Why I Reject the label Toxic Masculinity

Why I Reject the label Toxic Masculinity 1
Brendon Birch

Brendon Birch

Why I Reject the label Toxic Masculinity

Toxicity, kintsukuroi and coming to terms with starting over

On June 1st, an article in the Melbourne Herald Sun quoted Meryl Streep claiming that women are toxic too. Responding to comments from a fan, the article references Streep, who commented that toxic masculinity was detrimental to just one gender, as women can be “pretty fucking toxic”. Streep was quoted as saying “Sometimes I think we’re hurt. We hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity. I do. And I don’t find putting those two words together…It’s toxic people. We have our good angles and we have our bad ones. I think the labels are less helpful (toward) what we’re trying to get to, which is a communication, direct, between human beings. We’re all in the same boat together.”

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The Risks by Gender

The term toxic masculinity has received lots of attention recently, mostly in a condemning and emasculating way. There are sad realities that men dominate the domestic violence landscape. It’s a tragedy that:
  • On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner;
  • 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed.
  • Almost 40% of women continued to experience violence from their partner while temporarily separated; and that
  • 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
I consider it shameful that women are objectified and treated in this way.
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So what’s the go for men? If we look at what men experience it ain’t that great either! It’s a tragedy that:

  • 6 men commit suicide each day;
  • 82 men call an ambulance due to suicidal thoughts or attempts;
  • Suicide rates have risen 40% in the past 10 years;
  • 3 in 4 suicides are men;
  • 93% of workplace deaths are men;
  • 4 in 5 heart disease deaths are men

What a catastrophic state of affairs for men and their wellbeing!

The facts are that both men and women, educated and working class, experience brokenness, health challenges, communication challenges, and feelings of mistreatment – be it in the workplace or on the home front.

What are the alternatives for men?

There is much discussion about what constitutes healthy masculinity these days. Now, before we go any further, as a white, educated, middle age male I think it’s important to name that there are some men who exhibit a chauvinism, men’s club mentality that condescends and belittles women, objectifies them even. I reject such expressions of masculinity and am thankful in the world in which I function I rarely come across this.

I’m from an era where men become fathers and take a hands-on role in daily life raising children and sharing household chores. I’m from an era where chivalrous actions such as opening doors was part of becoming a man, and thankful that even my feminist female friends and colleagues don’t object.

I don’t believe that this is simply about men getting in touch with their feminine side, and somehow becoming less masculine. Feelings are a human trait. This is about being empowered for emotional engagement – identifying and naming our feelings, gaining an emotional literacy, a vocabulary that can be learned and applied. To recognise and understand the connection between our bodily systems – our heart, our emotions, our physical wellbeing and the influence and interplay with our brain and chemical systems of the body.

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It’s very common in the counselling room to hear men, especially those going through post-separation express terms such as “I did everything for her and the kids”, “I’m a good man”, “how could she do this?” and “I feel powerless to change anything”.
It’s very common to hear men… express terms such as “I did everything for her and the kids”

When we feel broken, what are our options?

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Let’s face it. Everyone has experienced a broken heart and coming to terms with starting a new relationship. What about when, and if, the sense of betrayal cuts so deeply that the prospect of trusting someone again, of allowing someone into your inner world and being hurt again is just too much? Is becoming an emotional and relational island the only alternative?

The Japanese have a wonderful term “kintsukuroi” applied to a broken vase or piece of pottery. Kintsukuroi means “to repair with gold” and is used to describe the artform of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer. The emphasis is that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

What if we implemented kintsukuroi to our own brokenness, to our relationships, might it be possible to bring repair to our humanity one relationship at a time?

What about you?

Recovery and rebuilding a healthy sense of self, with a renewed self-confidence and wisdom from learned hurt, moving forward to embrace new love, create new memories and enjoy life in “an unguarded moment” is possible, isn’t it?

Starting humanity over again isn’t an option. Discarding, or disregarding, those who we consider toxic may be one approach. Yet if we made intentional effort to address our own brokenness and hurt and sought to heal our own toxicity – anger, jealousy, inferiority, distrust – perhaps our world might become a better place? What if we all made a commitment to be kinder, more compassionate and gentler – with ourselves and with others? We may well find a strength within that is stronger than we thought possible.

About the author:

Brendon Birch is an experienced relationship counsellor. 

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