Toxic Masculinity

There's  a template for masculinity that I like. There are a few of them, in  fact -- there's a meme floating around that shows Steve Rodgers,  T'Challa, and Mister Rodgers as examples. It's a good meme, because one  of things it does not say is that violence is never the answer. 

Sometimes, unfortunately, violence is the answer. I was in a lot of fights when I was a kid. I mean, a bunch. Lost most of  the first 15 or so, won most of the last 15 or so. And the thing about  my willingness to fight at any moment for almost any reason was that my  life got better when I adopted that attitude. I was a bullied child,  like most of you, like most of the people who end up in martial arts of  one description or another. I took books to school, to work, and sat  there reading when other people were playing and socializing. And I got  my ass kicked a lot. 

... and then I grew six inches between fourteen and seventeen, and took up boxing.

Some of you lived in places as bad as the place I grew up in, and will  understand this. (Some of you grew up in worse places.) Pomona was  civilized, more or less. There weren't warlords rampaging across the  place and kidnapping children for their armies; I met a man once who'd  escaped that. My life doesn't compare. But we were the per capita murder  capital of the U.S. one year, per capita arson capital another. The  murder rate was upward of 40/100K/year, and among young men, somewhere  around 200/100K/year -- one guy in 500 being killed every year. And I  was homeless there, twice. I don't know what our murder rate was -- one  in a hundred per year? One in fifty? But bloody high.

So I  fought. Not happily, not without a certain amount of fear every single  time, but with less fear than I'd had before. I wasn't an idiot. I  didn't embrace attitudes and behaviors that made things worse for me:  they made things so much better I was almost happy for the first time  since early childhood.

That's some powerful reinforcement.

In my late 20s I stopped fighting. (Lot of things changed in my life,  in my late 20s.) I'd hit a point where I didn't have anything to prove  to anyone any more. And I looked scary -- about the time I started  shaving my head, 200 pounds of basketball playing reasonable good  health.  I looked like way more work than it was going to be worth.  Young men stopped challenging me and other men my age were slowing down  at the same time, undergoing the same reevaluation -- "Hey, I don't heal  like I used to." 

This is the part most women (and men from  safer backgrounds) really don't understand. The conviction that men like  the man I used to be are simply immoral predators -- yeah, some of us  were, and are today. But for the majority, I'd say, it's merely a matter  of doing what produces the best result. If that looks horrifying from  the outside, well, you weren't there. But those men aren't going away,  until the circumstances that produced them go away. 

I haven't  even seen the Gillette ad, and probably won't. It sounds like a good  piece of work. But I get why some people feel threatened by it. "I'm  supposed to behave differently? Behaving the way I do made my life a lot  better, lowered the amount of shit I had to deal with." That's wholly  sane, frankly. 

What's not is the next step -- to behave toward  the innocent and weak the way you've learned to behave toward the other  predators around you. Learning to be hard is often valuable; losing the  ability to be soft is a common side effect, but it doesn't have to  happen. When I hear the phrase "toxic masculinity," that's what I hear:  men who've lost the ability to be soft.

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