Australian sociologist R.W. Connell wrote in her book “Southern Theory” about a concept she calls “hegemonic masculinity.” This idea acknowledges that there are various definitions of masculinity. One version of masculinity reigns over all other versions as well as oppresses and dominates people of all genders. In 2005, this dominant masculinity picked up the more mainstream name of “Toxic Masculinity,” which is defined by psychiatrist Terry Kupers as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence.”
A quick look at Google Trends search analytics shows us that “toxic masculinity” started emerging in the Google search bar with frequency in 2017 and reached peak popularity in Jan. 2019. This is where things begin to unfold. What was so special about this sharp jump in search popularity on Jan. 13? Personal-care product and razor brand Gillette premiered a commercial titled: “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.”
Despite the inspirational mood of the commercial and the overall positive male imagery of the ad, Gillette faced immediate and intense backlash for what people felt to be “unfair” criticism of masculinity. The YouTube comment section and Twitter feeds were hijacked by men calling out the ad for being anti-male and targeting them, feeling as though they should not be ashamed to be men. The most surprising thing about this boycott: it actually worked.
Gillette’s mother-company Proctor & Gamble saw a 0.8 percent drop in their stocks the week the ad came out, and the YouTube video, while receiving over 30 million views, had around 1.4 million dislikes. Along with that, all corners of the internet and social media showcased men denying the existence of toxic masculinity and calling for an end to the #MeToo movement, which recently emerged as a mass rejection of toxic masculinity.
The goal of the #MeToo movement is to support people who have been victims of sexual assault/violence, while simultaneously targeting titans in politics and entertainment—from comedian Louis C.K. to former U.S. Senator Al Franken—for their histories as sexual abusers and, plainly, for being power-hungry. #MeToo hit the ground running after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, despite all the public and private examples of his sexual abuse patterns and for being (you guessed it): power-hungry. #MeToo has faced its own criticism for being anti-male and contributing to the ever-deepening political divides in the United States.
While many were still brooding over the Gillette ad and the backlash it received, popular male-centric magazine “Esquire” published a cover story about a 17-year-old white man from Wisconsin, with a caption reading: “An American Boy: What it’s like to grow up white, middle class, and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity, #MeToo, and a divided country.” The Lawrentian Editorial Board already shared its thoughts and opinions on the controversy surrounding this cover story, which can be seen in the Feb. 22, 2019 edition of the paper or online at lawrentian.com.
Since the release of this staff editorial, thoughts about toxic masculinity, #MeToo and gender have been swimming around my head, coming and going as quickly as the news cycle talks about these topics. I began noticing places where toxic masculinity shows its ugly face and seeing it actively harming people close to me and people I have never met. That is when I came around to the idea of writing a column about it in our student newspaper.
Each week, my goal is to look at toxic masculinity through a different perspective, whether it be my own experiences, research that I do to make broader claims about it or just plainly interviewing people who have perspectives on masculinity that I could never understand. I want to take the things that “Esquire” and Gillette attempt to surmount and try to do them better.
Instead of telling men to “do better” like Gillette, I prefer to talk to all types of men about how toxic masculinity has affected their lives and how they work on pushing back against the toxicity. I want to challenge these men to give us their idea of what a contemporary, non-toxic masculinity looks like. I want to hear from men that are aware of their privileges and are using their inherent advantages to propel forward movements for equality like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, rather than taking the Esquire approach and giving a platform for toxic men to embolden their toxicity.
I also want to talk to people of all genders and sexualities to promote a more honest view on masculinity. Believing that “masculine” is only the heteronormative, cis-normative adjective that is embedded in our brains as children is so antiquated and will not be a direction this column takes. Instead, I will be talking to women and LGBTQ+ community members that will broaden our scope of how masculinity oppresses others.
Through my own research and the dialogues that I am having with myself over topics in masculinity, I want to focus on the issues where I feel toxic masculinity manifests. There will be articles that discuss mental illness, disabilities, poverty, sexuality, gender, race, age, nationality and so much more.
Ultimately, it is important to me and to many others that this column educates with care and represents with sensitivity. I want to have a dialogue with the entire campus community about masculinity and how we can impact change here in Appleton and around the world.
I hope that you all will embrace this exciting, uncomfortable, enlightening and progressive journey with me. If I ever write something that is offensive or misinformed, call me out! If you tweet with #ToxicMasculinityLU, I will answer your questions, address your concerns and make immediate changes when anything problematic arises. I am all in for being educated and giving this platform over to others so they can engage in this dialogue with me.
This column will not last long if I am talking to myself every week, so if you are interested in being interviewed for this column and/or you are comfortable sharing your stories and experiences with toxic masculinity, send an e-mail to lawrentian.lawrence.edu with #ToxicMasculinityLU in the subject box. I will get back to you as soon as possible and ensure that we do our absolute best to make this something great!