My friend noted that in this wonderful story, four teenage boys made a great and courageous effort to save an elderly woman from a burning house. Bravo! We lauded their inspiring, prosocial, and brave act, and I think a difference can be drawn between so-called “toxic masculinity” (which is probably too loaded a term for my comfort) and a more positive masculinity that boys and teens and men exhibit. This blog illustrates what I’m thinking.
Robert L. Lloyd noted that “There are many, many good-hearted young men out there that are not given the due they deserve. All they hear in the media is that they are ‘toxic males’ another example of biological differences. Celebrate differences and appreciate the good in it. Teenage girls would not have had the physical strength to do that. A difference to celebrate and encourage. If only to show young men how to properly apply those differences.”
I can appreciate Robert’s idea. Let’s think about what masculinity is, and what we as a society (and as a huge conglomeration of families, to a large degree) want to shape it toward. After all, positive masculinity is not the only version.
Throughout history, masculinity (thank you, testosterone) has been a powerful force for useful, glorious, functional outcomes, as well as the opposite: harmful, self-aggrandizing, violent, domineering acts (what many in the media and on college campuses call “toxic masculinity”). In fact, I just got a Betta fish, and one cannot even keep two, two-inch little fish in one tank lest they fight to the death. Women tend not to do that kind of thing, either in nature or in society. Sure, girls do horrible things to each other and women can be nasty prison guards, manipulative politicians, and write bad checks. But by and large, femininity is good, helpful, and nurturing, and masculinity is more self-concerned, more sanguine and bold, and about things like gain, control, competition, and destruction. When in history have all the women gotten together and decided that a war with their neighbor was just absolutely necessary?
Both forces are useful to society. We need care and compassion, strength and will. Both love and personal empowerment propel society forward. What Robert pointed out is that masculinity shouldn’t be portrayed as “toxic” if it is benign and respectful. Some would say: If a guy wants to go hunting and bring home the bacon – literally – or compete in sports, or go after the most attractive girl in his social circle, great. Go for it dude. I would probably agree. I think the issue is, does the masculine behavior do something helpful or hurtful? After all, Christopher Columbus both wanted to set sail for a new world (positive masculinity) and when he got there, some good and much bad followed. It is characteristic of the stereotype of man to go too far, come on too strong, and dominate to the point of absurdity. Look at Bill Cosby, George Bush, Julius Caesar, and Odysseus. They had the opportunity to do well and be “successful” but they became tragic characters. The story of Hamlet is the kind of thing that makes for great literature.
Comic relief: “If you’re not into sports, guys think you’re less of a man unless you can account for time in activities equally masculine. When they ask, ‘Wanna go see the game?’ I reply, ‘I can’t. I gotta go put a transmission in a stripper’s car.’”
On college campuses, as in modern America in general, things can get pretty wacky. It’s true that a huge percentage of women are raped in their lifetime. Did you know that the thinking/rational/judgment-oriented part of the brain isn’t fully developed in human beings until the mid-twenties? No wonder guys get involved in fights, street races, crime, and victimizing behavior far too often as they are growing up: the part of the brain that is sensation-seeking and the part that is susceptible to peer influence is fully developed a decade or more before the rational and careful part is! Sometimes it’s all parents can do to keep their boys out of harm’s way (and often, jail!). It’s like a race against the clock: Get this boy raised and taught prosocial and moral ways (positive masculinity) before he hurts himself or others (harmful masculinity).
Scientific Study: The Effects of Testosterone on the Human Male Adolescent
I like the concept of the dominator model versus the partnership model. Philosopher Riane Eisler (of The Chalice and the Blade fame) has this to say: “The struggle for our future is not between East and West or North and South, but everywhere between those who believe our only alternatives are dominating or being dominated and those working for partnership relations of mutual respect, accountability, and caring.” She wisely argues for the fact that partnership and care and concern are of equal value (and probably greater value) than the “dominator” model. She points to pivotal points in history when the most dominant, alpha males who perpetrated the most aggressive and violent acts lurched forward in evolutionary and societal terms. How can a woman or a wise male compete with the sword of Genghis Khan? Masculinity is toxic when it says: “Fuck you and these girly men who want peace, union, or compromise. I have the sword, I make the rules!” It nowadays is less austere and obvious, but we are well aware of the phrase “The Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules.”
Growing up in American society, boys have tougher rows to hoe, but nevertheless, masculine and male is still the normative approach historically. It’s part of the reason we’re having such trouble accepting post-modernism, feminine ideals, and cultural shifts. Traditional views of religion (and as we see from the abortion debate), conservative cultural forces both remain lingering, powerful counter-revolutionary forces in society.
