Saturday 20 July 2019

Celia Walden: 'Enough man-bashing - traditional masculinity is not toxic'

'If modern men start emoting any more, I'm the one who's going to need a good long cry.' Stock image
'If modern men start emoting any more, I'm the one who's going to need a good long cry.' Stock image

Celia Walden

Men and women of the world beware: toxic masculinity is everywhere. And according to the world's leading psychology group, it needs to be stamped out.

Sensing, perhaps, a certain confusion from men and boys over what is expected of them in today's pick'n'mix gender culture, the American Psychological Association (APA), regarded as a global-leading authority on such matters, has released its first set of official guidelines.

It's a 'how to be your best self', if you like, for poor congenitally defective men. Because while girls and women presumably don't need guidelines (our sex being impossible to improve upon), every traditional male trait detailed in the study - from "stoicism" and "competitiveness" to "dominance" and "aggression" - has been deemed "harmful" to either or both sexes, and liable to prompt everything from violence and depression to suicidal tendencies if not quashed early in life.

Which makes one wonder whether "toxic masculinity" should now be dismissed as a tautology - given masculinity itself is considered toxic, evil, wrong.

Let's put aside for a moment the fact that in the current climate this 'kill the alpha male' battle cry is as baffling as saying "we must do something about those rainbow-winged alicorns snarling up the streets". I mean, where are all these alpha males? Because last I checked, the western world was filled with she-men in stretch jeans and BabyBjorn Velcro-on wombs discussing the relative merits of Ketogenic diets and facial contouring.

But, for argument's sake, let's pretend this imaginary plague of prehistoric dino-dudes wasn't all but made extinct after #MeToo, and that instead of the fragile, work-shy, undersexed and hyper-medicated millennials that replaced them, the world is still generally populated by stoic, aggressive, domineering men who grab bums, crack lewd jokes and never, ever allow women to be promoted above their stations - certainly not to positions of power like, oh I don't know, prime minister, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, head of the IMF, director of the Tate or chief executive of ITV.

Are men indeed victims, as the APA's study suggests, of the "traditional masculine ideologies" they were forced to conform to as boys? Would everyone be better off, as the study says, if boys and men just allowed themselves a good, long cry?

If modern men start emoting any more, I'm the one who's going to need a good long cry. But first I'm going to say "no" - in an unnecessarily aggressive male tone. Not "maybe if the differences between the sexes were blurred it would make for a more civilised society", not "it's true traditional male roles can be rigid and restrictive", and not "perhaps men would benefit from taking on a few female traits".

Because we've got some pretty undesirable ones ourselves, remember? Bitchiness, small-mindedness and vanity aren't massively impressive characteristics - and, by the way, the whole 'multi-tasking' thing is a myth, which is why your wife leaves the keys in the front door twice a month. "No" to either sex being better than the other; "no" to them being interchangeable; "no" to them ever being "equal", as in, the same.

Traditional masculinity isn't toxic. Yes, there may be noxious "learned" male behaviours passed down, but these are specific pathologies - not man in general. Far from being damaging (and in the right context and amounts), the traits of traditional masculinity - stoicism, aggression, assertiveness, strength and dominance - are laudable and needed by society to keep it healthy and functioning. They are also wanted and needed in men by women and children. Because those characteristics are what make women feel secure, protected and feminine around men.

Most of us are tired of the men-bashing. And I hope most of us will soon be done with the pious activism sneaking its way into everything from red carpets and films to supposedly objective scientific reports, too. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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