The Dangers Of Toxic Masculinity

masculinity shirtless band lead singer
Reading Time: 9 minutes

PINK LADIES

When I was fourteen years old, I was under constant pressure to find myself a girlfriend. 

But there just was one itty-bitty problem:

Up until then, I had convinced myself that vaginas weren’t, in fact, vaginas. But rather Venus flytraps masquerading as vaginas. 

They were all snappy and dangerous and showed no mercy to their prey.

So I planned never to go near one (or so help me God!)

But God said, Sorry, bucko, you’re on your own. 

Almost overnight, my friends recruited Pink Ladies to wear their T-birds jackets (so to speak.)  And soon enough, all eyes were on me to round up the gang to an even number. 

I can do this, I told myself, fending off the image of a Venus flytrap and its fingery teeth in my mind.

The next day, I compiled a list of candidates. I singled out this one girl who always kept her hair in a bun (because every day after school she went straight to ballet class.)

What was her name? I thought. 

Bun Girl was in grade 8B and I was in 8C. One day, during lunch period, she dropped off a tightly-folded note on the table where I was sitting and walked away without saying a word. I unfolded the note amidst the uproar of “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” it had provoked from my friends.

“Quieres ser mi novio?” the note read with little hearts dotting each “i.”

Want to be my boyfriend?

There were two hand-drawn boxes on the note: one for “Yes” and one for “No.” 

Later that day, I delivered my answer to Bun Girl during gym class. She was surprised that I had replied so swiftly. And even more surprised when she unfolded the note to reveal my dissent.

“Don’t you want to think about it?” she asked.

“Uh, no thanks,” I said.

She crumpled up the note and tossed it. “Palomo!” she called me, which meant “softy” in Dominican slang. 

I’ll show her who’s soft, I thought months later.

Pressured into securing a main squeeze, I stole some Strawberry Shortcake stickers from my sister and gave them to Bun Girl the very next day at school, therefore recanting my “No” from that day in gym class.

“Wanna go steady?” I asked her.

 “Si!” she said with a beaming smile. “I’ll be your girlfriend!”

Now, most teenage boys might be elated when a girl confirms their union. They might throw a jacket over her and walk hand-in-hand with her down the school hallways.

Me? 

I wasn’t as elated as I was confused.

What was her name?!?! I thought again. Celine? Selina? I keep getting it mixed up!

At some point, I would have to stop calling her “Bun Girl.”

“EMODIVERSITY” & THE IMAGE OF MASCULINITY

(PART 1)

Parents too often agree that “boys will be boys.” 

But granting special permission for boys to run amok and “break hearts” isn’t something to be applauded.

There’s a reason why girls mature faster than boys. And it’s not due to some inexplicable phenomenon.

Part of the reason why girls mature faster is that we teach them “emodiversity.” That’s to say, the ability to express emotion on a wide spectrum. 

What’s more, we don’t impose upon our girls the same stereotype that has prevailed across generations of young men: the stereotype of masculinity achieved by actively suppressing emotion.

This is especially amplified in Latin American machismo culture.

Growing up in the Dominican Republic in the 90s, I was taught that the more female hearts I broke, the more clout I’d gain among my friends. 

So why stop at just one pink lady? I was told. Why not strike up romances with five, six, or seven?

Fear not how to juggle multiple affairs at once, I was advised. All I had to do was remember the narratives I pulled out of my ass whenever I needed to get out of sticky situations.

For instance, if I was at the movies with Cindy on Tuesday night and told Maria that I had visited my grandmother that evening, all I had to do was stick to this false narrative across the board.  

And if I happened to fuck up, no biggie! All I had to do was manipulate the situation and make my girlfriends out to be the crazy ones.

So for example, if I slipped up and said that I was at band practice on Tuesday night — and my girlfriend replied, “I thought you were at your grandma’s?”— I’d just stick to the protocol:

My grandma’s? No, baby. That was the Tuesday before last. I feel like you don’t listen to me sometimes.

More often than not, she’d apologize and we’d go back to sharing cheesy fries without resenting one another.

And there you have it: vehement denial was the name of the game.

cheesy fries on wooden table

THE STRONG, SILENT TYPE

According to Study.com, 90% of teenagers report experiencing peer pressure more than once in their lives. Of this group, twenty-eight percent claim a boost in their social status upon succumbing to peer pressure.

Compared to girls, teenage boys are disproportionately affected by it and thus more susceptible to engage in risky behavior.

But that’s okay, right?

Because in America we cultivate the “strong, silent type” (of male) from an early age.

We’re so fucking proud of him.

We laud him for his ability to override emotion and for his capacity to remain neutral. 

Forget what I said earlier about vaginas, dear reader. 

This is the real Venus flytrap. This is the mindfuck we teach our boys: that expressing emotion is counterproductive and that being the strong, silent type is an attractive quality.

But we’re only fooling ourselves.

venus flytraps

THE SEEDS OF TOXIC MASCULINITY

In Peggy Orenstein’s book, “Boys & Sex,” the author argues that the stereotype of masculinity in post-adolescence harms male mental health.

Upon interviewing male participants aged fourteen to early twenties — including a large sample of college students — Orenstein finds that millennial and Gen Z boys are at a greater risk of forming warped ideas about romance, sexual consent and male/female roles in sexual intercourse more so than previous generations.

Why? 

Because technology facilitates “Hookup Culture” with apps like Tinder and Grindr. And it makes pornography as accessible as ever with sites like Pornhub and Xvideos.

