CW: This post contains references to sexual harassment. This isn’t for kids or prudes. (So what’s that make me…?) If you can’t handle unpopular opinions or those counter to your own, this probably isn’t for you either.
So now that the world knows what Hollywood and the political elite have been trying to keep a secret for so long: many men in these fields have used / are using their celebrity positions to take advantage of those they perceive to be vulnerable, whether it’s beautiful actors and models, or minors. Particularly in the case of males in power sexually harassing females, many of my fellow feminists are quick to point fingers at a thing called “toxic masculinity.”
I believe it is our civic duty to support the people who come forward with compelling claims against those who have abused their power and caused harm, whether it’s the alleged* victims of Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and their ilk; or the minors who were sadly allegedly preyed upon by Roy Moore and Kevin Spacey.** But I assert claiming that it’s because of “toxic masculinity” means we are internalizing and realizing the misogynistic reality bad people want us to live in. I think it’s just as bad as, in fact synonymous with, having our concerns brushed aside as “boys will be boys.”
As a woman, I don’t feel like I am inherently vulnerable to harassment, though I am aware that other women and men of the world may perceive me as vulnerable, and the latter may thus attempt to harass women based on that perception. While I remain cautious, vulnerability is simply not a trait I choose to associate with femininity. Vulnerability to my male counterparts (or any individuals who are sexually attracted to females), just like internalized submissiveness to my male counterparts, is a toxic trait. The association of these traits with femininity results in … toxic femininity. To redefine femininity as mimicry of all the most toxic traits associated with masculinity makes for toxic femininity too.
Likewise, I believe that masculinity, in of itself, is not inherently toxic. It’s the traits that society chooses to associate with it that make it toxic.
Emotional suppression is a traditionally masculine trait that is toxic. Women are deemed “over-emotional” by an opposite gender that is raised to believe that it’s not manly to cry or express their emotions to the degree that we do. When men in this day and age do break down and cry (or get angry), it’s because they can’t take the pressure any longer. For the record, I am certainly not justifying the indiscretions of the aforementioned high-profile perverts as the result of emotional suppression. Their behavior, I believe, is more consistent with toxic traits if humanity: greed and abuse of powers, and I’ll digress briefly on that.
Dialing it back several notches, some people should never have become school teachers. They’re supposed to be there to nurture the young and caringly instill within them the knowledge they need to contribute to society. But some people are teachers because it’s a power trip being able to domineer over helpless children where they’d otherwise have no more power than most working adults; just like some people are bullies because it’s a power trip to make up for being treated like dirt by other bullies. I can count on one hand how many teachers I had who weren’t in it for a power trip, most of them female. Perhaps the kind of abuse of power varies from circumstance to circumstance, but it’s a toxic trait I’ve seen manifest among all the genders, because it’s not limited to gender. (I am certainly not trying to equate egomaniac lady schoolteachers with sexual predators in Hollywood and politics, for the record!)
The sexual harassment of women (and men and young boys) we’re hearing about occurs in part because people in power abuse their position to the detriment of those they perceive to be vulnerable. They see women and children as vulnerable, and women and children are raised to see themselves as vulnerable. I’m certainly not saying we should blame women for internalizing a vulnerable perception of themselves – I’m saying the problem is much broader than “all men are evil, lustful misogynistic pigs.”***
I believe the root solution to one of the root problems is to redefine our society’s gender roles, purging them of toxic traits, so that we can reclaim tomorrow from the perverts who have subtly preyed upon our values and aspirations to twist them into a sick, self-serving present.
*I say “alleged” because in many of these cases, allegations are all we know; but I am inclined to presume all of these perpetrators guilty until proven innocent. (…Or until they admit their guilt, as Charlie Rose has recently done.)
**I call on my friends in the LGBTQ+ community to reject Kevin Spacey’s request for asylum. Regardless of his sexual orientation, Spacey is a pedophile, someone guilty of acts against minors that we can surely agree are rightfully criminal. He does not and should not represent you in any way.
***Why do I feel I must clarify what I’m not saying every time I say something admittedly controversial? Call it insurance against having my words twisted, as useless as it may be.