FLEMING-KLINK: The Real Dangers Of Toxic Masculinity
Vanguard Voices

On our way back from New York City over Christmas break, my family and I waited in line for gas at a major stop in Delaware. At one of the pumps was a pickup truck with six people — all Caucasian — three men, two women and one teenage boy. They had, quite obviously, finished pumping gas, but were hanging out in the spot, smoking, laughing loudly and spitting. In the car behind them was a Middle Eastern family of four — mom, dad, son and grandmother. The father politely asked the group if they would mind moving so that others in line could get gas. The three men were instantly enraged and started to throw every curse and racial slur in existence at this man. When the grandmother stepped out of the car and asked them to be more polite, the guys lost it: They screamed, cursed, threatened to fight her and her family, claiming they owned her “like a dog.” They spit at her and told her they would make sure she “went back to where she came from” for daring to ask them to move, for inconveniencing them.

Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, believed that men and women come into the world with both masculine and feminine qualities. Men are the physical embodiment of masculinity, but have the feminine archetype — anima — within themselves. Likewise, women are the physical embodiment of femininity, but have the masculine archetype — animus — within themselves. Each of us thus has the ability to attain a balance of masculinity and femininity in our lives and to create a harmonized society. Conversely, though, an imbalance of masculinity or femininity, Jung said, led to societal problems of grave consequence.

This latter situation of gender imbalance and inequity plagues our society and culture. Not only do women hold only 4.6 percent of executive offices in Fortune 500 companies, only 16 percent hold directing and producing roles in cinematography and only 19.4 percent hold congressional offices. Values associated traditionally with masculinity — competition, strength, boldness and action — have come to supersede those associated with femininity — communication, intuition and emotional expression. Moreover, these values have become ever-increasingly mutually exclusive: Boys must embody a certain set of qualities, while girls embody another.

As a man and a proud feminist, I believe swift and deep-seated action must be taken to move into a culture of gender equality. However, I believe also that as a society, we are failing to address the problems of masculinity and what we teach young boys about manhood.

From an early age, boys are told never to cry, to show emotions, to be vulnerable or to let girls make the first move. We are told to play sports and to never show or admit pain; we are told that artistic expression is feminine and lacking value; we are told to pick up girls and pay for their dates; we are told that sexual conquest, wealth and material acquisition validate life. I cannot begin to count the number of boys I knew in elementary, middle and high school who felt pressure to hide their feelings and never express their pain.

Because we have fostered a culture of masculinity that idealizes being “tough” or “macho” and hiding or ridding ourselves of all traces of weakness or pain, it comes as no surprise to me that men are more likely to have a drug or alcohol problem, are more likely to commit suicide, are more likely to commit violent crimes, are more likely to own guns and are more likely to commit sexual assault. It is no surprise that for decades upon decades, our country’s military policy was dictated by military bravado and shows of brute force on other nations and peoples. Neither is it a surprise that candidates who have proposed bombing the families of terrorists or carpet bombing the Middle East as actual foreign policy solutions are leading in the 2016 Republican primary polls.
Until we fundamentally address these issues of masculinity, we will not achieve gender equality.

We must teach boys that pain, suffering and weakness are normal and healthy parts of life. We must teach them that crying and showing emotion allow us to fully heal from negative experiences; we must teach them that there exists immense intrinsic value in things other than sports, sex and money; we must teach boys to be vulnerable and express themselves in artistic ways.

We must teach the boy in the pickup truck that the actions of his older friends or brothers were not “cool” or “manly,” but instead, despicable. We must teach him restraint, patience, compassion, sympathy and emotion. If we fail to do so, he will soon be the one brashly belittling grandmothers on stops off I-95.

Isaiah Fleming-Klink is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Vanguard Voices appears every other Tuesday.

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12 Comments

  1. Total nonsense. It’s called courtesy. That family didn’t have it. Nor did they have any respect for others. That can come from anyone and tossing in feminist slogans doesn’t make it “toxic masculinity”.

    If “gender” is a social construct then so is the idea of toxic masculinity. And since no one tends to describe themselves in a bad way, then it is females who created the idea of toxic masculinity. The only thing toxic is that kind of labeling and thinking. It divides people into these narrow categories that just are not reasonable. Feminism is an ideology based on the hate of men and the perfection of women.
    Neither assumption is true and neither group is perfect. It’s time we stop trying to demonize men and put women on platforms. Equality works both ways and right now women are treated better than any other group in western society.

  2. Author unnecessarily injected race into his article about gender and masculinity.

    What was the point of highlighting the race of bad guys in the story (“Caucasian”)? Should race part of the analysis here?

    What was the point of identifying the region from which the polite victims seemed to the author to be from (“Middle Eastern”)?

    Maybe the author thinks male Caucasians are especially prone to being rude to Muslims?

    Maybe the author is open to stereotyping “Caucasians” and people from the “Middle East”?

  3. Wow! I had no idea how hard I’ve had it growing up as a male. My grandfather who fought in Vietnam and his father who stormed the beaches at Normandy would be ashamed at how toxic masculinity has become! Of course, you must link this topic somehow to demean the Republican Party! However, I’m still trying to understand what a blatantly racist act has to do with masculinity. Oh! You’re saying masculinity and racism go hand in hand! Great journalism!

  4. The men you described in the pickup truck sound like despicable people and have no right to do that. I’ll go so far as to say they didn’t just commit despicable actions, but they are despicable people. At a minimum, society should expect some politeness and decorum out of people.

    However, Mr. Fleming-Klink, there remains a gaping inconsistency within your article. The two statements “we must teach boys to be vulnerable and express themselves in artistic ways” and “We must teach the boy in the pickup truck that the actions of his older friends or brothers were not ‘cool’ or ‘manly,’ but instead, despicable” are not one and the same. It is not a tautology to say if you teach boys to show their feminine emotions, stuff like this will stop happening. The gender disparity in high-authority positions, while an important issue, is hardly relevant here. I would not like to give up and say “there will always be some bad people in the world” but I doubt people like the scumbag at the gas station would truly change their demeanor because of some gender identity education.

  5. Chucky O'Malley says:

    Interesting article. I don’t really see how being racist has to do with masculinity though. I do not think the first paragraph is necessary. In addition what solution do you have to “move into a culture of gender equality?” And is there anything wrong with teaching your son that playing sports and not showing pain is wrong? I know many girls who are strong and don’t show pain in the eye of the public. No matter your gender that will only allow people to see your weakness and make the situation worst. Men understand pain and suffering is normal and your article in general is not well constructed. This sounds like an angry boy spewing his beliefs out of his ass.

  6. I knew where this article was going after reading every excruciating detail of the first paragraph… Suffice to say I did not finish this “article”

    I find it hypocritical that while witnessing an event that obviously perpetuated you to construct this arguement, you did nothing to intervene. Take away the gender roles that undoubtedly plague this “paper”, and focus on the human aspect. As a HUMAN, neither man not woman, I find it deplorable that you did not step in to help the family that was being beseeched by degenerates and scum. How ironic that you can sit behind a computer and spin a tale to reflect your viewpoint, but cannot actually act on anything that you stand for.

    No, my son will be taught to respect everyone and not be constantly reminded to express himself and not to cry. He will learn the art of discipline and the importance of taking responsibility, something that is seemingly lost in the culture you are consumed with. I bid your son good luck with whatever you wish to teach him, but anyone in my family sure as I am sitting here would not have just watched.

  7. The above comments are repulsive but this article is dope. I especially liked that you contextualized the situation by mentioning race, and I think your connection of the social construction of “maleness” to actual historical phenomenons and present day dynamics was a great way to frame what you’re saying. Keep being wise bro

    • A regular guy says:

      Race had nothing to do with this argument. The author just saw this as a good opportunity to villainize white people.

    • Many news organizations decline to report the race/religion of a crime suspect, or a non-US-citizen… “contextualizing” is not a priority… except when it is a white male?

  8. Articles like this make me proud to be a Georgetown alumnus. I wish that I had the awareness and confidence to write an article like this when I was a freshman. I really respect the scope with which the author approaches such a complex issue like masculinity and all of the connections that come with it.

    This article draws the reader’s attention to race, gender, social and economic class, and other numerous other issues that are interwoven into unhealthy masculinity concepts. There is no such thing as a single faceted idea or concept and this article does a great job of examining the multitudes of different factors that play into how conceptions of masculinity are formed, exhibited, and learned. Considering that this is indeed a 800 word article for a campus newspaper and not a fully fleshed out doctoral thesis, I really can’t complain that the author chose not to waste his word count detailing how race plays a role in the scene described at the gas station or how the various factors influence other examples. Instead the author chose to briefly highlight some of the most important intersections of masculinity concepts and how they affect not just our day to day lives, but also future generations. I applaud the author for his passion about this subject and for putting that passion into action by starting a dialogue through his writing. This article is surely only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding an enormously dense issue like masculinity, and I appreciate that it calls attention to a serious issue. Thank you to the author for getting the ball rolling by promoting a necessary dialogue to have on campus. I hope this article sparks an interest in this subject and more articles are written, events are held, etc. to dive even deeper into these intersections.

  9. While the article is not perfect (I’ve read through the comments), I really appreciate how eye-opening this article, especially to somebody who is not well-versed in gender issues. I’ve saved a few quotes to my Google Keep for future reference.

    Thank you.

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