A few months ago, someone mentioned the phrase, “Toxic Masculinity”. It seemed an interesting description of “machismo”, “macho”. “Toxic” would obviously be anything that is poisonous. A man, therefore, who is engaging is certain behaviors would be hurting himself and maybe others as well. Perhaps this is because men are bound to a specific series or pattern of behavior that can be personally and socially detrimental.
Some people long the days when “men were men and women were women”. What does that mean? Simply that men engaged in masculine behavior and women engaged in feminine behavior. Men were strong and tough; women were gentle, soft and feminine. Men were dominant and women were submissive.
Pretty cut and dried. In the olden days in an agricultural society, men and women had specific roles. Women gave birth and were on a higher spiritual plane, so they stayed home with the kids, cooked and cleaned, and lit the Shabbat candles. Men went out to the fields or pastures to labor all day and win the bread. On Shabbat, men went and prayed all day because they were brutes and needed all those extra commandments to keep them focused. They wore tzitzis to remind them of those commandments and to keep their masculine urges at bay.
Then came equal rights. First was women’s suffrage, then work and career, then bursting the glass ceiling and now equal pay. Women want to be doctors, lawyers, captains of industry, combat soldiers, body builders (with lots of defined and bulging muscles) and MMA fighters. Where that does that leave men? What has happened to that distinction that made men men.
In the modern day when we now have more choices with our lives, women are pushing to fulfill themselves outside the home. They were now competing with men in men’s field. They already had the freedom of emotional expression and now were involved highly competitive careers. They have it all.
Part of the point of toxic masculinity is the expression of feelings that women can have, and men can’t. Women express their feelings very freely; men are stoic. Crying is seen as giving in to the pain, almost a sign of weakness. For women, it’s a tactical release.
Men tough it out because they’re, well, men. Men don’t give in to piddly emotions, we are strong and do whatever it takes. We know what happens with other kids at grade school when a male child shows emotion or fear or, heaven forbid, cry. That’s all well and good, but this toxic masculinity seems to describe a situation in which men hold it in, don’t express their pain, and then it builds and builds and builds and next thing you know, you have an irate temper tantrum. So expressing feelings is good, right?
What does the Torah say? Yes, it talks about men and women not wearing each other’s clothes. For some, that is a metaphor that each gender has their own role, G-d made everything masculine and feminine and we don’t mess with G-d’s intention. Or does it? Does that mean that women can’t fulfill themselves in the workplace and academia?
Men were losing their gender advantage, and more important and consequential, their dominance and identity and thus felt threatened. How can men feel good about themselves as men if they’re on an equal footing with women? What now makes a man a man, and one of whom he can be proud? All those things that makes a man a man are now also the domain of a woman.
Many feel that men need to loosen up. When a man has intense feelings, why not use crying as a release, if appropriate? After all, the Torah has examples of people coming together after extended periods of time, like Jacob and Esau, and crying. So stoicism, at least in the Torah, doesn’t make a man less of a man. In fact, it’s very culturally appropriate.
This is merely one example. While the Torah talks about our ancestors and how they expressed themselves fully, the men were still men. Jacob, with his emotional displays and releases, still supported four wives and thirteen children and was the “Israel” after whom we are called.
The real implications all of those characteristics of a man are tied to—you guessed it—self-esteem. I will tell you that I’ve experienced some of that myself. Years ago, a friend was training me in martial arts. It was his turn to roundhouse kick the pad that I held up. I was holding it too close and he kicked the pad into my face. So I just got ready for his next kick with my face red and eyes tearing from the blow, smiling the whole time. He stopped, of course, to make sure I was all right and then gave me a moment to recover. Toxic masculinity.
We men have to learn to appreciate ourselves. If we want to express feelings, like cry over frustration or hurt, we do it. And nobody is going to tell us otherwise because we can still be strong and have that release as a catharsis, and then go on and deal with the issues. That doesn’t make us any less of a man.