While it can be argued that using the phrase “toxic masculinity” is useful, I must confess to feeling uncomfortable about the phrase. While it would be natural to accuse me of fearing an attack on my maleness, my concern is a pragmatic one about the consequences of the term. Which, from a utilitarian standpoint, also makes it a moral one.
As a man, I am familiar with how some other men react to the phrase “toxic masculinity.” The reaction of the truly toxic (that is, evil) males is to be expected—they are outraged that their misdeeds and moral flaws are being challenged. However, non-toxic males can also react negatively to the phrase—typically because they feel that those who use the phrase are applying it to all men. That is, they are saying that all men are bad and routinely engage in such things as bullying, sexual harassment and worse. While some do hold to that position (that all men are evil), this is not the usual use of the term. After all, one might point out, if masculinity itself was seen as evil, it would be pointless to talk about toxic masculinity. Doing so would be analogous to speaking of toxic toxins. As such, defenders of the phrase “toxic masculinity” can say it is like saying “contaminated spinach”: this is not claiming that all spinach is contaminated, just the spinach that is contaminated. Likewise, saying “toxic masculinity” is not claiming that all masculinity is toxic, just the toxic variety.
This does have considerable appeal and when a critic of toxic masculinity uses the phrase in this manner, one might be able to sort out their intent. That said, the use of the phrase can still trigger an angry response from non-toxic men and trying to argue about the intent of the term often fails. After all, when people are angry and feel attacked, they rarely pause for a philosophical analysis of the perceived attack. As such, using the phrase can have the negative consequence of alienating and angering men who would otherwise support the idea that men should behave well. It can also cause men that might be persuaded to change to double down on their views. As such, there is a pragmatic problem with the phrase.
One reply to this would be to argue that only weak snowflakes and bad men would be angered by the phrase. The snowflakes should “man up” and it is fine that the bad men are angry—they are, after all, being attacked for being evil and the evil hate that. While this does have some appeal, it is still worth considering how non-toxic (or “curable”) men might feel about the phrase and whether another approach might be better.
Consider, if you will, if the term “toxic” was used to refer to various groups who have some members who behave badly and have vices (which would be all groups other than the group of the morally perfect). To illustrate, consider the phrases “toxic blackness”, “toxic hispanicness”, “toxic homosexuality”, “toxic transgenderism”, “toxic feminism” and so on. If someone did a Youtube video or appeared on TV talking about “toxic blackness” or “toxic homosexuality” while insisting that they were only concerned about blacks or homosexuals who behaved badly and not attacking blacks or homosexuals in general, they would presumably be met with skepticism and outrage by many who use the phrase “toxic masculinity.” Even if the person was completely sincere and carefully argued that their concern was with the toxic members of said groups and not with the other members, then they would most likely still be doubted and attacked.
The obvious reply would be to argue that “toxic blackness”, “toxic homosexuality” and such differ from “toxic masculinity.” While such a case can be made, it does seem reasonable to consider that just as many would find “toxic blackness” and “toxic homosexuality” offensive, many non-toxic men feel that “toxic masculinity” is offensive and using the term might have negative consequences that outweigh the positive value of using the term.
From a pragmatic standpoint, that is the key concern: does the use of the phrase “toxic masculinity” create more harm than good in terms of persuading men to behave better? If so, the next concern would be sorting out what would be a better approach.
Actually got to the bottom of the second paragraph on this one. But of course the wheels came off the LaBossiere Logic wagon…
Likewise, saying “toxic nuclear waste” is not claiming that all nuclear waste is toxic, just the toxic variety.
You can be disingenuous as to the intent of those who use the phrase “toxic masculinity”. I can’t.
The left plays this game of “Words mean what we say they mean – and we’re not interested in any other definitions, context, intent, or explanation.”
Thus someone like Jeremy Kappel, a meteorologist from Rochester NY, can stumble over “Martin Luther Kunior … er, King, Junior and be called out by the Mayor, made a spectacle of on national news feeds, and be summarily fired … it doesn’t matter what he says happened, whether or not he was even aware of his slip or what it might have sounded like to someone – we heard it and that’s enough, and it’s our agenda and your life is over. Period.