When I write that the world is tougher on boys, here is an example. Claire Cain Miller writes: “As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more. New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policymakers who are trying to figure out how to help boys — particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.” The article is available here.
97% of serial killers are men. That’s what you call a clue. Yet Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Carl Jung, and Howard Zinn were men. It’s a very complex story, as with most things psychological.
Social psychological researchersTo be sure, we need police, prisons, and social workers, all of whom help us deal with the social pathologies that plague us. It’s fine to swat the mosquitoes, but better if we can drain the swamps – by infusing our culture with nonviolent ideals, challenging the social toxins that corrupt youth, and renewing the moral roots of character.”
Six authors wrote a study that I will offer this brief summary of: “In many societies, men generally enjoy more opportunities, privileges and power than women, yet these multiple advantages do not translate into better health outcomes. What explains this gender disparity? According to the WHO European Region’s review of the social determinants of health, chaired by Sir Michael Marmot, men’s poorer survival rates ‘reflect several factors – greater levels of occupational exposure to physical and chemical hazards, behaviours associated with male norms of risk-taking and adventure, health behaviour paradigms related to masculinity and the fact that men are less likely to visit a doctor when they are ill and, when they see a doctor, are less likely to report on the symptoms of disease or illness.'” The study can be accessed here.
Cool Source: Ten Secrets to Being a Great Male Role Model
I feel like Bill Cosby is actually emblematic of masculinity – the proper and dysfunctional. His comedy career showed a man who knew how to write, and especially how to connect with audiences. He obtained a doctorate in education. His role as Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” was monumental, not just because he and the writers and actors showed white America a wonderful example of upper middle class African Americans doing the things that they should aspire to, too: education, family, love, success, etc. But as well, Cosby brought a solid example of positive masculinity to the role. Ironically, astonishingly, apallingly, he was manipulating women to get his sexual and affirmation needs met at the same time. He went on to become one of the all-time most surprising examples of a predator. Such a sexual deviant can only be considered a stunning example of when masculinity goes wrong. Yes, some would retort that it was just sexual deviance and criminal wrongdoing, and that masculinity can’t be blamed. I’m not blaming masculinity, just noting that there are more or less two overarching categories of acts and behaviors, and they are on a spectrum from feminine to masculine. On both extremes, the behaviors can be pathological. It wasn’t femininity that Hitler, Trump, and famous sports stars who assault their wives and girlfriends exhibit, was it?
We can either raise boys to be self-confident, assertive, strong, and risk-taking, or we can either a) raise them to be domineering jerks or b) not raise them and watch them turn into domineering jerks. That’s just how the individual male with a partially developed brain replete with testosterone and designs on mating and crushing foes will go if not led and disciplined and loved. It happens with horses, it happens with elephants, and it happens with humans. American society has lost too many boys to jail, war, and suicide.
Let us resolve to raise them up to value positive masculinity. This starts in the home, and like most prosocial goals, requires society-wide coordination and effort. And with most such things, that requires both cultural agreement (hard to find nowadays) and money (hard to get national Congressional and State Republicans to spend on social programs, nowadays). I hope we get it together before we get where we are headed.
When I reflect on my father, who died two years ago this month, some of the salient teachings I picked up on were: not everyone gets a trophy, try your best, be a good friend, be responsible, get a good career, be a good person, stand up for what is right, and an exact quote: “You’re gonna have to sweat if you want to be successful.” My mother actually helped to make me into whatever sort of man I am today, since she was my primary influencer (and I’m not saying I’m a paragon of positive masculinity or any other kind success, to be honest).
Amazing story: when I referenced it happens with elephants, it’s an amazing story you might not have heard of. Here is a snippet: “There appears to be a discipline problem among the young elephant bulls,” said Douw Grobler, a veterinarian at Kruger National Park, where many of the elephants at Pilanesberg once lived. “There is a missing link in the elephant population at Pilanesberg. There is a need for the presence of adult elephant bulls. They act as the disciplinarians.” Read the interesting full story here. Ω
Now, a few quotes on positive masculinity vs. something else:
“If we don’t turn around now, we just might get where we are going.” ~ Native American proverb
“Dominator culture teaches all of us that the core of our identity is defined by the will to dominate and control others. We are taught that this will to dominate is more biologically hardwired in males than in females. In actuality, dominator culture teaches us that we are all natural-born killers but that males are more able to realize the predator role. In the dominator model the pursuit of external power, the ability to manipulate and control others, is what matters most. When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all relationships as power struggles.” ~ bell hooks
“Boys get unfairly labeled as morally defective, hyperactive, undisciplined or ‘problem children,’ when quite often the problem is not with the boys but with the families, extended families, or social environments, which do not understand their specific needs as human beings and as boys.”
