On ‘toxic masculinity’

Is masculinity “toxic”?

The American Psychological Society apparently thinks so. They issued a long report about it recently. I tried to read it, but I barely made it through the first sentence — “Western culture defines specific characteristics to fit the patriarchal ideal masculine construct . . .” — before I knew I’d be taking a wine break very soon.

I did manage to read the second paragraph, where I saw: “The socialization of the male characteristics mentioned above also onsets at an early age, making it a prime time-period for prevention intervention.” (Characteristics listed? Toughness, stoicism, self-sufficiency, etc.)

OK, I’m no psych scholar, but that seems to clearly say that early childhood is the best time to intervene to prevent boys from developing male “characteristics.”

In the meantime, Gillette released a probably well-intentioned ad about men and the #metoo movement. A lot of it was laudible — violence against women is bad, men need to step up, etc. Nobody disagrees with that, and I was glad to see them speaking out.

But the ad met with a lot of resistance, not because of its anti-violence-against-women message, but because it seemed to paint men with broad brushstrokes. (Or razor strokes, as it were.)  Because hey, if you want to sell a lot of men’s razors, try implying that vast majorities of your target market are sexual predators.

I initially thought the ad would be a little more pro-average-guy than it turned out to be. The still screenshot showed a bunch of men grilling. I like men grilling. But nope, they turned out to be the bad guys, monotonously chanting “Boys will be boys will be boys will be boys . . .” This disappointed me, as did the word salad at the beginning that hit hard on “bullying”, “the #metoo movement,” and “masculinity.”

I just didn’t think that last word deserved to be lumped in with the other two.

Here is my take: I like masculinity. I think it is among God’s most wonderful inventions. I like men’s strength. I like men’s protectiveness. I like their different-ness from me and from femininity in general. I like the way the two play off of each other. I like the way men love deeply, and yet theirs remains a distinctly masculine kind of love.

I don’t think men need to be what society (or the “patriarchal ideal masculine construct”) decrees that they be. I think men should be what they are. Men are strong. Men are protective. Men are, yes, sometimes aggressive. None of these things are socially conditioned. Masculinity and femininity spring from the way we were created, from our natural physical and neurological makeup.  Men’s bodies have, on the whole, a higher percentage of muscle than women’s bodies do. Just as women’s brains have more interconnectivity between the hemispheres. These and myriad other differences in our physiology give us men and women different — and complementary — gifts.

These are tendencies, not stereotypes. Masculinity isn’t about John Wayne riding into the sunset, any more than femininity is about weak women dropping hankies and fainting. Our individual mileage varies. There are as many unique expressions of masculinity as there are men.  Some men are stronger and/or more sensitive and/or more protective than others. Same with women. But our bodies and brains are fundamentally different, and that leads to certain predictable variations.

I don’t believe masculinity is “toxic.” Masculinity is raw material, just as femininity is. Men can use their gifts for good or for evil, just as women can. (But try using the term “toxic femininity” in polite company and see what happens.) For millennia, the goal of society has been to channel those instincts, not to suppress them. Where would we be without masculine strength and aggressiveness channeled toward the protection of society?

But today, there seems to be a movement to neutralize masculinity entirely. I have been saying for a long time that feminism — while laudable and important in many ways — made a fundamental mistake early on in assuming that “it’s better to be a man.” Women are often deemed “equal” to the extent that we usurp male characteristics and excel in traditionally male domains. It makes sense that the next step would be to say that men themselves are no good at being men and need to become more like women.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Of course, nobody wants to see men using their gifts in ways that abuse women. But I don’t think the answer is to neutralize or eradicate masculinity. Male strength put to a noble purpose is (pardon the expression) a truly beautiful sight.

The deepest answer is transformation. It is holiness. The message of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is simply that our creation as masculine and feminine is fundamentally good, and that only in becoming transformed by the grace of Christ can each become the awesome, beautiful forces he intended them to be.

Holiness is often perceived as strictly feminine. It is not. Male holiness is strong. It is masculine. I’ve never liked the images of Jesus as some kind of First Century Sensitive Hippie. He was a strong man — a carpenter. He knocked over tables and drove money changers out with whips. St. Joseph, his foster-father, the man who formed his masculine nature, was likewise a true man. He protected Mary through a socially-unsanctioned pregnancy, and the infant Jesus from a murderous king. I often turn to him as protector as well. (Joseph, not the murderous king.)

But a world that doesn’t understand holiness, apparently has no idea what to do with masculinity. Or femininity.

St. JPII wrote extensively about the New Feminism. I never understood why he didn’t also introduce a “New Masculinism.”

I think somebody needs to pick up where he left off.  Soon.

COMING UP: Colorado bishops issue letter on the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life Congressional policies

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We, the Catholic bishops of Colorado, urge Congressional Representatives to support the Hyde Amendment and the Walden Amendment. We also ask the Faithful to sign The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) petition to lawmakers encouraging them to preserve the Hyde Amendment, which can be accessed at: NoTaxpayerAbortion.com, and to contact their Congressmen and women to support the Hyde and Walden amendments.

The House Appropriations Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee recently passed a spending bill that strips protections for pre-born children, healthcare providers,and American taxpayers by excluding pro-life provisions, including the Hyde and Weldon amendments.

The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortion in most cases, except for rape and incest, has received bipartisan support since its inception in 1976 – including by pro-abortion administrations. Hyde is critical in saving lives. The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates that approximately 60,000 pre-born babies are saved every year because of the Hyde Amendment.[1] This is the first time in 40 years that the Hyde Amendment was not included in the annual appropriations bill[2] and failure to include pro-life amendments will only further increase divisions in our country.

The Weldon Amendment prevents any federal programs, agencies, and state and local governments from discriminating against health care practitioners and institutions that do not provide abortion services. It ensures that pro-life individuals and organizations can enter the health care profession without fearing that the government will force them to perform a procedure that violates their well-founded convictions. It has also received bipartisan support and was added to the appropriations bill every year since it was first enacted in 2005. [3]

Congress’ recent actions endanger the lives of pre-born children and infringe on the rights of millions of Americans who do not wish to participate in the moral evil of abortion. A recent Knights of Columbus/Marist poll found that 58 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions[4] and a 2019 Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of Americans think abortion should either be illegal or only legal in a few circumstances.[5]

The government should neither use taxpayer funds for the killing of pre-born children nor compel medical practitioners and institutions to violate their well-founded convictions. Congress must uphold these long-standing, common-sense bipartisan policies that promote a culture of life in our nation.

Human reason and science affirm that human life begins at conception. The Church objects to abortion on the moral principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with respect due to every human person. There has never been and never will be a legitimate need to abort a baby in the womb.

It is critical that Congress continue its long-history of supporting policies such as the Hyde and Walden amendments, and that all Colorado Catholics and people of good will make their voice heard in supporting these life-affirming policies.

Sign the petition to Congress here: www.NoTaxpayerAbortion.com

Contact your Congressional Representatives here: https://cocatholicconference.org/news/

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver

Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg
Bishop of Pueblo

Most Reverend James R. Golka
Bishop of Colorado Springs

Most Reverend Jorge Rodriguez
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver