On college campuses across the globe, young men are treated to lectures, workshops, and extracurricular activities that teach them their masculinity — an element at the very core of their identity — is dangerous, poisonous, and even toxic.
Every week, another news article is published highlighting this fact. A few examples are particularly insightful. This semester, an incoming freshman and his peers at Gettysburg College were ordered to watch a film on toxic masculinity during student orientation.
And at both Duke University and the University of North Carolina, seminars are now offered for men to deprogram themselves of their so-called “toxic masculinity.”
For every article published highlighting a case of students being taught this ideology, there are dozens of other instances that aren’t covered by the news.
As a college student myself, I find this emerging paradigm not just unhelpful, but terrifically harmful for both the young men and women exposed to this ideology.
Unlike other terms in the feminist canon, “toxic masculinity” was never formally defined in scholarly literature. And this is confirmed by a number of Women’s Studies professors I’ve spoken with.
Instead, it’s more of a grassroots term that has been used since the 1980s and 1990s. The term may have first been popularized by early forms of the men’s advocacy movements. (Not feminist movements, as one might expect.)
For example, one book that seeks to raise awareness of issues that men face, titled “Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity” (1994), highlighted one of the earliest examples of toxic masculinity in the literature.
“Without a “father in residence,” [men] may go through life striving towards an ideal of exaggerated, even toxic, masculinity” the author of the book, Frank Pittman, said on the topic of young men without fathers.
But while the term seems to be first popularized by grassroots writers, particularly by men seeking to raise awareness of male-specific issues, the term has recently been co-opted by the feminist establishment as a way to scapegoat, blame, and denigrate men as a whole.
In the college classroom, toxic masculinity is presented to students as a reality that affects all men, and is harmful to all women.
Most often, this is in Women’s Studies or Sociology classes, and it reflects the broader patriarchal framework of viewing men as dangerous and women as helpless victims.
When this is taught, no counter arguments are given, and there’s never any mention that this is actually a theory about the manifestations of masculinity as opposed to truth.
Or, at least, that’s how it’s been presented to me in my own classes; other students I’ve talked from American Universities agree.
Teaching men that the core of their identity is somehow rotten isn’t productive. Many men have written to me saying that the term makes them angry, or confused, as many feel it lumps all men in with the rotten apples.
Furthermore, use of the term is likely to make gender-relations worse. One man I know described teaching toxic masculinity as “the mental castration of men” and suggested it was seeking to create a class of “males submissive to Marxist-feminist doctrine.” Another suggested it was “women’s way of stereotyping men” and that he felt “resentful of being viewed in that way.”
Not only does teaching this hurt men, but it hurts women too.
Many feminists enjoy the “toxic masculinity” framework, because it allows them to contextualize all of the bad experiences they’ve had with men under a broad umbrella.
For women, lamenting toxic masculinity is the best way to blame men as a class without directly pointing the finger.
But when women can blame all men for the bad deeds of another, it reinforces the oppressor-victim paradigm that helps to make women feel oppressed in the first place.
And if masculinity is really toxic, then what’s the remedy? “This PC gender politics thing — the way gender is being taught in the universities — in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness” said Camille Paglia in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Indeed, this does seem like the neutralization of maleness, as Paglia claims. Or at the very least, a way to undercut what makes men essentially men.
The feminist bureaucrats and apparatchiks lurking in the halls of the Ivory Tower may have good intentions, but good intentions don’t always translate to good policy, practice, and outcomes. Teaching men that the core of their identity is poisonous is a perverse and cruel way for feminists to try and settle the playing field.
Toni Airaksinen is a Junior at Barnard College in Manhattan. She is a reporter for Campus Reform and The College Fix and a former columnist for The Columbia Spectator. She Tweets @Toni_Airaksinen