More towards Humanism: Recognizing and Eliminating Toxic Masculinity

Fellas, as we begin 2017 I think it’s way past time we focused on delivering women and other people of marginalized genders and ourselves a gift that will be appreciated more than anything else: a healthier masculinity.

I know some of you may think you’re already on that path, seeing as how a fair number reading this article identify as humanist. But let’s be real, we’re all susceptible to limitations in our perspectives. Being socialized in a culture that prioritizes masculinity while marginalizing femininity leads to harboring discriminatory attitudes even when we can’t recognize them.

And just because some of us understand that sexism exists and get that it’s a serious problem, this knowledge alone doesn’t automatically translate into a complete transformation of our beliefs, values, and behavior.

Indeed, hypermasculinity (also known as “toxic masculinity”) is a beast! From boyhood to adulthood, Western patriarchal culture socializes men into a way of being that emphasizes strength, represses emotions (except anger, which we rationalize as acceptable), and encourages male sexual prowess while simultaneously holding femininity in contempt.

These harmful ideas become like a religion: something we’re indoctrinated to accept, obey without question, and regard as valid despite all the contrary evidence revealing its flaws.

I get the urge to want to pat yourself on the back or to point to more blatant examples of sexism and bigotry in the news and declare: “That’s not me—I’m different.” Still, we must keep in mind that sexism is pervasive, and we have to assume that there is always room for improvement. The more honest we are with ourselves, the better acquainted we become with our shortcomings. Below are three key issues men must work to confront on a daily basis.

1. Harassment

Living in a society that normalizes male entitlement leads to privileging our whims and gratification at the expense of trivializing the desires of women. We are reared to be aggressive and assert dominance over others. This harmful social feedback loop convinces us, especially men attracted to women, that we deserve access to women’s time and their objectified bodies based solely on our impulses.

And guess what? You likely have or continue to think or act this way also. You just call it by another name.

Sliding into the inbox of a woman you hardly know (or don’t know at all) to talk dirty. Pestering a girl who has her headphones on and is avoiding eye contact. Pressuring someone to just “give you a chance” despite their reluctance. Catcalling and assuming it’s an acceptable form of showing interest. Groping women you consider “irresistible,” reasoning with yourself that their clothing choice screams they want your uninvited attention. Not accepting “no” for an answer because you believe in the power of persistence and that figuring out the right combination of words may change her mind…

It’s harassment. All of it.

The male ego indulges in a fantasy world our culture reinforces by grooming us to believe persistence turns a “no” into a “yes,” transforms the obscene into the palatable with “boys will be boys” slogans, and actually blames women and people perceived as women for the behavior of men.

With the support of a male-centered social environment, we men—even humanist men—have a strong tendency to erase boundaries and graft our desires over the autonomy of women. How else do you explain the irrational urges behind sending unsolicited dick pictures?

But no matter what we’ve been led to believe, this entire way of thinking is inexcusable. Be honest with yourself. If anything I’ve mentioned even remotely describes actions you partake in, find humorous, encourage in others, or sympathize with, now is the time to exercise mindfulness and process more respectful ways to approach women.

2. Misogynoir

I don’t care how clever or intelligent you think you are, nobody can escape the influence of culture. It surrounds and engulfs us. It rains down on us constantly through media, customs, art, music, literature, and even religion.

In addition to misogyny, another value system conditioned through an established history of social culture is anti-blackness. While chattel slavery was eventually toppled, viewing whiteness as ideal while stigmatizing and undermining the value of blackness was never abolished.

Black women are subject to the legacy of anti-blackness and misogyny in concert. They endure racialized sexism and sexist racism. These two histories of marginalization coexist and create anti-black misogyny–or misogynoir.

As I’ve previously discussed, Black men perpetuate misogynoir—but we certainly aren’t the only offenders.

