Hello dudes! Picture this: you’re scrolling through twitter, minding your own business, liking tweets about your favorite sports team or music artist, maybe even a funny meme or an article, and there it is…a tweet asking women about their experiences with being harassed by men. You feel that little twinge in your chest, a clutch almost. Are they talking about you?! You could keep scrolling but you click on it and see the stories, so many stories being shared. You feel threatened. Small. Masculinity engage!
You need to let them know… it’s time for… NotAllMan!
Or maybe you go a different route. Maybe you want them to know that men feel this way too! Maybe you want to be What About Man. Stop right there! Take a deep breath.
Don’t be this guy.
I’m going to need you to trust that we’re on the same side. Imagine that you’re really against cancer, and you come across a thread of women sharing their experiences with breast cancer. You wouldn’t jump in and say “But what about prostate cancer?!” Right?
The cancer we’re talking about isn’t MEN. It’s toxic masculinity, and there’s a difference. So yes, you saw the word “men”. Maybe someone even said “men are trash” and it really hurt your feelings. That’s normal. But I promise you it wasn’t about you. We know it’s not all men. We know because we’ve heard it so many times. We’ve heard it so many times that #NotAllMen is a meme. We know #NotAllMen like we know white women love pumpkin spice. Sure, Not All White Women, but it’s a meme, so just breathe and let’s work it out.
Maybe you feel frozen by all the criticism of men. Maybe it makes you feel like you can’t do or say anything without someone popping out of a nearby trashcan to yell at you. That’s real. That’s hard.
That sucks, I hear you. I see you.
That’s what this post is for.
First we’re going to talk about toxic masculinity and why it hurts YOU, my dudes. Then we’re going to talk about what you can do or say to make things a little bit better, a little bit less toxic for everyone, you included.
Toxic masculinity is a lot of things, things that affect you on an individual level because they are prescribed to you by society. So in order to “fit in” you need to check off a certain number of the boxes. Toxic masculinity is things like being taught not to show vulnerability, or not to talk about your feelings. It’s things like being told that your value is how much you earn or how “alpha” you are. A lot of it is rooted in competition and winning. Winning, in a competitive environment, means someone else has to lose.
Toxic masculinity is all the things built around not wanting to lose and not wanting other people to win.
So please, please believe me when I say that feminists are not trying to win at the expense of men winning. You don’t have to lose in order for women to be equal. You may need to replace a few things, but I promise we’re not going to leave you empty handed. Imagine that you’re building something, hammering nails in with a hammer. And we’re trying to hand you a nail gun. Don’t freak out about not having the hammer anymore. Hell, you can keep it, maybe there’s some use for it. But the nail gun can help. You decide.
If you were to venture into some darker corners of the internet you’d see the really clear and disturbing narrative about male competition and what they are competing for. It’s not just “winning”-winning comes with resources. Those resources can be money, jobs, connections, self-worth, fame and yes… women. Maybe you don’t think of women that way, but I guarantee you a lot of men do.
A lot of toxic masculinity is built on gaining women.
So before we even get to the resources and how you’re affecting them with this competition, let’s check in with you. How does it feel to tie your self-worth to winning? I’m sure it feels good when you win. But isn’t it exhausting to maintain? Is there a time when you were not winning and felt worthless and just wanted to be seen because you’re human? That’s normal. You’re allowed to feel that. This competition thing starts really young, it’s normal if you haven’t fully recognized it yet. That’s why we have jokes about dick measuring, we see it everywhere. You’re in competition all the time. We’re exhausted for you. There’s an old communications theory called Genderlect theory by Deborah Tannen. It’s a little binary for my taste but I highly recommend it as an entry point to understanding the ways competition has been infused into masculinity culture.
Now, let’s get back to those resources… those women. And this is why I don’t like the whole “imagine if she was your mom/sister/daughter” thing – because it maintains that resource idea and doesn’t promote empathy.
Instead, I want you to imagine that she were you.
I want you to imagine that you grew up in a world where instead of being a player you were the ball. Imagine that you grew up knowing every single day that you could be threatened, and experiencing that threat almost daily. I want you to imagine that you grew up knowing that winning wasn’t for you, but also being told constantly that you just had to try harder. That you were seeing things. That even as you were being pushed around people were telling you you were imagining it. I want you to imagine that even though you know you’re human and you have agency, people treat you like a prize, and when you don’t behave that way they get violent, because you’re standing in the way of them winning. I want you to imagine what it feels like to be constantly at the mercy of toxic masculinity’s desires: domination, control, victory, obedience. And constantly under threat of its wrath if you don’t comply.
