A firestorm has erupted over the last week with Gillette releasing an ad which portrays aspects of “toxic masculinity” and then a call to men to do better. In the same week, the American Psychology Assoication (APA) released a comprehensive report on the mental health of men and in it attacked “Toxic Masculinity”.
The argument after that on social media but also in main stream media fell into two distinct and opposing camps. Those that applauded the Ad and the report for shining the light on “Toxic masculinity” and telling men to get over it and in the other group who saw this as an attack on men as a group and especially the “good men” who treat women with utmost respect and are unfairly tarnished by the “toxic masculinity” brush.
As a White Ribbon Ambassador I talk to school groups, adolescent boys, fathers, sports groups and women. I completely understand the issue that family violence is a “man’s problem” as the primary perpetrators of extreme violence are men which includes murder (one woman a week is murdered by a man who is their partner or former partner). That “power and control” is at the centre of this cultural and attitudinal problem that man (and women) use in family situations to “control” their partner’s behaviour through a variety of means (psychological, social, financial, spiritual right through to the physical). When asked “what about male victims”, I can articulate the fundamental question back to those who are asking “are they living in fear?”, and most often they are not. For women, who live in a relationship that has family violence present (in all their forms), they do live in fear and need help and support to safely exit that relationship.
Having said all that, after reading articles by various prominent women who have come out on both sides of the argument and the APA report, it is clear that the term “toxic masculinity” fails the pub test. Ordinary Australians (both men & women) hear this this as “maculinity is toxic” and therefore an attack on men as a group and fails to recognise the good in men and the “positive masculinity” that does exist but has been lost in this “toxic conversation”.
I hope that as I continue to write my book ”Real Men Challenge” that those who read this can join in the discussion to clearly state what are those “positive masculinity” traits we approve and applaud in men but also to challenge those “toxic behaviours” in both men and women and call them out.