Mackie wrote this essay after letting me know that he wanted his argument topic to be on, “how the kind of toxic masculinity thing truly radicalizes really lots of guys in the range of the gen x to gen z.” With that in mind, we tried to look for articles that explained the concept and that argued against it. At that time, just a few short months ago, he was writing on this topic against a backdrop of angry people responding to a very trying year. It seemed that the biggest issue was just how angry they were getting, but we had no idea just how big an issue it was soon to become. Regardless of what you believe, it’s clear that there is a problem at hand and a divide we need to bridge.
The thought of toxic masculinity is broadly inaccurate, but there is a great movement that is made up of angry and radicalized misogynists. The threat these individuals may present likely goes deeper than anyone really may understand or think about. The ongoing terrorist activities that most recently evidenced as a failed attempt to kidnap the governor of Michigan only serves to make this markedly clear. There are plenty of male governors doing the same things as Whitmer, but nobody is trying repeatedly to terrorize them. These things are usual tactics when mostly men want to try to assert their dominance.
Those who want to try to tell us that there is nothing wrong with the warrior, Mad Max, Clint Eastwood, thug life mentality sadly are mistaken in what the true thesis of masculinity holds. That really, saying that those who are truly in touch with their emotional selves are somehow womanish is ridiculous. In the time that traditional gender roles have thankfully fallen away, there has been the strong trend of those who want to go back to when beating their enemies to death in the streets was acceptable. European teachings in their schools might treat those who seem to have forgotten the actions of toxic male fascists. The most heard argument that the men’s rights activists make is that the terrible part of our modern age is that men really have become too thoughtful and weak.
With that, they feel that the only remedy is to bring back an age of blood and terror. Reaching for the lost glories of the warrior days ushers in honor and rears the moving horseguard of battles fought and won. Those too were the desires of the Third Reich, Mussolini, and Francisco Franco. They too thought that tradition and heartless masculinity was preferable to the humanity and compassion of great freedom and democracy. This nonsensical human tendency turned out badly for those countries if not the leaders in question, so why would it go any better now? Those headed on the masculinity overload bandwagon could stand to read some better quality of history texts.
This trend may feel very justified to people who traditionally have had the power over most of the rest of the world. These freedoms to muster their strength, and each having the tremendous will to dominate other people just has no outlet these days. If they are so excited to go shooting things up, and get to prove how tough they are, then perhaps they ought to head out to the Mars Expedition and take the time hovering in space to think their shortcomings over.
The saddest part of the not true treatment of men is the idea that large radicalized groups of feminists are the power structure which runs the country in some scheme to exterminate men completely. It would be laughable except that these male rights activists really think it is true and they think that the only solution to it is through bold and sometimes violent means. The teaching that they now access to feed their ideologies comes from online prophets of hate, violence, and fear mongering. Should you take a look at any of the social media feeds, over the past year, or as things got truly heated over blm and protests, the thing noticeable is that the rhetoric now is actually totally scary.
One asks meaningfully how we got to this place, and how we can face this uncertain crazy time ahead, with such manipulative teachers of hate and lies available all over the internet? I studied the sources that were available for analysis on both sides of this issue, though the material homing in on the groups like Proud Boys and men’s rights activists is written by people analyzing them from outside the groups. There is an article from 2019 on the Daily Wire that defends manly men in the context of manly allied soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy. The writer, Matt Walsh, goes the distance with his wartime apologia to masculine bad behavior.
The article itself is titled “When ‘Toxic Masculinity’ Saved the World”, and notes all the terror faced by those soldiers as they encountered a, “hurricane of blood and bullets,” on that day in 1944. He seems to have missed some thoughtful discussions on what toxic masculinity actually is about. Manliness truly is not the problem, as he erroneously believes. Nor, as he claims, is there no toxic femininity, it’s merely that women tend to resolve these issues differently. Yet because each time the term toxic gets used together with the idea of the masculine, guys like Walsh have the hysterics that they attribute to the feminine.
Treating the swagger of the Dude as the same thing as the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket shaming his recruits until one of them kills him ignores a huge difference. The Big Lebowski is a man who thinly scrapes by, but cares about other people. Hartman, the drill sergeant, only cares about the Marine Corps and upholding its standards of terrible brutality. To say that the Marine Corps should have stayed that way ignores the culture within it that spawned incidents such as the My Lai massacre of that same era. The best thing that could have happened with the Marine Corps was for it to treat its own with “womanly” attitudes of compassion, tact, and warmth that might be tough motherly warmth, but still there to be felt.