I know men get bullied. I know men experience physical violence. I’m not saying they don’t, I’m saying the thing that causes that is the same thing that causes women to be afraid, to be angry, to be silent or to be complicit.
So remember: it’s not about what if she was your sister or your daughter or your wife. It’s about what if she were you? This is the road to empathy.
Okay, now that we’ve got some high-falutin thinking stuff laid down, let’s talk about practical stuff.
What can you do to change toxic masculinity? Because it’s hurting you too.
1. Let’s do away with dude things and lady things. Let’s just let people like the things they like and let’s support them as long as they’re not hurting others, and especially if they’re going against the status quo.
- For example: got a bro who knows all the choreography to Single Ladies? That’s badass. You like getting manicures? Rock on. Let’s not define successful gender presentation by what we like or don’t like. Let’s just let people like things.
2. Let’s change the language around sexual intimacy. Let’s not have a leaderboard. Let’s not have conquests. Instead, let’s rate success of sexual encounters by how open, intimate, honest and caring we are.
- Instead of asking your buddy if he scored, why not ask him if he connected with her? Was there a spark? It’s cool if it was just a physical fire but did they stay up all night talking? Does he know about her family?
3. Let’s acknowledge and take responsibility for our own words, actions, beliefs, behaviors and values. Let’s admit when we are wrong and recognize that being right isn’t a competition.
- “I didn’t know about that.”
- “thank you for sharing your experience with me.”
- “I’m listening.”
- “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
- “If you don’t mind, I’d love to know more about this, where can I find more info?”
- “Seems I was wrong! Thank you.”
4. Let’s agree to listen to voices that are quiet and loud. Let’s agree that you don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room to be heard. You don’t need to win. Everyone is human and everyone deserves to be seen. This means making space, passing the mic, and listening.
- Find voices you don’t usually hear and listen to them, amplify them, drop a link in your group chat. Engage your friends about it. If you notice yourself talking a lot ask someone else what they think.
And now, assuming you’ve read this far and have absorbed some of what I said, you might still be wondering what to do if you see someone being harassed.
Here are some practical tips.
Make your primary focus the aggressor, not the victim.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but trust me. You’re a dude, you can talk to other dudes in a way that women can’t. Do you play video games? You’re the tank, not the healer. This goes for social media spaces as well as real-world spaces. Tank. Tank. Tank. Get between the aggressor and the victim and focus your attention on the aggressor. If you focus on the victim the aggressor may just switch to attacking someone else.
If the aggressor is your buddy and you know you can control the situation, feel free to make eye contact with the victim and let them know that you’re handling it. Something like “Don’t worry, I got him.” will do, and then actually go get him. Sometimes direct contact with the victim isn’t even necessary. They may just hear you say “dude, not cool.” And that’s all it needs. Seriously, do not let your bro harass people. It’s not cool. It’s not funny. Do not laugh. Do not stay silent.
Bystander intervention training will tell you to focus on the victim, this is a case by case situation, of course, and no blog post can tell you the definitive way to handle every situation. But in the case of your buddy being the aggressor, please collect your bro.
What if you don’t know the harasser?
What if you’re just a witness? Maybe if it’s none of your business? Well, this is the time for Not All Man.
- Seriously, you want to be Not All Man? Prove it. Don’t just tell women you wear a cape, be not like all men. Don’t look away, don’t stay silent, don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Say something. Ask if they’re okay. You might be wrong but we covered that, it’s okay to be wrong.
And for gods’ sakes, I shouldn’t have to say this but please, please do not use this an an opportunity to try and pick up the victim of harassment.
When you do that you enter into competition with the harasser for the prize of the woman. You might be less abusive or creepy about it, but you’re playing his game. Don’t.
Dudes, we’re not going anywhere.
There will be plenty of opportunities for us to connect. We are not a scarce resource, we’re people. We’re doing stuff. We’re living our lives. We’ll connect in the way that humans connect. Don’t compete for us. If you don’t trust yourself while trying to break this habit of competing for women treat all women like a potential bro for the time being. Ask your friends to keep you accountable. Come up with a code word for when one of you is being toxic. Personally, I’m a fan of the warning + hardline system. For example, if a buddy is being kinda toxic, say “die hard”. This means they need to cut it out. When they cross the line say “Yippee Ki Yay motherfucker.” and disengage for a time. Come back to the conversation when you’re ready. Explain how you felt and why it’s important to you. Don’t let “it was just a joke” fly as an excuse. Hold yourself and your friends to a higher standard. Your jokes hurt people. That’s not funny. It’s not worth the laugh.
And finally, don’t dismiss feelings and experiences. Your own or anyone else’s. Everyone makes sense of their world with the information they have. Someone might be missing some info, that someone might be you. Listen and learn.