Wikipedia describes “toxic masculinity” as certain socially destructive standards or behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that encourage domination of others, devaluation of women, and emotional stoicism. Wiki goes on to say that certain aspects of this type of masculinity describe the type of men who exhibit misogynistic, homophobic, and violent tendencies. There are more attributes, but what’s key is that men who suffer from this particular affliction tend to aim their toxicity at women.
I chose the above definition because it seemed to capture what appears to some to be an uptick in behavior that often results in women ending up on the receiving end of some type of violence; both verbal and physical. I say some because, as a woman, this phenomenon doesn’t feel new. There are plenty of news articles, social media posts, and real-life experiences shared during girl talk that detail scenarios in which, as a result of responding negatively to a man’s advances, the woman was either harassed until she acquiesced or, upon refusing to acquiesce, ended up being verbally or physically assaulted. It comes in many forms, but for some, it is more recognizable as domestic and sexual violence against women.
Not surprisingly, I am interested in the root cause of this toxic behavior because I have been on the receiving end of a number of these encounters. The most recent one had me silently praying all the way to the door of my job’s secured building. I was praying that security could see the man following me on camera, just in case law enforcement needed to identify him. You see, he ignored my polite declination to give him my number. I then resorted to the standard: “I have a boyfriend” line; you know, because if I belong to another man, he can accept my disinterest. Did that work? No. He proceeded to question my boyfriend’s manhood, because “if he were a real man, I wouldn’t be walking from my train stop to my job alone.” He then insisted, again, that I give him my number. Just as I was about to give him my phone number to be rid of him, he lost interest and walked away.
Let me tell you, before that moment, the anxiety rising within was palatable. Not because I’m irrationally afraid of strange men asking me for my number, but because he clearly wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. I’ve dealt with guys like that. They are the type of guy you give your real number to instead of a fake one. You give the real one because he will likely test its authenticity in front of you. No need to incur additional aggressive behavior. It’s easier to block after the fact.
While I glanced furtively in his direction as I continued on to my building door, I recalled the many young women who ended up murdered in the street because they said no to the advances of a strange man; or worse, said no to someone they know and have a relationship with. Rejection of a man’s advances is usually the impetus for the harassing behavior and/or subsequent outburst in verbal or physical violence is at the core of toxic masculinity.
There have been some very recent and horrifying examples in the news lately. For example the “Facebook Live murderer” who allegedly initiated his shooting spree after his girlfriend of several years broke off their relationship. After taking the life of a man he didn’t know, he blamed his decision on his girlfriend. I’m sure you can imagine what happened next in this age of online bullying. She, of course, was blamed as if she had anything to do with his inability to accept rejection.
What I find equally alarming is that the number of women subjected to this abuse in the more recent months has been overwhelmingly black, with black male assailants. As a black woman, I don’t need another hill to climb or battle to fight. I already experience racism at the intersection of my gender; now I have to fear the men I encounter that look like me as well!
The “Facebook Live murder” was a black man; his girlfriend is a black woman. After his girlfriend broke up with him, he took the life of a grandfather, father, and husband.
The Houston surgeon, who was killed in her home allegedly in front of her child, was a black woman; her murderer, was her black husband.
The San Bernardino school shooter was a black man who failed to convince his black wife to return home. According to her parents, she left due to alleged domestic violence. He drove to her school, fatally wounded his estranged wife and injured 2 children before turning the gun on himself.
I bring up the race of the assailants and the victims not to single any one race out, but to shine a light on the fact that toxic masculinity isn’t exclusive to certain kinds of people. These stories strengthened my desire to start a discussion, because these women look like me. They could be me.
This kind of knee-jerk reaction to rejection cannot continue to go on unchecked. There needs to be a paradigm shift; one in which women and men are taught that women have more value than being an accessory to men. We are more valuable than something that submits to the whims of men. We have value. Period. We should address rape culture; where, among other things, women are blamed for the independent actions of men based upon how they dress or how they respond to sexual advances. Let’s cease congratulating men on their hyper-sexuality, while simultaneously slut shaming the women they’re with. Ultimately, I think it will begin and end with men (and women) respecting the choices and decisions of women and their bodies.