The main point that Walsh totally ignores is that toxic masculinity was what got us into global warfare to begin with. That masculine peculiar stronghold of fascism was the Germanic terror response to what they perceived to be the feminization and humiliation of the fatherland. The Third Reich forbade women from taking part in its power structure, instead telling them to stay home and have babies. The United States and its allies, in wartime, wanted women involved with just about every aspect of the fight. Some might argue that the men needed a helping push from the Waves, the WAACs, the Night Witches, the Rosie the Riveters, not to mention the nurses, secretaries, ambulance drivers, and spies. The Third Reich thought little of female wartime volunteerism, because these fervent haters of the thought of “feminine” democracy could not weaken themselves in such a manner.
The sociologist, Michael Kimmel, as interviewed by the Guardian in 2017, observed that, “in my interviews with extremists…i have found time and time again that they have experienced…humiliation and shame.” Though he points to Osama bin Laden and the humiliation of the Muslims at the hands of the western world, the same can be said of Germany’s perceived humiliation by the treaty of Versailles in 1918. The same can be said for the actions of nearly every tyrant and repressive regime. The sense of being made to feel weak, small, and humilated is a driver of violence, Kimmel believes, with decades of research to back him up.
Much of Kimmel’s research has focused on men who join extremist movements. The fold of extremist groups has really expanded to include the gender biased men’s rights groups that have proliferated in the past decade or so. The Southern Poverty Law Center which monitors hate groups now has “Male Supremacy” observed on their tracking map of hate group activity. But it is important to take note of the distinct commonalities between men’s rights groups and the other forms of extremism. First is that their ranks are largely male, sometimes with women as docile support staff. Then, their membership shares a typical profile of men who have gotten their teeth kicked in by life some way or another. They have been abused, mistreated, bullied, and then targeted by these groups because they are vulnerable. The acceptance within these groups pulls them in and then takes over their lives and thinking completely.
Every one of these groups generates the same messaging that tells their members of the secret agendas of the enemy. Barest dependence on facts is the usual standard. Asserting that which is untrue has then only to sound true. As Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This observation was both deadly accurate and deeply cynical in its assessment of human nature. That the same thing very much holds true these days whether the truths really matter or the lie is big speaks to the speed with which information spreads more than anything really else.
I think that these hate groups have found their home in the fractious, great vast landscape of the internet because it is so well-suited to intimidation and shouting matches. Tactical brutality comes in the form of trolling, death threats, and doxxing, or the public sharing of private identifying information. Treating these acts as anything but monstrous and criminal has allowed this toxic trend to grow into an insanely ginormous leviathan that is impossible to contain, much less truly take back out of society. This beastly mountain of hate encompasses the theater of the absurd currently known as the “manosphere”, the internet version of the frat house from hell. The gouge from fading scars that obsolete purposes, broken hearts, and psychological wounds left behind is filled with the anonymous and disembodied chorus of toxic masculinity, from Incels, to the Hoteps, Klan chat groups, Proud Boys, on to platforms like 4chan and Q Anon.
This mountain has its own kind of hall of kings, which houses the decrepit rulers of that awful tyranny of manliness. In it are the epitomes of the toxic male stereotype: Trump, Steve Bannon, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and the men at their sides as cup bearers. There are others, of course, fighting each other for their space at the table. The question we have to ask is what they are willing to do to get there. They represent the largest existential threat we face together in our society in living memory, and we ignore it at our peril.
Christou, Dr. Miranda. “The Fragile, Toxic Masculinity Of White Supremacy.” Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, 23 Sept. 2019, http://www.radicalrightanalysis.com/2019/09/23/the-fragile-toxic-masculinity-of-white-supremacy/.
Conroy, J Oliver. “’Angry White Men’: the Sociologist Who Studied Trump’s Base before Trump.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 Feb. 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/27/michael-kimmel-masculinity-far-right-angry-white-men.
French, David. “Men Are Getting Weaker – Because We’re Not Raising Men.” National Review, National Review, 4 Jan. 2018, http://www.nationalreview.com/2016/08/male-physical-decline-masculinity-threatened/.
French, David. “The Question That Reveals the Heart of the Culture Wars.” National Review, National Review, 31 Jan. 2018, http://www.nationalreview.com/2018/01/toxic-masculinity-myth-fuels-culture-wars/.
Goebbels, Joseph. “Joseph Goebbels: On the ‘Big Lie.’” Joseph Goebbels On the “Big Lie”, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-goebbels-on-the-quot-big-lie-quot.
“Hate Map.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 9 Sept. 2020, http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map.
Sharlet, Jeff, and Photography by Bruce Gilden/Magnum Photos. “What Kind of Man Joins the Men’s Rights Movement?” GQ, Conde Nast, 4 Feb. 2014, http://www.gq.com/story/mens-rights-activism-the-red-pill.
Walsh, Matt. “WALSH: When ‘Toxic Masculinity’ Saved The World.” The Daily Wire, The Daily Wire, 6 June 2019, http://www.dailywire.com/news/walsh-when-toxic-masculinity-saved-world-matt-walsh.