Oxford has announced the word of the year for 2018: toxic. It really comes as no surprise. Whether society is talking about toxic masculinity or toxic politics, there is an overabundance of malignant social discourse that abounds in the world at large and it does not bode well for the year to come. However, I am not certain that it’s the “toxicity” level of discourse that is the issue, but rather the abject human need to denigrate another person in order to feel superior that is at issue.
When debating an issue, it is far easier to deny the other side’s argument if ab initio it is considered beyond the pale, something not even worthy of conversation, regard, or acknowledgment. You don’t have to find fact or history to prove that your opponent is a liability or gaslighting the audience. You merely have to say to everyone they are channeling a “toxic” philosophy or ideal. And in truth, many ideas that are presented, be it political or sociological are harmful, hurtful, and troublesome. But that does not mean you are not obligated to correct and modify the beliefs of purveyors. You are obligated, due to the righteousness of your cause, to debate fairly openly and honestly. And simply because you, and your compatriots decide that your “opponent” is toxic, does not make it so. Democrats may think every Republican is a racist homophobe, that is no more true, than the Republicans that think every Democrat hates the US constitution, the US military, and is a secret communist.
As an example; toxic masculinity. What exactly is toxic masculinity? The ideal that men need to step up and be counted among the progenitors of civilization? That men need to take responsibility for their offspring? That men need to hold down jobs? That men need to obey the law? That men take it upon themselves to protect their families and the nation that they love, and the freedom we hold dear? And yes, women need to stand up and be counted as well, but I have yet to hear a woman called toxic for wanting to join the halls of power, demand her rights to her children, or expect to serve her country.
Was it toxic masculinity that in the latest mass shooting in California, a group of youngmen positioned themselves between the shooter and the persons behind them? They felt that if the shooter got to their positions, they would take the bullets and protect everyone else. How is this not something to be honored? How is this considered bad or evil? Males being the men they were brought up to be, seems to be anathema to so many today. What a travesty.
These concepts embraced by males in our society are not toxic. These concepts are called adulting. Unfortunately we have confounded the definition of adulthood to such a point that if anyone mentions the idea that they understand their place in the scheme of life, they are seen as usurpers of another person’s right to be whom they choose to be. In fact the concept of toxic and “privilege” go hand in hand. Only those who are privileged in society are toxic enough to know who they are and the path they wish to follow. For no one is out there to stand in their way…goes the latest mantra.
Sorry but no. It is not toxic to have a plan, to know who you want to be in your life and to act upon the path you have chosen. It is not privileged to expect to be able to enjoy the rights and freedoms that are afforded a person in the Constitution. This does not mean that there are not fights that need to be fought in this nation on behalf of marginalized persons, but why should anyone give up their rights for another? That is not how rights work. Rights are not a zero sum game. The idea is that all are entitled to the rights afforded in this nation and if these rights are not forthcoming, then we fight to make sure that the American ideal is allowed for all.
So if you are privileged enough that you don’t have to worry about a traffic stop, this does not mean you are a toxic individual and should never drive a car. Simply because you have access to better medical care than another person, does not mean you don’t go to the doctor when needed, it means you help others reach your level of medical expectancy. The “crime” of being a privileged toxic human being is not meant to lift anyone else up, it is meant to bring others down. It is the politics of jealousy, not the politics of equality. It is toxic to think what others create belong to you, and it is toxic to think that because of the color of your skin, you need to pay for the crimes of ancestors you never knew, just as much as because of the color of your skin you need to be afraid to wear a hoodie.
Now are there toxic persons and concepts in this world? Decidedly so. The idea that “boys will be boys,” is toxic, and the idea that race, or ethnic origin denotes a level of humanity is toxic. (There is also the toxic female, known as the “mean girl,” who, by the way, grow up to be horrible, malicious, and vapid women. ) But these long held repugnant notions need to be argued, discussed and refuted. Not simply called a name. To put an end to a harmful ideology means you need to argue it out of existence, not bully it out of existence by name calling. Bullying those with whom you disagree only leads to the promotion of the toxic nature of our society. Everyone decries the loss of civility, yet the irony is that, in decrying the lack of comportment, so many simply add to the toxic nature of our modern discourse.
Unfortunately, truthfully, there have been times that you cannot argue with an idea, and that is when toxic ideologies lead to war. And mind you, war is sometimes the only option to ending fascist and tyrannical political notions. And quite frankly at this time, you want that adult male at your side. We may not like that reality. Democracies have a hard time accepting that war is the only option at times. But sadly as human history teaches, you have no choice but to go to war if you want to actually understand what it is to remain free.
The problem, as I see it, is that anything you individually disagree with can be called toxic. It doesn’t make it so. When my sons were in high school, my husband told me to stop babying them. That one day they are going to be men and they need to know how to stand on their own two feet. Funny thing was that a friend told me her husband said the same thing to her about their son. Our men are not toxic. Are men are realistic about the world in which we live and they wanted their male children to be ready to grab the brass ring. And whether we like the truth or not, they want their sons to be able to afford their future wives, the choice of staying home and raising their children if that is what she wants to do with her life as well. And whether people want to admit it or not, most women, if afforded the chance, would stay home and raise their children at least for a little while.
I am sorry, but there is something to be said for the man who works to procure a better life for his family and a man who fights to protect the freedoms we hold dear. There is something to be said for the man who pays his bills, honors his parents and wife, and protects the weak. There is something to be said for the man who stands up to be counted on to do what is right and understand how to fight societies wrongs. There is something to be said for the man who puts themselves in harms way so others can live whether they form a line to stop a shooter, or run up stairs in a burning, crumbling tower. None of this by the way, denotes that a man does not believe that women are equals and that women are inferior in any way. This is the problem, ascribing negative motives to those who simply choose to adult.
So if you ask me what is toxic about masculinity, real masculinity, nothing. That is the point. Men who act as bullies, see others as sexual conquests, promote a racist or misogynist agenda are not acting as men, or being masculine. We should call this psychological phenomena what it is, inadequate toxic personality. Leave the masculine part out. Period.