‘Toxic masculinity’; society needs to deal with it

The tone of this article may seem flippant, but Toxic Masculinity is real. How else can we explain the motivation of an individual who chooses to douse three children and their mother in accelerant and set them on fire?

By Julian May

Toxic Masculinity is a form of mental illness suffered only by certain types of men. Symptoms include:

  • An exaggerated need to be surrounded by men.
  • An exaggerated need for the approval of men.
  • A belief in the superiority of men as a gender.
  • A belief in the inferiority of women as a gender.
  • An exaggerated need to be in control of two-gender situations.
  • An exaggerated need to support men who are in control of two-gender situations.
  • A need to feel dominant over women, and lesser men.
  • A need to perceive fear and/or respect from women, and from lesser men.
  • An inability to relate to other people, including fellow sufferers, in any way other than by physicality.
  • An inability to empathise.
  • An inability to accept difference as anything other than a threat to masculinity.
  • An exaggerated need to crush opposing points of view, by way of implied or actual physical threat.
  • An inability to articulate a considered and rational point of view in relation to extreme masculinity and issues connected to extreme masculinity.
  • An obsessive commitment to the idiom which states that might is right.
  • An inability to perceive gentleness as anything other than a major character flaw.
  • An exaggerated need to meet opposition with force, regardless of the nature or strength of that opposition.
  • An exaggerated need to display – that is, to make others aware that the sufferer is aggressively male.
  • An exaggerated need to guard territory, and for ownership of others, especially women and children.
  • An exaggerated need to enforce extreme masculinity physically, and to punish any threat, real or perceived to the sufferer’s self-image.
  • A deep and often unrecognised, personal fragility in relation to physicality and sexuality.
  • A severe lack of self-awareness, and of appropriate social roles, expectations and practices beyond their cohort.
Ideas of masculinity have changed yet toxicity stays the same. Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Sufferers can be found in all walks of life, from the most mundane to the most elevated, from the most corporeal to the most intellectual, across all races, cultures and age groups, and regardless of socio-economic status.

They will commonly be found in a range of organisations, including:

  • Workplaces which are exclusively, or primarily, male-dominated.
  • Some exclusive educational institutions, which accept only male students.
  • Governments at all levels.
  • Male dominated sporting organisations, especially those sports requiring physical contact, such as the various football codes, boxing, some forms of martial arts, and so on. Even men who pursue the more benign sports such as hunting and fishing, may count sufferers amongst their number.
  • Some religious organisations.
  • Some sections of the armed forces.

Male dominated social settings may also harbour sufferers of T.M.

Although the intellectual concepts of T.M. sufferers are often similar, there is no specific physical type which is susceptible to T.M., nor is there a common level of intellectual capacity.

Toxic Masculinity is, sadly, contagious in the sense that it is a learned condition, most commonly passed on from parents to sons. Whilst there may be a genetic component at play here, it is most likely that nurture, not nature, is responsible for the transfer of the disease.

However, it has been known for contamination to occur as a result of ill-considered or unconsidered exposure to another T.M. sufferer. Exposure to a group of T.M. sufferers, often labelled as “Peer Pressure”, can be particularly harmful.

Consideration of two case studies may assist in the identification of potential Toxic Masculinity sufferers, and of the varied settings in which they may be found:

Image result for Toxic maculinity

St Kevin’s College, of Toorak, Melbourne, is one of a number of extremely wealthy and inordinately prestigious “public schools” which are not open to the general public, unless the general public is filthy rich. The fact that the school is Catholic by birth is not coincidental, given that particular church’s track record on paedophilia and cover ups.

In this instance, the presence of Toxic Masculinity is exacerbated by the presence another virus, Exigent Elitism.

Recently a major scandal has erupted, with two deplorable incidents involving the behaviour of males associated with the school, including students, the principal, the head of sports, and a sports coach convicted of a sexual offence against a fifteen year old student.

In the first case, a group of apparently adolescent males, in full school uniform, was filmed as it travelled on public transport, and as the boys spruiked a repulsive, sexist chant, which was intensely degrading of females.

It appears, from research carried out by the ABC, and reported in the “4 Corners” programme, that such events are not rare and, in the opinion of some former students, may occur largely as a result of a lack of ethical teaching in this church school.

Rather than identifying and directly teaching concepts and behaviours which would mitigate such public displays of “feminophobic” behaviour, this school appears to have created and nurtured a culture of male dominance and elitist behaviour amongst “Skevvie’s” boys.

Other examples of group Toxic Masculine behaviour condoned by the school, include the mass chanting of a particularly aggressive and intimidating war cry at sporting events in which St Kevin’s boys were competing, and the apparent need to win, as the sole object of competing.

It would appear that it is not only the boys who may occasionally be afflicted by an outbreak of T.M. It is alleged that at least one female staff member has lodged a complaint regarding inappropriate sexual conduct by a male staff member.

The second case concerns a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of one of the school’s “old boys”. It appears that, in this instance, the school’s managers tried, and failed, to close ranks in order to limit damage to the school’s reputation, and in so doing, subjected the victim to further psychological abuse. Yet another example of Toxic Masculine type behaviour – we boys must stick together, no matter what.

