How 'toxic masculinity' doesn't even scratch the surface of the issue

I don't like the term "toxic masculinity" that pops up so often in the strange and dangerous world of sexual politics.

It's not because I disagree with the meaning of the words. The issue is they're too small to describe such a huge problem in society, too easily dismissed by white supremacists, men's rights activists and anti-feminists as somehow hysterical and trivial.

Basically, toxic masculinity means traditional male norms of behaviour ultimately result in harm to men, those close to them and the world we live in.

Perhaps a better way of expressing it would be "The Enforced Performance of 'Manhood' Is Directly Responsible For a Worldwide Bloodbath of Domestic Violence, Murder And Male Suicide."

A bit much?

Probably not enough.

A harsh reality

For the last six months I've been researching and writing a book on men's issues and how, hopefully, to be a "better man".

As I've spoken to people from White Ribbon, Our Watch, beyondblue, the Black Dog Institute, read hundreds of references and watched countless hours of video from experts in the field I have educated myself on a horrifying truth: It's incredibly dangerous, and often fatal for us, and those around us, to try to "be a man."

Think about your own lives. All the times, subtly or directly, you've been called out or pulled up for not being manly enough.


Personally, I have been abused by men I don't even know for the following: wearing a pink shirt, wearing shorts with flowers on them, saying I love my partner and she's my equal, having a (delightful) cat, not joining the fun objectification of a "hot chick." Liking cooking. Feeling sad. I could go on and on…

Boxed into an ideal

There's an exercise that has been repeated for years, around the world, called the "Man Box".

Take a group of young men and ask them what it is to be a man. Write those words in the Man Box. The results are as consistent as they are depressing. Be tough. Be a leader. Be stoic. Be athletic. Be strong. Be self-sufficient, Be rich, Be a "lady's man". Have a big penis. Sexually satisfy women.

Outside the Man Box is empathy, communication, creativity, softness, care, love, being gay, being small, being effeminate in any way.

It's the same every time. Men are then strictly policed by other men, and society more broadly, if they try to step beyond the walls of the Man Box.

This leads absolutely, directly, to alienation, frustration, isolation and depression and dysfunctional relationships, the perfect recipe for domestic violence, suicide and, some research suggests, possibly school shootings.

Step outside the box

Good relationships require communication, empathy, equality, and tenderness, all the good stuff that's outside the Man Box.

I have no doubt I'll be called a "pussy", a "cuck" and an "SJW" online as a result of the blasphemy I have dared to voice here.

The comments below will potentially show policing of male behaviour in action. I'm way outside the Man Box here.

"SJW" is a term of abuse and derision from the far right which stands for "social justice warrior."

On what planet is being a warrior for social justice a bad thing? What, you're fighting to make the world a better place? Pussy.

The SJW's mantle

Well, I'm a full-blown SJW now. I have a superhero suit with SJW on the front and a cool car that turns into a rocket. There's lots of us. We're a growing army, fully tricked up with weapons of love, compassion and equality to blast the bad guys.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's our favourite superhero, SJW, coming to give me a cuddle.

Ultimately, we want less people to be hurt, not more. It's undeniably, logically, scientifically, ethically and morally the only position a sane, intelligent person can take.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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Have modern men improved, or got worse, when it comes to toxic masculinity? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.