Is All Masculinity Toxic? Introducing Neo-Feminism
by Shelley Pineo-Jensen, Ph.D.
Is All Masculinity Toxic? Introducing Neo-Feminism by Shelley Pineo-Jensen, Ph.D. Two Paths American culture can be described as a patriarchy in which hegemonic masculinity is the key source of influence, money, and status. This construct is powered by a gender binary, the idea that masculinity and femininity are natural, god-given, or evolutionarily explained phenomena. Under this schema, it is natural that women would be denied autonomy over their bodies, and other basic human rights, because they are naturally weaker than and submissive to men. While the anatomies of males and females are biological realities in which women can bear children while men cannot; gender is merely a construct. The gender binary is not supported by evidence, it is maintained by a belief system that is taught to human beings from birth. Human attributes that are distributed randomly among all humans are divided into two sets, masculine and feminine. A short list of the human traits sorted into the gender binary are: masculine/feminine, strong/weak, leader/follower, active/passive, and dominant/submissive. Feminism seeks to redress the grievances of a class of human beings who have been systematically denied agency over their own bodies and legal rights such as voting and owning property. A new wave of “neo-feminism” must include the damage that is done to males when they are schooled in masculine behavior from birth and denied access to basic human feelings.
Gender is a Construct In a winners and losers culture, we dislike losers, who deserve their denigration, but we often dislike winners as well. And more often than not, so called winners cheat or ply unearned privilege to get ahead at the expense of others. In the economic aspect of masculinity/winners and losers, a key goal is domination of resources. Finding, controlling, exploiting, and profiting from resources that belong to all the people of the world is an essential task for the upwardly mobile masculinized human being. To do less would be to join the ranks of the abject, to be a “pussy.” And there is no more powerful denigrating term for a man than to be called womanly, generally utilizing a term of woman’s sexual parts or activities. What could be more disgusting, right? All masculinity is toxic. It poisons the child, from birth, to be less of a human being. It is founded on a distribution of power that rewards males by stealing from females (money, property, legal rights, bodily agency) but ironically, most males do not really benefit from the power distribution system as much as they might think. The real winners of the gender farce are a very small number of individuals who control most of the world’s resources, glibly and selfishly destroying the planet to further their giddy assault on the natural world for simple greed and their manifest destiny to die with the most toys. For a better understanding of the complex nature of masculinity, see R. W. Connell’s book, Masculinities (2005). Steps in a Logic Chain Orientalism All masculinity is toxic? That seems like a bold claim. How can this be true? Hold onto your hats and follow the logic chain . . . It all begins with Edward Said, who, in his 1977 book Orientalism, utilized the concept of the binary to explain otherising of Arabs. His work identified the construction by colonialists of the middle eastern man as “aberrant” as compared to “normal.” While the white Christian colonial is “rational, peaceful, liberal, logical, capable of holding real values, without natural suspicion,” a follower of Islam, the brown skinned Arab, is “none of these things.”
Gender is a Construct A binary examination of human traits positions the dominant class on one side and the “abject” on the other. Traits are sorted in a “natural” list that Judith Butler argues is anything but natural:
. . . Gender, as an objective natural thing, does not exist: "Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed". Gender, according to Butler, is by no means tied to material bodily facts but is solely and completely a social construction, a fiction, one that, therefore, is open to change and contestation: "Because there is neither an 'essence' that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis" Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Butler: On Gender and Sex." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 2015.
Doing Gender West and Zimmerman describe the performance of gender in their 1987 work “Doing Gender.” From this development of gender theory, the concept that “gender is a construct” is logical; the narrative commences at the birth of the individual and is reinforced consistently to produce beliefs that it is “natural.” (Examples: blue/pink, tough/princess, dirty/dainty). Girls are cuddled, girls are beautiful, girls must be protected, girls are going to be heartbreakers; boys are told that they are tough from the moment that tell-tale genital signal is observed (with “the glance”). We box with baby boys; we play more roughly with them than we do with human babies we identify as “girls.” Trucks are for boys; dolls are for girls. He’s all boy; she’s so cute.
These are not metaphorical descriptions – this is how gender is taught and enforced – from birth. I watched a small child reach into a craft sale display of children’s items and seize a sparkly bracelet. His mother literally shrieked as she grabbed it out of the child’s hand, “No that’s not for you! That’s for girls!” You can’t make this stuff up. Boys don’t have much of a chance from this ritualistic hazing and the policing really kicks in when children enter school.
Football – A Masculine Project Masculinity is predicated on winners and losers. It is inculcated into our (American) culture through many methods, but one obvious carrier is sports activities. Some are benign, but football is a sport of violent confrontation, wherein the participants frequently suffer TBI, traumatic brain injury; the damage to these players, frequently men of color, cause mental illness, violence to family, and early death. In sports, children are told to “play hurt” and “take one for the team,” a narrative that reinforces the idea that one must accept painful violation of one’s body to serve the greater good of . . . winning a sports competition.
One of the purported benefits of participating in sports is learning to work as a team but a careful examination of this claim reveals a different reality. For much of the recent history of football, what went uncontested was the role of skin color (racism) in determining not only how much money a player earned but also how injured he was likely to be.