The second case study is fictional, and one of my own making. Whilst it is hypothetical, elements of the scenario have been borrowed from actual events.

The end of season trip for a group of professional sportsmen, is taking them to Thailand. The group comprises males ranging in age from nineteen to thirty four years, from a variety of socio-economic settings and with varied levels of formal education. Their commonality is found in a very high level of physical fitness, in the use of a predominantly physical mode of communication, and in a dedication to their chosen sport.

On the third night of their stay, eight members of the group choose to go out for a meal, some drinks, and to visit a nightclub. Whilst the meal is being eaten, one of the eight chooses to use loud and aggressive language towards a restaurant staff member, and makes suggestive, sexually inappropriate remarks to a female diner. Although his behaviour is supported by several members of the group, he is called into line by two of the older members.

Image result for Toxic maculinity

Later, in a hotel bar, the same individual becomes somewhat intoxicated and his behaviour becomes distinctly anti-social. The youngest member of the group, a twenty three year old, is embarrassed by the events, which some of his companions find to be extremely funny, and chooses to return to his accommodation.

The two older group members decide to leave the others to go on to the nightclub, and they, too, return to their accommodation. The remaining five travel to a nearby nightclub.

The five spend their time in the nightclub attempting to engage young women in conversation, with very limited success. The male who had previously demonstrated unacceptable behaviour in the restaurant, becomes heavily inebriated and is warned by security staff, following complaints from several female patrons of the nightclub.

Image result for Toxic maculinity

One male, twenty six years of age and regarded, even by his friends as having an inflated ego, is successful in persuading a younger female to leave the nightclub with him. They are followed by the remaining four members of the group.

Outside the club, and away from the eyes of the club’s security staff, the male makes sexual advances towards the young woman who, although afraid, refuses his attention. This is witnessed by his friends, who immediately call his manhood into question.

During the next thirty minutes, the young woman is raped by all five men.

At their trials in a Thai court, all five members of the group adopted a “blame the victim” strategy, in a failed attempt to justify their Toxic Masculine behaviour.

T.M. behaviour can take a range of forms. The “one punch” attack, once known as the “king hit”, sees the male strike another, usually from behind, and giving the target no chance to defend himself or herself, but perhaps the most prevalent, severe and destructive manifestation of Toxic Masculinity is seen in the form of domestic violence.

Males who choose to use Toxic Masculine behaviour have physically and emotionally assaulted their female partners and their children, often over extended periods of time.

Numbers of these assaults have resulted in deaths, and children have been damaged emotionally for life, by the trauma which they have suffered.

There are two basic forms of treatment that may be effective for users and potential users of T.M. behaviours.

The approach that would seem to have the best chance of success, is the use of proactive education as a preventative measure. Suitably qualified teachers may utilise direct teaching, in presenting programmes specifically aimed at encouraging their students, male and female, to adopt attitudes that reject the behaviours chosen by males who display Toxic Masculinity, and to take suitable action to protect themselves against it.

These programmes would begin at an appropriate stage of student development and continue through until the conclusion of secondary education, at least.

The second approach involves both reactive education, and the application of sanctions, for users of Toxic Masculine behaviours.

Regardless of the root cause of T.M., males who choose to use such behaviours do so in the full knowledge that what they are doing is wrong. Bleeding hearts may seek to explain, and even justify, violence against women and children and other men, using a broad brush strategy which focusses upon alleged mental health issues, but in the final analysis, Toxic Masculinity is simply the use of unequal power to dominate others.

It is a deliberate and calculated behaviour choice.

As such, it needs to be met with appropriate legal consequences.

Those accused of using violence, domestic or otherwise, should be offered access to counselling and educative programmes, which teach ways of responding to the emotions that are the precursors of violent behaviours.

Those convicted of using violent behaviours should be required to engage with these programmes whilst incarcerated, and should demonstrate a perceived potential to use the learned replacement behaviours prior to their release from prison.

Toxic Masculine behaviour is not a recent phenomenon and in past times it has been used by those in power as a weapon of war.

In an enlightened society it has no place.


Another recent peice on this topic from The Conversation can be found here; http://theconversation.com/the-real-problem-with-toxic-masculinity-is-that-it-assumes-there-is-only-one-way-of-being-a-man-110305

2 thoughts on “‘Toxic masculinity’; society needs to deal with it

  1. Thank you Julian for a clearly stated account of a very serious problem. As an example, you may well have quoted the local incident of some years ago when a visiting sporting group allegedly raped a young woman at a local resort.

    Not only was her life destroyed, but our community was deeply affected too.

    Some members of the Police Crime squad who investigated this event, were traumatised to the point of needing medical treatment and counselling. When a caring community feels compassion for such victims, the horror of the crime seeps into the core of our citizens.

    This ‘knock-on’ affect is an added tragedy within families and the broader community.

    1. Thanks Tom. The incident you mention was in my mind as I was writing. Hopefully the national outrage following the Brisbane tragedy will inspire someone in a position of power to do something to change the deplorable problem of violence by males.

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