There is nothing inherent in males/ masculinity that is toxic. Though with all of the examples of male extremism and misuses of power, privilege and position (that are held by people who many times are straight, white dudes), it is easy to think that.
This is the way we (all of us) have set this up - we cannot set social rules that value dominance and power (often beginning with the first toy we put in little boys' hands), devalue emotions and feign shock when even "Good guys" are found to have crossed a line.
EVERY message boys get in media is about power, control & dominance from little army men to Superman to soccer balls. We have collectively failed to balance that energy out with nurturance, with empathy, with emotion. There are aspects of masculinity that ARE toxic, but it is not masculinity's fault - it's ours, it's our parents' our grandparents'...it's Tinder, it's every not-even-subtly-phallus-themed truck commercial, it's debates about taking a knee, it's every parenting magazine being marketed to moms. It’s our collective buying into talking about “Mean girls” instead of “Toxic Femininity” (a phenomenon which we have also set up, but a term we somehow have chosen not to use).
This is a turning point in history, and we are being tasked to make some choices about what we do with this information. We are finally at a place in which it is beginning to be more shameful and consequential to have been the toxic jerk that violated someone’s body, feelings, rights or safety, than it is to have been the person the toxic jerk violated. Those of us who grew up in the eighties and nineties with our underdog-versus-privileged bully movies, and less-than-great consent culture have set the tone, but our kids – the ones born between 9/11 and the Sandy Hook Massacre are going to be the generation that brings this into the mainstream.
So, as we close out 2018 – a year that will be marked in history books for many reasons, spend some time talking to your sons about who they want to be, who they think they need to be and the media that they are marinating in. Be objective, be involved – find your inner Molly Ringwalds, your Brandon Walshes, Will Smiths, Angela Chases and Jack McPhees, and be an active part of that cultural shift again.
I have been hearing more and more from middle schoolers and their families about not-so-great conversations happening between middle schoolers about “Feminism”. What this looks like is boys asking (usually other boys) “Are you a feminist?” Then praising them if they say no, and insulting them if they say yes, with comments ranging from “That is so stupid,” to “That is so gay.”
There appears to be a junior version of the bigger, cultural misogyny that we grown-ups are witnessing in politics and media right now, that is trickling down to kids as young as 10. It seems mostly fueled by some toxic, and/or misunderstood [fingers crossed] conversations in some homes, mixed with adolescent, new-to-testosterone energy, a lack of bigger perspective and that viral contagion of teen otherness, with hashtags like #Feminazi popping up on Instagram and Snapchat.
This is worth a conversation with your kid around what feminism means both historically and to you as a parent – share your values about female empowerment and check in with your kids (both boys and girls) about this new, unfortunate phenomenon.
[And on a personal note, despite my deep, and very real love of portmanteau words, I encourage all of you to consider emphasizing that casually tossing around terms like “Nazi” for humorous or insulting effect diminishes the very real and hyper toxicity that word represents. Help your kids learn to reserve that word for the shocking number of people who are (and act like) ACTUAL Nazis. #Soapbox #ThankYouForComingToMyTEDTalk].