In recent weeks, social and mainstream media have been ignited with debate and conflict around so called “toxic masculinity”. While ManUp tries its best to ignore the volatile social media world and its propensity to distract us from our actual work with young men, we feel there is some value in taking some time for reflection. At our annual planning retreat this past September, one of our new leaders made one of the most profound statements we’ve heard. He said “we need to reach the rough guys (please read as – guys that are struggling to develop healthy masculinity) or we are wasting our time”. He was challenging us to develop more creative strategies to get our healthy masculinity message into the groups of men who struggle with unhealthy ideologies and mindsets around masculinity and sexuality. After listening to the ongoing debates and rants that followed the “Best and Man Can Get?” commercial, we see one very specific conclusion… The term “Toxic Masculinity” has got to go. While the term was most likely created for a positive purpose and was useful (conversationally) to help quickly generalize a set of very real issues, it is no longer useful when applied to driving a healthy masculinity cause. Regardless of our opinion of the term, it has turned offensive and off putting to many. We can only hope to create positive outcomes if our messaging and efforts are inviting.
The challenge then is to be more specific about the negative and dangerous mindsets and ideologies that are a part of male socialization in our current cultural climate. Rather than saying that masculinity is toxic, say that male objectification of women is harmful. Target sexual subordination of women as a problem. Disqualify the notion that violence and anger are valid expressions of strength. Challenge the mindset that sexual conquest and sexual supremacy is a measure of masculinity. The goal must be to inspire introspection and conversation.
I find it very fitting that I am writing this post on Martin Luther King Jr Day. My favorite of all of King’s teachings comes from his statement “Darkness cannot drive out the dark, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”. This wisdom can and should be applied directly to the efforts of all healthy masculinity workers and allies. We will never shame anyone into listening or joining our conversation. Shame will only create further distance and further distortion between well meaning advocacy groups and their target audience. I believe that young men are on the verge of redefining healthy masculinity. We will work to preserve all the healthy and valuable traits that men have embodied over generations and we will work to mitigate and eliminate any traits that are hurting others. Young men are amazing, they do need help.
Questions from the Team
- When you engage men in conversations about healthy masculinity, do you use judgmental or accusatory language?
- Before you speak or share your thoughts on masculinity, have you considered how the might create a gap between opposing opinions? Have you considered how you could tweak the message to help close that gap?
- What other initiatives or messages have you seen that do this very well? What aspects of their work can we replicate to help strengthen our message?