The metoo hashtash is delivering a deafening blow to humanity online as we speak. Pretty much every single sister, daughter, mother, grandma and friend tweets or facebooks it. #metoo speaks of one thing in particular: toxic masculinity. What that means is that men are cultured into and taught how to be men in a way that is devastating to socities all around the world. When I posted ”#metoo” on Facebook, something peculiar happened. Facebook friends of mine said ”you may have experienced sexual harassment or assault but this is hardly the time to play the victim, Jonatan”. To these and other men reading I would like to encourage you to hold two thoughts in mind simultaneously: The first is that toxic masculinity which teaches men to be sexual predators, that cat-calling and unwanted physical contact ”is a compliment”. Toxic masculinity is not one man. It is a structure. At the same time, those who have embraced this form of masculine, not as toxic, but as merely … normal – ”it’s how things are” … are perpetrators. Structures captures, cultivates, distorts. Individuals act.
Most of the assailants (because there have been numerous), in my case, have been women. So why then do I speak of toxic masculinity? Surely there is then a need for talking about toxic femininity? Actually, no. It is not only men who are taught that sexual assault is actually a compliment. Women are not immune to being affected by the structures in which they live. If men are complimenting other humans by giving themselves ungranted permission to someone else’s body, the flip side of that coin is the teaching that they should also perceive it as a compliment, when someone takes liberties with their bodies. In the instances when I have shared my vulnerability with (let’s call them) typical men, they have tried to teach me precisely this: Why are you making a big deal out of it? Hey bro, chillax, it’s a compliment, you know?! No one of these men have ever asked me: Are you alright? How are you feeling? or Is there anything I can do for you? (other than giving terrible unsolicited advice.)
So when men try to say that other men should not ‘play’ the victim, the two thoughts I urged that you juggled simultaneously collapse into one big mess. We run the risk of both valuing some encounters with sexual harassment as less valid, and tell one another that the ‘real’ victims – women – should be allowed their 15 minutes of hashtaging. The fact of the matter, however, is that I am (to the best of my knowledge) not hit by the structural problem – in that case I am just an anomaly (I hope). But the harassment is not more or less real. See, two thoughts at the same time – structural and individual.
However, when men are told by other men to shut up, this too is a reproduction of toxic masculinity. If I am to believe whoever writes that to me, then the male ideal I should strive for is one who just ‘sucks it up’ (and yeah … don’t forget to take it as a compliment). Voila: The quiet stoic toxic male. It tells me in no uncertain terms that real men don’t talk about suffering abuse, at the very least not emotional abuse. So thank you again for your terrible advice, but I wont take it under advisement.
What if more men broke the silence and spoke out about the kind of sexual harassment and assault they have encountered. I am betting that it would not be ‘equal’ to what women suffer, but it would give us an even deeper glance into a very broken world, where toxic masculinity dictates too much, too often. We know that people do terrible things that they can get away with. Therefor, those of us who lack in physical strength run greater risk. Those males who go all-out in building a real manly body, are also those who are capable of the worst transgressions – full on acts of rape for example. Any and all statistics available prove this.
But statistics doesn’t tell us how to cultivate a better masculinity. Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell writes in her book ”Masculinities” that men’s identities are largely formed through the exchange with other men. Contrary to the beliefs that some men hold, that men typically engage in behaviour that is found attractive in women. The #metoo hashtag is an all too clear example of this. Men taught by other men to be … terrible men, frankly. And in an era where women are excelling in all areas that typically were ‘male’ domains in the past, we should not be surprised that a small (but possibly growing?) portion of women are also seemingly eager to excel as predatory sexual behaviour.
Toxic masculinity is a plague. And the best remedy to vaccinate against this is to contribute new ideas about what masculinity is, has been and could be, and learn from archetypes and creative imaginations as much as we can. This is why I think the work of Alexander Bard and his fellow contributors arranging ”Men’s gatherings” are so important. Because even though men taught by other men often display traits that are not attracting partners – but the opposite; are quite abhorrent – men still choose to be taught by other men. It is wonderful to see all attempts at reflection over how toxic the current masculinity really is, and it is understandable that people feel lost – you simply do not change a structure over night. I can only hope that this piece contributed something. At least; don’t give ”compliments”, don’t be silent, find a supportive atmosphere where you can shed old toxic roles together, and … yeah … read Raewyn Connell.