Jennifer Richmond, I agree with a lot that you’ve said. However, toxic masculinity is not the same thing as healthy masculinity. I don’t think anyone (not any mainstream voice) is actually attacking healthy masculinity, but our current dominance hierarchy social system (patriarchy — which is much more the issue than what economic system, I believe) is based on rewarding the most ruthless. One must climb the rungs by stepping on others to get higher up the pyramid. Our culture is steeped in glorifying violence as being manly and the appropriate way to solve problems. The recent ad was making that exact distinction — and part of the pushback is because we’ve so internalized that violence is necessary in order to be manly that many can’t see criticizing that as valid.
“Can you in your wildest and most fevered dreams even imagine the reaction to an ad that spoke about women in these terms?” Nearly every single ad ever made that is targeted towards women tells them how they are lacking and how they can be better — better wives, better mothers, better sex kittens, if they will only buy this product. At least the Gillette ad didn’t say you had to buy their product in order to be a good man; you merely had to continue standing up for what is right.
This is the voice-over text of the ad: “Bullying, the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, toxic masculinity. Is this the best a man can get? — Is it? We can’t hide from it, it’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off. Making the same old excuses — boys will be boys. But something finally changed. And there will be no going back because we — we believe in the best in men. “Men need to hold other men accountable. To say the right thing, to act the right way. Some already are, but some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be men of tomorrow.
It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.”
There is absolutely nothing in there that is disparaging of men or masculinity — unless you consider bullying and harassment as the inevitable byproducts of being sufficiently manly. This is the real issue — the man box, where a narrow definition of what is considered masculine is the only one that is considered correct. Any deviation from that and you will be shamed, bullied, beaten up, called a fag or a girl….. etc., etc. This is what is contributing to the high rate of suicide for men, along with the emotional isolation that is demanded of “real men.” There’s nothing wrong with being a traditionally masculine man, if that’s who you really are, but millions of men don’t fit into that box and they suffer for it. And when traits like assertiveness actually morph into aggressiveness, that’s no good either.
White men make up about 30% of the population and hold about 80% of the power as far as business and government, to say nothing of religion. To point to the fact that they hold a disproportionate amount of power and are at the top of the pyramid in the hierarchy that is causing so much pain and dysfunction for us all, including them, is hardly emasculating or blaming. It’s talking about the make-up of the dysfunctional power base. You cannot look at societal issues through the lens of personal identity, which is what most Westerners try to do.
Every single person in this country (and probably the world) cares first and foremost about the issues that affect them directly and they band together with others who have similar concerns to try to affect change which they deem as helpful to them. There is no appreciable difference between a lobbyist for a Fortune 500 company and say, NOW or the NAACP. The whole term “identity politics” is specious because there is no other kind.