When the world seems completely doomed, coming across glimpses of light provides a sense of relief and hopefulness. This is exactly what it felt like when I came across Liz Plank’s book: For the Love of Men, A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity.
When considering the old fashion two-gender norm, we have seen traces of toxic patriarchy influence both parties. However, Liz Plank mentions, “I’ve long focused on the numerous consequences of the patriarchy for women because there’s no shortage of them.” And while there is no shortage of the conversations we have about the patriarchy harming women, we rarely discuss how it has affected the men from within.
For years, there have been countless hills women have encountered at the expense of the patriarchy. Even during some of the most insurmountable battles, women miraculously triumphed over them and continue to do so today. Women have shown a great deal of strength to fight off the relentless effects of the patriarchy by initiating conversations, movements, and reform.
In Plank’s words, “take a moment to put a gender lens on men … although the news often focuses on the threats of terrorism, natural disasters, and nuclear war, there is no greater threat to humankind than our current definitions of masculinity.” On the surface, masculinity may seem like a regular component found within men’s genetic foundation. The common knowledge we possess is that men produce more testosterone, thus being more masculine compared to their female counterparts. But how do we define masculinity beyond biology? An even greater question is how have we been enforcing it?
Today, masculinity reeks of ego, power struggles, and entitlement; or what Twitter refers to it as, “big dick energy”. These three traits collectively intertwine to fuel and promote global toxic masculinity. It is an unfortunate reality that starts at a young age. “It presents itself in subtle ways, such as the way we raise boys differently from girls. It starts when we equate emotion with weakness and direct boys to display strength no matter what.” Some ideologies we have imposed for boys to follow are to not cry, suppress feelings, and dominate. This becomes dangerous because, “… when half the population gets trained to block emotions, they lose the ability for compassion.” Not being allowed to have compassion narrows healthy emotional freedom, while at the same time giving no other choice than to behave aggressively thus; prompting multi-faceted violence. Our society has constructed this behavioral and performance manual for boys to follow well into manhood. We encourage it through many ways starting with the well known phrase “boys will be boys”.
We imply the acceptance of a boy’s aggressive behaviors by never checking them. We have accepted their behavior to be normal because we assume a male’s natural way of being rests on masculinity. We then turn a blind eye to the fact that men continue to have the unfortunate burden to prove their masculinity on a daily basis. And then, we act surprised when men go on mass shootings or create organized crime or partake in terrorist groups. Overall men have been deprived of emotional expression, constantly pressured into proving their masculinity, while at the same time surrounded by emasculating narratives. As Plank mentions, “when idealized masculinity scripts go unchallenged, emasculation doesn’t just become a tool of the state against foreign enemies, it can become a weapon the state uses against its own people.” The faulty definitions of masculinity have been the driving force to keep susceptible men in line with their aggressive behavior to permit violent actions, causing inevitable long term consequences.
Masculinity can exist but overlooking toxic masculinity cannot be allowed anymore. Toxic masculinity has become an insidious radical ideology that has claimed many men and counting. It is time for the world to take a good look at how dangerous toxic masculinity has become and accept that we can no longer allow it to continue. Plank states, “we do not know enough about what a world without toxic notions of masculinity could look like to be pessimistic about it.” We are fortunate enough to see changes in our world regarding gender identity go beyond the constricts of the binary norm. We have also seen women reshape the lifestyles they were once limited to, it is now time to welcome a new age for men as well.
The concept of behavior equaling gender identity has proven itself to be immensely harmful. It is a firm tactic that is structured and maintained by the same people who benefit from it. As mentioned by Plank, “the conversation we need to have about men is not distinct or separate from the one we’ve had and will continue to have about women. In fact the gendered expectations holding girls back are born out of the same system that creates limitations for boys.” We can no longer tolerate structured limits on each other through any means. We can start by having mindful conversations around these concepts, prioritize emotional intelligence, and promote the idea of a “good man” while abolishing the ideas of what it means to be a “real man”.
Planks’ book challenges the way we have been perceiving masculinity and how we can keep an open mind about the way it’s been dominating our world. Women have been amazing at fighting back the toxic masculinity found within the patriarchy because they were strong enough to highlight their pain. But have we ever thought to think how the patriarchy could be harmful to its own members? After all—hurt people, hurt people.
A huge thank you goes out to women, including Liz Plank, for their endless advocacy and humane efforts to encourage a better world to live in. However, it is important that we do not forget about our male counterparts. Let’s provide a helping hand through mindful conversations created in safe spaces for men to break away from societal constructs. It is a social responsibility we are very familiar with so its only fair we show them how its done!