In celebration of the decreasingly credible APA's claim that "traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful", we've decided to take an uncharacteristic approach on a topic that's approaching political. We read this compliments of Greg Ellifritz's (Active Response Training) Facebook page, where there was a lively discussion. Typically, we avoid politics as if it were a glowing green barrel of radioactive waste, but our business is centered around cultivating 'toxic masculinity' by the APA's definition, so we're weighing in.
Let's talk about "toxic" for a second; what does that even mean?
The description from the APA makes it sound like men are self-isolating because of social pressures. They say the following:
“Because of the way many men have been brought up—to be self-sufficient and able to take care of themselves—any sense that things aren’t OK needs to be kept secret,” Rabinowitz says. “Part of what happens is men who keep things to themselves look outward and see that no one else is sharing any of the conflicts that they feel inside. That makes them feel isolated. They think they’re alone. They think they’re weak. They think they’re not OK. They don’t realize that other men are also harboring private thoughts and private emotions and private conflicts.”
The truth is that any semblance of a male-organized structure that provides fulfillment have been utterly dismantled and tossed in the dust bin.
Men who used to get together with their close friends and spend time hunting for food that fed their families is over. The days where men built their homes is over. The days in which men led and influenced their families development based on the legacy of their forefathers is over.
It's been replaced with high-rise offices filled with sociopaths and neurotic behavior, factory farms, and television normalizing the most outlandish behavior.
Society has systematically destroyed our value system, our identity, our culture, and replaced living with existence. When we try and vent those grievances through athletic competition, self betterment, martial disciplines like shooting or fighting, we're toxic, not society.
Here's a counter argument: The neoliberal apparatus and its gilded cage are what's toxic. That's what is stealing the soul of men - and women - in our society. Violence, competition, and stoicism are components of nature. Tribal identity is a tool of nature.
So, we could claim with equal credibility that removing our identity and connection to nature from our hands and giving us a 'one-size-fits-all' solution to life is toxic.
Academia has now slapped the face of our fathers with their velvet glove and called them 'backwards'.
No One Cares
Here's some real talk - no one cares about your emotions. They might pretend like they do, but unless that person is a close friend, they simply don't. So why should we be walking around, hearts bared for all to see? Why should we exaggerate and parade weakness? Should we replace friendship with a psychologist who - for a price - can give us that fellowship we require?
Emotional struggles are an exercise in resilience.
When you feel weak and you overcome it through self direction, motivation, and picking an obstacle in your path and saying to yourself "I'm going to overcome and wreck that thing", it feels good. It isn't the soppy, false embrace of psychological comfort we get from the faux-feeling debutante with a PhD in Psychology getting paid to smile and nod as we grab for a tissue in a dimly lit office.
Challenge and triumph speak to us on a basic level. They form a chemical cocktail that's been at work in the minds of men for generations uncountable. One that rewards us for saying "This thing is trying to stop me and it goddamned well CAN'T."
Part of accepting those challenges is not saying what you'll do, it's simply doing it. That's stoicism. That's the mantra we live by.
It's not toxic.
It's empowering to not drive your emotional self based on whim and feeling. It's higher order thought, a commitment to strengthening ones' self to the greatest degree possible and *then* facing the challenges. It's also not easy, and if you're looking for easy, all we can say is that just isn't the normal order of things.
Nor does it make us stronger.
John Henryism in the Black Community
The APA goes on to say:
For example, the masculine requirement to remain stoic and provide for loved ones can interact with systemic racism and lead to so-called John Henryism for African-American men, a high-effort method of coping that involves striving hard in the face of prolonged stress and discrimination. John Henryism has been linked with hypertension and depression
Look, I'm not African American, and I can't speak for the African American man... but what I can say is that from my perspective, the war on drugs and it's preferential targeting of impoverished black communities that causes depression and prolonged stress. Want to talk about toxic masculinity and its stresses? Throw a man in prison for a bag of weed and let him fight it out for 3 years among the sociopaths. Then, send him back to that poor community knowing a thing or two about moving crack, assign him a parole officer who tells him he should get a zero-mobility job for $7 an hour when he could make a few grand a week slinging.
While we're at it, let's slam him and his sons with cultural messages that selling drugs is the fast track to notoriety. That the rewards are women and money. That when you smoke a competitor, your status goes up - which it does.
You really want to blame the ethos that a man should square up and take care of his family without complaining?
How about we start with petty crime laws that preferential abuse poor communities.
The Real Beauty
By now, you've probably got your fist in the air regardless which side you're on, so let's cap this off by saying:
These psychologists have probably never had a meaningful friendship or relationship in their entire lives.
We don't need millions of dollars in research money to explain why military veterans are more prone to suicide. Here it is:
We've been in a situation where we were at our strongest, with others who were at their strongest, and we faced challenges together. When we couldn't overcome them as individuals, we overcame them as a team. We mourned the death of people we loved, we fought against other, inferior tribes driven by hate, and we began to be real for the first time in our lives.
