It’s often difficult for media members to resist latching onto ambiguous buzzwords, especially when they suit the context of a major news story. So when Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing suddenly became a debate over the reporting of sexual assault, female-male power dynamics and excessive alcohol consumption, broader concepts entered the spotlight. One of these concepts was “toxic masculinity,” a term familiar in discussions related to campus culture. Throughout the process of the Kavanaugh hearing and the events surrounding it, the phrase was tossed around by celebrities, media pundits and politicians.
But while numerous well-known figures seemed to speak of toxic masculinity in theoretical terms, many Case Western Reserve University students had no trouble recognizing it as reality.
Much of Kavanaugh’s highlighted illicit acts are not unfamiliar to students of this campus. On most Friday nights you can run across binge-drinking and backhanded derogatory comments toward women. But one of the most telling features of the Kavanaugh incident can be found in his outrage following Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Sure, it can superficially appear as a passionate defense of his character as a judge and family man. If you look deeper, however, you can find the hostile reaction associated with a challenge to an identity borne from toxic masculinity.
Your identity begins to change the moment you arrive on campus, regardless of your sex or gender identity. For men though, one of the common pressures that they first encounter venture into the realm of toxicity. These are often subtle and on most occasions you will not even realize they are in any way problematic.
One of the most frequently cited examples can be found in the popularity of the phrase “no homo,” an interjection that men will employ when what they’ve said could be even remotely interpreted as gay. Aside from its homophobic undertones, it also sets the dangerous precedent that expressions of affection are reserved for romantic relationships. It’s for this reason that men may struggle to find emotional support during times of distress, contributing to a suicide rate that has risen year after year.
This in turn demonstrates why the skepticism of toxic masculinity is so backward. Male media figures and political analysts have written endless numbers of op-eds contradicting the concept, claiming it as another route for feminists to deride men. What they fail to understand is that criticisms of toxic masculinity are not jabs at “masculine” actions or ideals. The products of a toxic system disadvantage everyone and directly contribute to many of the supposed counterexamples against modern feminist movements.
One such claim from detractors is that sexual assault against males remains both underreported and undercovered. But nobody has ever denied that these cases occur or that they are important. The pattern of underreporting comes from a sexual assault norm born from an unjust patriarchal society; it’s better to keep quiet than have to face both the reality of your situation and predicted doubts from others.
Referring back to our previous point regarding male relationships, it’s rare that men will even have anyone to go to in these sorts of cases. If you can barely express your fondness for friends without deviating from a masculine identity, then how are you going to describe something you once thought could only happen to women?
It’s a vicious cycle, and it is only augmented by the other behaviors associated with it. In the Kavanaugh case, his supporters pointed to his heavy drinking as a college norm. Yet those who knew him also described cases where he blacked out or attempted to drink obscene numbers of kegs over the course of a year. How much of this can we truly consider part of the campus culture before we attribute it to other aforementioned pressures? Even if it is a combination of the two, the end result is a latent alcoholism that only feeds the recursiveness of toxic masculinity.
So if you have doubts that it inhabits your own life, take some time to re-evaluate. While much of what’s been brought up pertains to social life, it can pervade academic or professional life in forms such as “mansplaining” and the hostility faced by female engineers—something which we’ve previously covered at length.
Regardless of where or in what form you see toxic masculinity on campus, replace passiveness with action to help the CWRU community overcome an unsustainable cycle.