Toxic Masculinity was coined over 30 years ago by a group of male, self proclaimed “Mythopoets”. It referred to the cultural stigma around men being harmful to society, specifically men harboring traits like Misogyny and Homophobia.
Spearheaded by Shepherd Bliss, the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement aimed to provide therapy to “toxic” men in the form of hosted workshops and Native American wilderness retreats, complete with drumming, dancing, and sweat lodges.
Today, the concept of Toxic Masculinity has evolved in our culture; it’s been etched into gender study textbooks; it’s been the focus of controversial ad campaigns (R.I.P. Gillette), it’s a trending hashtag during any #meToo revelation.
I’m not here to track the lineage of Toxic Masculinity, in fact I’m here to highlight how ambiguous (and dynamic) this term has become. For me, it's lost in translation, redefined by authors like Rollo Tomassi and feminist columnists like Maya Salem of the New York Times.
How can our fellow generations of men effectively address these issues without really understanding them?
I don’t think we need to throw on Native American headpieces and dance around a fire like Mythopoets, but maybe they were onto something.
As Sociologist Michael Messner defines their cause, our urban industrial society “trapped men into straitjackets of rationality, thus blunting the powerful emotional communion and collective spiritual transcendence that they believe men in tribal societies typically enjoyed.”
Keywords to focus on here are “Communion” and “Collective.”
When men are neither of these things, we are detached, and drawn into traits that loosely define Toxic Masculinity.
So, how do we achieve communion and collectivism for men?
It’s easier than we realize. Men need to talk with each other more.
We should feel open to discuss ultra sensitive topics and we should feel obliged to help our fellow men in improving their own path of masculinity.
As it stands, we just aren’t having these conversations, even on topics that women would believe are common talking points.
Consider the topic of Hygiene. There are no slack discussions of our favorite skincare products. There are no male grooming lessons on how to shave your balls (sorry ladies). There are no nights getting the boys together, throwing on face masks, and getting juiced up on red wine.
For men, a seemingly simple topic like skincare is "feminine" territory. It's like our dick size, we just don't talk about it.
Throughout my whole life, there were only a handful of direct conversations (with men) I could remember where I felt an explicit knowledge transfer that would empower my path of understanding my own masculinity. If I had more of these conversations, I would’ve excelled this understanding much quicker and far less painfully.
I especially wish I’d understood how empowering it is to have discussions with other men concerning hygiene, and how introspective it would allow me to be.
There's a certain power that comes from years of understanding your own body; the aspects you can control, and those you can't. I have a feeling that women learn this MUCH earlier than men do.
Our diligent practice of control and discipline breeds confidence; confident men contribute positively to society, provide more value for themselves (and inherently their partners), and breed more confident men through communion and collectivism.
I believe that when men have more conversations with each other concerning sensitive topics, we can begin to usher in a new era, one that is defined by Positive Masculinity.
Perhaps, instead of redefining Toxic Masculinity, as has been done so many times, we can define a more positively transformative set of male traits and practices.
For the gentlemen reading this, perhaps it's time we have more honest and uncomfortable conversations with our fellow men; our brothers, our cousins, our friends, our audiences, and our colleagues.
As Salt-n-Pepa put it so eloquently, “let’s talk about sex” brother.