“All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys.”
“In the domination model the emotion of fear is prominent; violence is expected and to some extent encouraged, at least towards persons and groups considered to be inferior. In extreme forms, we see it in physical and emotional forms of spouse abuse and child abuse, and in abuse at work by superiors and even supposed peers. In the partnership model, trust is fostered, as is hope (not mentioned in Eisler’s chart); there is little emphasis on fear and little acceptance of violence against individuals or groups. In the domination model, relations of control/domination are presented as good. In the partnership model, relations of partnership, mutual respect, and processes of negotiation are presented as good.” ~ Jan Garrett
“Great teams look back at their college days through banners of streaming light. Bad teams glance over their shoulders with great reluctance at streets that will always be paved with their own hangdog shame. There is no downside to winning. It feels forever fabulous. But there is no teacher more discriminating or transforming than loss. The great secret of athletics is that you can learn more from losing than winning.”
No matter how great a mother is, she cannot replace what a father provides to a child. Irrefutable research shows that mothers are typically nurturing, soft, gentle, comforting, protective and emotional. Fathers tend to encourage risk-taking and to be challenging, prodding, loud, playful and physical. Children need a balance of protection and reasonable risk-taking. If a positive male role model isn’t around, there is a void in this child’s life. Children without positive male role models are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, premarital sexual activity, do poorer in school and participate in unhealthy activities. Studies have shown that involvement of a father or a positive male role model has profound effects on children. www.FirstThings.org
“I know for a fact that had I had a father, I would have had more discipline, I would have had more confidence. My mother couldn’t show me where my manhood was; you need a man to teach you how to be a man.”
“Our natural disposition is, as it were, the soil; the tenets of our teacher are, as it were, the seed; instruction in youth is like the planting of the seed in the ground at the proper season; the place where the instruction is communicated is like the food imparted to vegetables by the atmosphere; diligent study is like the cultivation of the fields; and it is time which imparts strength to all things and brings them to maturity.”
“Our society’s social and moral problems have been many years in the making and will not be easily reversed. They will require systemic solutions supported at all levels, from local communities to the federal government. It is not yet clear whether we have the national will to do what is truly needed to build a more just, caring, and decent society.”
“… a reinvigorated family is a critically important resource in that it would teach, as Tocqueville believed, all its members – not only the female ones – unselfish concern for others. We need not to ‘return to the traditional family’ but to understand what the family as a vital institution today would really be like.”
“Men weren’t really the enemy – they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.”
“Every culture must make sure that its younger individuals master certain areas of knowledge, acquire certain values, master certain skills. It is important that youths develop intellectually, morally, socially, emotionally, and civically. Certain educating bodies are available, including parents, peers, teachers, masters, relatives, the media, schools, and various forms of technology. Certain rewards, punishments, and institutions can be evoked as models, motivators, or menaces.”
“Peace may never come to pass until little boys everywhere are encouraged by their parents and develop the desire to play with toy peacemakers rather than toy soldiers.”
“Think of testosterone and you probably think of lust, violence and machismo. Indeed, testosterone is often labelled ‘the aggression hormone’ due to its presumed relationships with such negative, antisocial and principally male qualities. Over the past decade or so our principal research activities have investigated the extent to which levels of testosterone can be associated with certain male-typical behaviours. As you might expect, the answer is by no means straightforward. For one thing, hormones do not directly change behaviour; they influence the expression of a behaviour within appropriate environmental/ social contexts.” ~ Nick Neave and Daryl B. O’Connor
“Our children are losing the human tribe that children have counted on since the beginning of humanity. Given our sons’ biochemistry and neurology, the moral consequences of this loss are particularly severe. Without the strength, character-building, and emotional safety of an extended family, boys are more likely to form substitute peer ‘families’ of their own (e.g., a gang). These peer families, who get their sustenance mainly from popular culture and peer direction, provide immensely incomplete moral guidance and emotional care.”
“I see a more feminine world, a world where feminine values will be validated, the same as masculine values are. A more integrated world.”
“The moral fabric of society is invisible but essential. Some use their public position to dissolve it so they can have an open space for their selfishness. John McCain is one of the strongest reweavers we have, and one of our best and most stubborn teachers.”