To be clear, Orenstein isn’t crusading against pornography as an institution. In fact, she argues that there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it.

But she’s impelled to bring to light the misconception of pornography as “truth.” 

Ultimately, parents are responsible for communicating with their adolescent children that the oftentimes callous and volatile behaviors of male pornstars towards their female counterparts are part of a scripted fantasy. These behaviors shouldn’t spill over into real-life situations.

Moreover, I firmly believe that “submissive female delight” in hardcore porn — which is the expression of joy and pleasure in response to male aggression — shouldn’t be misconstrued as “normal” in real-life scenarios. 

In fact, parents should discuss openly with their kids, especially teenage boys, that choking someone or calling them “a dirty whore” during sexual intercourse isn’t always okay.

However, should they wish to reenact these fantasies in the bedroom, it would behoove adolescent boys and girls to agree on safewords and to stop when they’re spoken out loud.

But why even bother making these distinctions? After all, there aren’t any blurred lines in pornography, right? Anyone could tell that these ludicrous stories are fantastical, outrageous and stamped with the phrase, “Don’t Try This At Home.”

And yet, impressionable and inexperienced teenagers haven’t a clue on how to navigate the murky waters of sexual intercourse. They could easily internalize these pornographic scenes as “truth” and reenact them when the opportunity presents itself. 

When there’s no other baseline for truth, we mortals are adept at creating our own set of truths.

tinder home page on phone screen

THE FINLAND EXPERIMENT

In my article, “The Advantage of Late Bloomers,” I share journalist Rich Karlgaard’s notion of the “early achievement conveyor belt.” 

Like the belts in a manufacturing plant, early education in America places a strong emphasis on tests and academic merit for the mass and rapid production of early achievers.

In preschool and kindergarten, we rush our children into the next stages of their cognitive development and tend to ignore self-expression as something that can be taught. 

But in Finland, educators postpone academic subjects in the first few years of school. They don’t teach the basics until their kids are seven or eight years old. Instead, the curriculum focuses on social interaction and on encouraging their young to express curiosity and emotion on a wide spectrum.

In other words — in its noble effort to mold young Finnish girls and boys into adults of the non-shitty variety — Finland is pretty big on teaching emodiversity.

By contrast, early education in America bypasses these rewarding experiences.

To capitalize on this opportunity, teachers should guide their young pupils on how to express themselves dynamically, passionately and (in some cases) unapologetically. Otherwise, they’ll be aiding and abetting the grave practice of shunning our human potential to express complex emotions regardless of gender.

finland flag hanging on a pole

“UN-SOWING” THE SEEDS OF MASCULINITY

In my post, “The Dangers of ‘Testiculating,’” I expressed my concern when parents assign love interests to their children based on archaic gender roles.

This is the conscious or subconscious practice of assuming that Timmy likes Lily because Timmy’s a boy and Lily’s a girl and they just so happen to get along from time to time.

But what if Lily doesn’t want Timmy? What if she wants Sophia instead? What if she wants neither of them?

I get that this is an incredibly complex and difficult topic to explore with our young children. And I’m totally up for saving this conversation for when the time’s right. 

In the meantime, can we agree on the common knowledge that it’s dangerous to make assumptions?

Take it from me: assigning love interests in either direction — whether same-sex or opposite-sex — before your kids can even grasp what a caring, safe and two-way relationship looks like can set the stage for future expectations regarding romance and sexuality. 

And yet, well-meaning parents drop these conversation pleasers when they’re around other parents. They gloat about their 5-year-old sons who are veritable Casanovas; these heartbreakers who possess the ability to melt iron with a smoldering look. 

“EMODIVERSITY” & THE IMAGE OF MASCULINITY

(PART 2)

According to psychologist Judy Y. Chu, there is yet salvation for boys in preschool. At this tender age, boys are keen to express their need for emotional connection.

But then kindergarten comes along and suddenly this need is wiped away. 

As adults, we tend to fear emotion because it can interfere with our ability to reason. And our ability to reason is important: it keeps us from making fucked-up decisions that we might make when we’re feeling like emotional trainwrecks. 

As adults, we must understand that our children may also inherit our fears.

Famous stoics throughout history encourage us to rule out emotion and invoke reason before making critical decisions.

But “emotion” and “reason” are like plate tectonics that collide, causing massive friction. Separating one from the other can be daunting.

Despite the stoic’s warning, we still make emotionally-driven choices because they feel right to us

We buy that ice cream maker when we know that our cholesterol levels are through the roof. 

We close on a new house because of the way it makes us feel, not so much the specs behind it. 

But perhaps it’s dangerous for me to assume that this is true for all of us. 

After all, who am I to prevent parents from sowing the seeds of masculinity? 

Who cares that I was molded to become this two-timing-low-down-dirty-shame who needed to suppress his homosexual desires (that were erupting like Vesuvius in his loins) just so he could uphold the perfect image of masculinity and fit in with his peers?

PINK LADY BLUES

In case you were wondering, her name was Celeste.

It may come as no surprise that our romance was as short-lived as a Kanye West concert.

The saddest part was her undying devotion to me in the wake of my destruction, which proved to me that there was more to repair beyond my toxic masculinity.

The fact that Celeste clung to me after I had embroiled us in love affairs of Mexican Soap Opera proportions also proved that girls were as capable as boys in developing their own warped ideas about romantic relationships.

Our obsession with raising the strong, silent type and the special license we grant so that “boys will be boys” beg the question:

Are we leaving our young girls in the dark?

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