A Performance

by Lauren Savo


Masculinity is not toxicity—masculinity is real and toxic masculinity is a performance. It is the idea that relationships and interactions are competitive, not cooperative; it is the idea that you are his, but he is not yours; it is the idea that manhood is defined by sex, strength, control, and aggression; it is the idea that feminine traits and symbols are subordinate; it is the idea that enforces the strict gender binary.

Toxic masculinity, in essence, sucks. It is disturbing that we live in a patriarchal society that creates and encourages males to be unemotional, sexually aggressive, and dominant. In our society, strength is everything and emotions are weakness; sex and domination are yardsticks by which men are measured while “feminine” traits are the means and standards through which the status of a “man” can be taken away. Toxic masculinity sucks — not just for women. It sucks if you are genderqueer, female, or male because at the end of the day, it does not matter if you have male genitalia or not. What matters is how society defines what it means to be a “man” because it is that very definition that will prey on those regardless of gender identity.

Something I find very interesting is the language that surrounds the topic of success in the male world. Insults such as “pussy” or “mangina” are used often when a man is scared or nervous (god forbid he be human!) He is called this when his peers would like to insinuate that he has “no balls,” and at this point, he might as well be a woman. This tension and this disconnect is the issue. Guys, it is okay to have feelings; it is okay for you to be on the same emotional level as a woman, and it is okay to want a relationship that is deep and meaningful. This message, however, is not the one that boys usually receive. Young boys, from as early as the age of three, begin to hide their feelings as they internalize the concept that masculinity must be reached in order for one to become a man.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons records that in the United States, 93.2% of inmates are male. This fact is influenced by the concept that men are more violent and are expected to be violent. This very expectation makes men an automatic target, whether or not that he committed the crime.

Tangentially, The National Institute on Drug and Abuse states that in the United States “men have higher rates of use or dependence on illicit drugs and alcohol than do women” but that “women are just as likely as men to become addicted.” Why? It is because of television, coaches, teachers, parents, siblings, music, and history. All of these societal forces construct males to hide emotions and deny their craving for help, which is why women are more likely to seek outside, therapeutic help; men are not.

In the world of toxic masculinity, sex — both heterosexual and homosexual — is used to determine the worth of the man just as it is used to measure a good night. If you got your dick wet, good for you, you’re a man! If you didn’t cum too easily, or if you didn’t take forever to cum, good for you, you’re a man! If you knew what you wanted and got it, good for you, you’re a man!

False, false, and false. All of that is extremely and utterly false.

Some men are not interested in casual sex; some men like emotions; some men want a connection. These desires do not make the man more feminine — just human! Some men, just like some women, cum very easily or sometimes not at all, but neither outcome makes you less of a man; it, again, just makes you human. Some straight men are inexperienced and don’t know what to do, and some men need their partners to lead—that is fine! On an equally important note, it is not enough for an individual to know only what he or she wants, they must also understand what their partner wants. Communication is the most important element of interactions, and toxic masculinity inhibits the potential for critical conversations to occur. Don’t take communication for granted.

Toxic masculinity is real, and you know what? It’s scary as hell. It is a construct and a sociological phenomenon that breeds violent and aggressive thoughts that lead to violent and aggressive actions. You may be reading this piece and think that you are not affected by toxic masculinity or that you don’t contribute to it. But honestly, we all do; it is part of the game that we are all forced to play, whether you know it or not. It suppresses emotions, instigates violence, restores and strengthens homophobia, encourages rape culture, and is alive and well at Swarthmore College.

Not all fraternity brothers or male athletes embody toxic masculinity. But even though you are not an explicit participant in this culture, if you passively watch and allow for toxic masculinity to breed, you are helping it manifest and live. Again, your silence does not protect you and it sure as hell won’t protect others.

The fact that toxic masculinity harms members of both of its ingroup and outgroup is a problem, one that deserves attention and about which people need to start giving a damn.  We need to start creating environments that accept all. No racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no body shaming, no transphobia, no ableism (Disclaimer: This list is not extensive. There many more identities that acknowledged, included, and respected).

Toxic masculinity sucks. It sucks because it makes people feel dirty and less than; it makes people feel like they are just an object and a body with no feelings. I do not know how to flush out and eradicate something that is so societally ingrained, but I do know that it starts with recognition, acknowledgment, and conversation. Toxic masculinity is an oppressive societal normality— a problem that possesses no easy fix. The first step has to be saying “no” and expressing that “no” through our actions. We must hold others accountable for their behavior. We can no longer applaud this performance.