Misogynoir is what actress Leslie Jones encountered during the backlash of her inclusion in the Ghostbusters reboot. Misogynoir fuels the unique criticism Serena Williams has endured her entire legendary career. Even First Lady Michelle Obama has been the victim of this pernicious reverence for whiteness and degradation of women.

Consider all the terms you’d use to describe a Black woman that you wouldn’t think of uttering when thinking of white women. When you think of racial injustice and Black Lives Matter, you’re likely to think of names like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner.

But what about the Black girls and women? How many of their names can you recall? How many of the stories of their horrible treatment and demise are you familiar with?

That’s the point. Misogynoir remains a significant issue that our society as a whole must better recognize and challenge.

3. Consent

I’m a fan of the Showtime drama The Affair. A few weeks ago, the show tackled consent and rape culture in two distinct dialogues.

The first discussion took place over a dinner discussion between college students (two young women and two young men) arguing over the definitions of consent and sexual assault. The women articulate the position of the necessity of explicit consent while the men feel they’re victimized by these “strict demands” of consent culture. The men convey confusion and employ debunked theories of the “grey area” regarding informed consent.

A bit later, the show’s main character, Noah Solloway (who has demonstrated he doesn’t get consent), asks Audrey (one of the young women discussing consent) if she feels unsafe in his class and expresses his desire to push her beyond her comfort zone so that she can become a better writer. Audrey responds:

What you don’t seem to understand about women in general is that we feel unsafe all the time. At class, at parties, job interviews, getting into an elevator, parking our cars, walking down the street at night…I don’t need you to push me out of my comfort zone when I’ve never been inside one.

Guys, allow the evocative and dismal implications of Audrey’s words to marinate and sink in. She’s describing the ocean of experiences women must daily navigate—a harrowing environment we men actively participate in.

Mike, one of the college students arguing with Audrey at dinner, says he’s on board with feminist ideas. Still, this admission doesn’t prevent him from trivializing the concerns of women when it comes to consent and sexual assault.

This reveals a disturbing fact: even among men who believe themselves to be on the side of women, there are those who harbor ideas that contribute to the distress and social subordination of women.

Is this you? Even if you strongly feel you “get it,” are you sure the impact of your actions aligns with your good intentions? I’m willing to wager that we all have room for growth when it comes to better understanding consent and appreciating the perspective of women.

Even humanists who are self-avowed progressives are vulnerable to biases lodged within their core beliefs that either comply with or maintain elements of toxic masculinity.

We must examine ourselves: closely inspect what we think, how we disregard the advice and complaints of women and other people of marginalized genders, and the ways we uncritically accept common ideas that harm women and people perceived to be women.

Let 2017 be the year we invest more into introspection, confronting intimate thoughts we may not disclose to the outside world, and proactively detangle our mental concept of the male identity from toxic ideas we’ve been sold our entire lives.

This cannot be emphasized enough: listen to women. After all, they are experts in the various ways we hurt or harass them and overlook their perspective on an everyday basis.

Lastly, I’ve compiled the following key resources for embracing a healthier masculinity. My advice would be not to look at all of them in one sitting. Approach them at a pace that will allow you to fully explore and internalize the message and advice of each.

Embracing a Healthier Masculinity Checklist

Men Aren’t Entitled to Women’s Time or Affection. But It’s a Hard Lesson to Learn

How Male Sexual Entitlement Hurts Everyone

Men, You Are Not The Definition Of Healthy Masculinity

How to Talk to Women

How to Compliment Women Without Objectifying Them

Explanations of Misogynoir

We Need to Talk About Misogynoir

Need Proof of Rape Culture? Here Are 5 Ridiculous Things Some Men Say When Accused of Rape

What If We Treated All Consent Like Society Treats Sexual Consent?

Navigating Consent: Debunking the “Gray Area” Myth

How Do You Know If Someone Wants to Have Sex? 5 Essential Signs of Consent

#BeThatGuy: 7+ Everyday Ways Men Can Transform Masculinity