The word police are out in droves, monitoring even meaningless pastimes like crossword puzzles – I think I mentioned the firestorm over the NY Times puzzle a while ago, that used the two-word phrase “Go OK” in the grid – but since it looked like “GOOK”, that was enough.
So now there is “Toxic Masculinity”
The history of the word “Masculine” is meaningless, of course, Nevermind that it is a virtue. Forget the fact that for centuries, men have aspired to be masculine because it is an ideal, a perfect mix of physical strength, athleticism, intelligence, philosophy, and reflection – a caring provider and protector for his family.
Today’s liberal mindset rejects all those ideals anyway – “Masculine” now means “sensitive”, “not afraid to share feelings”, “not afraid to cry” … traits that historically have been regarded as “Feminine”. But no matter – we can be flexible, right, men?
But the idea of “Toxic Masculinity” is, to me, an oxymoron. It is not, as you say, like a can of spinach. A can of spinach is a thing, a noun, something that can go bad.
So when you say “While it would be natural to accuse me of fearing an attack on my maleness, I say you are missing the point. “Maleness” is biological, hormonal, physical – without getting into a discussion of gender-fluidity and pronoun choice, it typically means you have certain equipment and the chemistry to go along with it. So yes, there can be “toxic males”.
I would contend that the definition of the word does not allow for the modifier of “Toxic”. The concept that they are trying to express is the absence of masculinity. Likewise, Spinach can have deliciousness– but there is no such thing as “Toxic Deliciousness” – that can’t go bad, it can only be absent.
By co-opting the accepted definition of the word and allowing it to be modified as they see fit, the left has begun an assault on male virtue. They probably don’t think there is such a thing – what with the likes of Donald Trump leading this country, and Brett Kavanaugh named to the Supreme Court and all those other boorish brutes hanging around.
It’s the narrative – which basically means “OK, men – time for you to step down. You’re all a bunch of assholes anyway – and if you don’t want your lives ruined by our interpretation of the words you use or the deeds you do, you’d better step in line and publicly agree with us, or you’re toast.
It’s frighteningly Orwellian. Four legs good, two legs bad … we abhor intolerance, but some intolerance is OK as long as we are being righteously intolerant of the right things, right? I have encountered women, for example, who absolutely will not tolerate a man telling them anything. Forget context, nuance, education, expertise – it’s all “Mansplaining” and we’ve had just about enough of that, thank you very much.
It will not be long before the word “masculine” won’t need the modifier at all – the meaning will have been changed because we will no longer need a term for “male virtue”. It won’t exist in the minds of the word and thought police anymore.
Michael LaBossiere says
Perhaps what is needed is a return to the Socratic method of assessing definitions using rigorous standards. He also argued that there need to be universal definitions connected to the Forms so as to fix the meaning of words.
Socrates: “Ah, but what do you mean by ‘toxic masculinity’? Is the toxic part a component of the masculinity or something that taints an otherwise fine thing, like slime on a fine steak?”
Perhaps what is needed is a return to the Socratic method of assessing definitions using rigorous standards.
I thought of replying to this post, but the term is so ambiguous that I need an argument for every possible meaning – and there are far too many of them. There is just no point in having a conversation using that phrase. I feel that way about far too many of the current hot-button words.
“Toxic masculinity” feels to me like a “dog-whistle”, if I have the US idiom right – a phrase that calls for indiscriminate man-bashing while providing plausible deniability for the speaker.
You mean like here specifically or in the wider discussion space in general?
Both. Since Mike is feeding from the political discussion space, though, it would be impossible to exclude the langiage.
It’s easy to say that “toxic” is toxic, “hate” is hateful, and “problematic” is ,,, well, you get the idea – and just focus on the most overused snarl words, but I’m starting to feel that the discussion would benefit from the complete removal of adjectives and adverbs,
Ah, “snarl words”. That’s the concept that I was trying to get at in my first post above using “toxic nuclear waste” as a simile.
The American Psychological Assiciation has recently concluded that “traditional masculinity” is harmful. So of course people are starting to equate “toxic masculinity” with “traditional masculinity.”