This is probably going to be a longer one. Just letting you folks know. I've wanted to write it for a while - finally getting around to it!
There's been a phrase gathering a bit of traction these days, which is 'toxic masculinity'. Some people hate this phrase, some people love it, some people don't understand it. I love it, because it means that people are starting to get the picture of what masculinity actually is. For those who haven't seen it or who don't get it, let me try and explain. It might be by a somewhat circuitous route.
masculinity and femininity (it looks strange, but that's the right number of Ns) are often thought of as opposites that are slowly getting closer. You get the picture of the yin and yang, or the spectrum of gender where male and female are at opposing ends. There's a bit of overlap, and it's starting to overlap more, but it's not much. Traditionally, male and female are mostly separate.
But this isn't the case at all. Instead, it's better to think of masculine and feminine as two mostly overlapping circles, that just have different centres. And unfortunately, our cultures have traditionally emphasised their extremes - the Rambo and the Barbie - when that's really not what masculine and feminine look like at all. (Thanks to Peter, one of the talkers on Impart, for that nugget of wisdom.)
In fact, this is where we get into that toxic masculinity. Because that's a big part of what it looks like. It's male behaviours that are toxic. And the problem is, these have often been encouraged or championed by Hollywood. To get an awesome understanding of this, I very heartily suggest The Pop Culture Detective Agency. He looks at this quite often, and in a really clever way, that's also quite in-depth. He also gives some great examples of what the opposite is. So I'm not going to go too much into examples of what toxic masculinity is, because he does that really well. But you don't have to have much imagination to find easy examples; like Weinstein, Trump, or our own Don Burke. They're the more extreme examples, though, and it's not always that obvious. For instance, PCDA lists many of Harrison Ford's characters (before you rage, have a look at the video for yourself); and James Bond is another common one mentioned.
Moving on, though - earlier, I said that I loved this. I do not mean that I love toxic masculinity! But I love that people are starting to call it out, and describe this. Because it means that people are starting to recognise that masculinity is bigger than just Rambo. That masculine doesn't have to mean macho.
For me, this is something that's so important. When I was younger, I had an extreme disassociation with traditional masculinity. Not all of a sudden, there wasn't anything that triggered it - just in who I was. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a particularly "guy"ey guy. And I very much knew that, growing up. I wasn't physically strong, and I certainly wasn't violent. I didn't get into fights, and I didn't want to. I didn't really get angry. I didn't want meat, meat, and more meat. I didn't like sports. I didn't like fast cars, or cars in general. And I didn't brag about girls. Admittedly, I had no girls to brag about, but still. I wouldn't have anyway.
Yet these felt like mandatory things to "be a man". That, because I preferred the library to the sports field, I was somehow less of a man. Or maybe even not a man! It didn't help that some of the things that I enjoyed or did were often seen as "feminine". Like music, or drama, or poetry, or skipping (not the rope kind). I didn't really mind, because to me that was better than being seen as like what a "man" seemed to be.
But now - that's no longer the case. Now, more and more, we're coming to understand that masculinity can look like many different things. Yes, it could be the strong man, or the sporty man; but it could also be the smart man, or the musical man, or the sensitive man, or the romantic man, or a million other things. And it's the same with femininity! There's just a bit of a spotlight on masculinity at the moment, because we tend to make bigger asses of ourselves, regardless of what type of men we are. I'd say it's a special talent, but I don't think it's particularly special....
Changing tacks for a moment to a related, but perhaps more controversial issue. At some points, I've sat down and reflected that if I had been born to a different family, brought up differently, I might well have decided to be a woman, because of some of what I've said above. That's the degree of separation I felt from the traditional masculinity. I sometimes wonder if that's what has happened with some other people - and if we were a bit better at letting people know it was okay for them to be a man or a woman in the way that they wanted that to look like, maybe people wouldn't feel the need to change. Not trying to say it's a bad thing! I think many have found it really helpful and freeing, and that's awesome. (Though not for me.) But I think we have made it hard for people.
However, I'm glad that that's not what I ended up doing. Not because I think being a woman would be bad, or anything! But because now I have an opportunity - to help define what masculinity should look like. And I think that's pretty cool. It's a big responsibility - but thankfully, it's not just up to me! :)