, how to be courageous, and how to adopt proper responsibilities. Not shaming these boys for crimes they have yet to commit by blasting these toxic masculinity and worsening the problems.
Disclaimer: This is not my typical content in this blog, but I feel a need to talk about this due to the recent development of the Gillette ad campaign and how it backfired.