Then it all evaporates. The bonds of brotherhood and the purpose driven life falls apart like broken glass when you return home and are expected to sell insurance or mobile phones or some stupid shit that no one honestly needs.
Why not the guys before us? Why not the Korean War vets or the WWII guys?
Because their lives still had purpose. No one was telling them that the things they did were toxic.
Notice when that shifted, during Viet Nam, we started seeing a trend towards self destructive behavior?
What we have in these psychological studies is a bunch of virgins talking about sex.
Here's an idea - let's stop with the disney fantasy nonsense where bears and squirrels go on frolic adventures together. Let's step back and say "no, nature F***ing hates you, and it's job is to kill you."
Let's acknowledge that just because we've managed a society that's posh enough that we don't need continual violence, that it doesn't mean we will never again NEED violence, or violent men.
We can turn a blind eye to history right now from the comfort of our living rooms and conditioned air while a fridge full of vegan options awaits our selection, but THAT IS NOT NORMAL.
That, to us, is toxic. It's arrogant, apathetic, and unnatural to think that your lifestyle accommodation is more important than natural order.
"Natural" is struggle. Normal is a fight to survive. Normal is shutting up, doing what needs to be done, and not concerning yourself overmuch with feelings.
Masculinity isn't toxic. It's vital.
If it's not good, it's not masculine
-Steven Dana, 'Protection from Abuse'
When we think of femininity, we typically think of caring, nurturing, and fairness. Women are naturally predisposed to these qualities, and they're truly wonderful.
We don't insist that femininity is really about gossip, backbiting, or catty behavior, because we typically understand that those are juvenile characteristics that a good woman grows out of.
Masculinity is about hard work, self-discipline, protection, and providence.
When you see some idiot with a straight-pipe Dodge Ram blowing black smoke through a residential area while flooring it as kids watch from the sidewalk, that's not toxic masculinity. It's the absence of it.
When a man hits a woman, degrades her, or doesn't stand up to hold his end of a family's responsibility, this isn't a man, but a grown child, lacking all the qualities of a man.
When a man sees his close friends suffering and doesn't reach out to them, that's not a failing of 'classic masculinity', it's the distance and lack of social responsibility bred into the last few generations of American men. A man can expect other men to pull themselves together and still be supportive... just don't expect us to rely solely on feminine characteristics to hold our friends up.
Masculinity is the complimentary other half to femininity. It's a vital force within a family and community that requires maturation, mentorship, and seasoning.
One of our charter goals is to bring it back to the forefront as something to harness and use to overcome difficulty, to protect our family and community with, and to be proud of.
Don't think we're the weird ones for thinking that we shouldn't have to cry on a Psychologist's sofa over every little trauma.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
Throughout this article, I've shared some pictures. The men in them were toxic men. They were aggressive, competitive, stoic, tough, and emotionally isolated.
They're also now memories and live only in the hearts of those who knew them best.
I share this because they were some of my closest friends and among the toughest men I ever knew.
While they weren't ever afraid to show emotion, they withheld it to the point that it *meant something* when it was shown.
When they did choose to show emotion, it was never seen as weakness. It was like water in the desert.
They raised me, and in the time I spent with them, I never got a compliment. I was never told what a good kid I was or propped up as anything other than just another guy. Often as not, they were either cold or downright harsh.
But it never mean. It was no meaner than the hammer when it comes down on rough iron.
They knew what the men before them knew. Boys must be forged. Not plucked out of the ground as ore and set upon a pedestal. We're ordinary, no matter who thinks otherwise, it's what we do and who we become that makes us worth knowing.
They taught me with a firm, even disposition that I never mistook for cruelty. Every mistake they corrected in me came from a genuine care for who they wanted me to become.
It wasn't until they were on their deathbeds that they expressed any sort of pride in me, but that didn't matter. You see, I didn't have issues waiting for some expert to diagnose. There wasn't some problem with my self esteem because let me let you in on a secret:
Self esteem doesn't mean anything.
What does mean something?
The esteem of those you hold in high regard. Their trust has to be earned, worked for, cultivated, and when tended long enough, in their final moments when they give you that look knowing it's the last time they'll see you, you'll see the pride in their eyes.
The satisfaction that they did their work, and you're carrying the fire.
No amount of self-love can ever replace that. No amount of emotional gushing will ever equal the feeling of saying to yourself:
"OK. It's just me now. What would they have done?"
They knew what all men knew. Life is injurious. So, is it us who are toxic for believing that a man should grin and bear his scars and know, as Hemingway said and knew, that we are "Stronger in the broken places", or is it our society that's gone awry?
In health; mental, spiritual, and physical,
In Loving memory of Herman Schroeder, Charles E. Schoeder, and Joseph Young. Until I pass the torch you gave me.