Drawing on a 2008 article by Zeke Fuhrman, “A History of African American Athletes”, systemic racism in equality of opportunity, pay, and vulnerability to debilitating injury is demonstrated. From its invention in 1869, football was a white sport. This changed in the late 1940s and by the 1970s the majority of football players were African American. The pay and power differentials continued and continue to reflect the systemic racism of American culture; black players were discouraged from playing certain positions, especially quarterback. As recently as 2008, 28 of the 32 NFL teams were led by white quarterbacks and yet even here, the notion that a quarterback leads his team is suspect; the coach calls all the shots from the sidelines, and the coach is strictly controlled by the manager.
Black players did not advance into management positions until 1989 when there was finally one black head coach. In 1999 there was finally an all-black coaching staff and 2002 was the first time an African American became a general manager of an NFL team. The owners are all still white. Leadership and teamwork are suspect in this environment. Mostly what is happening is that rich white team owners are getting richer, and it is at the expense of the bottom level worker. It’s just like a coal mine in several aspects.
If teamwork means being exploited for profit while suffering debilitating brain damage, then football teaches teamwork. But the reality is that football and many other sports activities teach submission to an oppressive regime that chews up the participants and spits out the broken bits when the meat is gone from the bones. Football, a sport that millions of Americans consume with passion, teaches organized violence, cooperation with your own oppression and, in general, compliance with masculine hegemony.
Masculine Responsibility to Protect One of the intriguing aspects of masculinity is the claim that it is a masculine responsibility to protect. Protect what? A wife, children, the home, all property, a job, a way of life, the “life” of the unborn, freedom, the American way . . . the list expands into spirals of dogma. But protection is predicated on ownership. In some examples, the right of ownership is clear; one can reasonably be expected to protect one’s own car from theft and damage by miscreants.
But one cannot own a human being; a man does not own his wife, at least not legally in the United States. And yet men are brainwashed from birth to feel that they must be a provider, must protect their female companions as valuable property. This is a far cry from an equal partnership between to viable human beings and leads to oppression of the supposed loved one. Protecting his possessions is the rationale masculinized beings can use to justify all manner of maladaptive behavior. It objectifies the target, making the wife into a paper doll who cannot manage her own affairs. Protection is just another racket.
Waves of Feminism 1 It Is generally accepted that there are four waves of feminism, and some will argue for a fifth. The First Wave emerged at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention as a call for women’s rights, particularly the right to vote. It had some success; in 1920 the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granted women the right to vote.
2 The Second Wave genesis was Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique. In addition to agitation to free women from constricting social norms of wife, motherhood, and homemaker, women sought to end discrimination in employment, finances, and reproductive freedom. Some success was found in the passage of the 1963 Equal Pay Act and the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade which ensure women’s right to a safe legal abortion.
3 Third Wave Feminism built on the same themes of equal rights for women, including the right to freedom from sexual harassment. Third Wave feminists claimed the right to sexual freedom and other rights of individual expression. Intersectionality presented a more inclusive approach to the otherising of the patriarchy. Strong disagreement regarding the acceptance of transwomen into activist groups divided feminists.
4 Fourth Wave Feminism is not well defined and seems to describe a form of activism that depends on social media, as evidenced by the #MeToo movement and inspection of social and institutional structures that permit continuing sexual harassment of women. Transwomen are generally accepted as women, now able to represent and advance women’s rights.
5 Fifth Wave Feminism is not well accepted; it is more of a proposal. It is anticapitalistic in language and activism. A careful reading of Fifth Wave materials reveals anarchistic language, at least as represented by mary retta in an article “close but not quite: the fifth wave” to wit: “ . . . a deep distrust of the government: fifth wave feminists do not wish to participate in government as they do not believe any job, even one that is conceived as powerful or “empowering,” can bring about liberation, and further do not trust any politicians, including female ones, to bring about real change.”
Neo-Feminism To this timeline, neo-feminism should be added. This version of feminism accepts that the harm done to male human beings, by the devastating brainwashing of enforced masculinity, is not of their choosing. Men may have unearned privilege that disadvantages women, but it also is destructive to the men who bear its imprint.
Neo-feminism accepts that gender is a construct. To be a feminist is to agitate for equal treatment of women under the law but neo-feminism does more; it discards the concept of gender identity completely. “Perfume, and lipstick and frilly little lacy things,” as Pee Wee Herman so notably remarked, is not what makes a woman. When we finally discard the binary, we will be free to express any and all of the possible human traits and characteristics. Women will still be able to have babies while men will still not be able to carry a fetus to term, but women will control their bodies in the same way that men are permitted to control their bodies. No woman will be forced to remain pregnant. All humans will have agency.
CODA But let’s not get the cart before the horse. Unconstrained masculinity is destroying the biosphere of our home. Ultimately, masculinity is about chaos and waste. Masculinity is toxic and its time is up. The good news is that the antidote to this human genocide can be found in all the human traits that are assigned to females. We should embrace the human characteristics that are assigned to females such as communication, cooperation, collaboration, compassion, charity, sharing, and kindness. Nature may not have designed women to bring order to a chaotic universe, but we certainly have been taught from birth to embrace the traits that support this world view. In a just and equitable world, a world that does not sort human beings into two genders and distribute power according to these assignments, we will be free cherish our beautiful planet. Neo-feminism agitates for this result.