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16th August 2019

Toxic masculinity is a real buzz word in the press and in social media at the moment.

The Macmillan Dictionary defines toxic Masculinity as :

adherence to traditional male gender roles that expect boys and men to show few emotions and assert their dominance

Women, and especially young women today are taught that there are no limits to what they can do and achieve. The message is now being driven home in newspapers, social media and films .

The most ridiculous example being in the recent Captain Marvel film, where the daughter of one of the characters admonished her mum for not wanting to take part in a highly dangerous and life threatening mission – Yeah mum, what kind of role model are you if you aren’t willing to take part in a suicidal rescue mission ?

A sledgehammer to crack a walnut if ever there was one, but maybe a sign of the size of the imbalance being redressed.

However, is it possible that while efforts to redress the balance in gender equality go into relative overdrive, we are in danger of creating a whole new generation of young boys and men that are feeling isolated, disenfranchised and even vilified if they dare to be less than a subservient cheerleader for feminism.

An under class of young men that are taught that strength and stoicism are everything, but who see an erosion of their place in the world. Women after all are now being encouraged to be engineers, fighter pilots, plumbers and brickies, and honestly why should that not be the case ?

But is it the case that those same young men are being encouraged to venture into traditionally female occupations ? The likelihood that a young man expressing a desire to enter into the world of knitting, flower arranging, cookery or other past times and occupations traditionally seen as the female role would be accepted without being judged as being emotionally weak, or having their sexuality questioned seems remote, especially among older generations.

As much as I do not expect an out pouring of sympathy for young men now having to compete on a playing field that is increasingly level. I wonder if anyone is asking where these young men go when they are replaced by women and BAME, either more capable or else favoured by positive discrimination programmes ?

Like it or not when the rules change or the goal posts start moving, one woman’s equality becomes another mans loss. If the fall out of these changes is not dealt with sensitively, a feeling of injustice (It doesn’t matter whether from the outside that feeling is unjustified) is likely to lead to resentment. A loss of meaning or purpose can manifest in many ways. More usually perhaps depression and anxiety. The grief cycle of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and acceptance applies to loss of meaning or purpose as much as it does the loss of a loved one. A person becoming stuck in one phase is not uncommon. If that phase is anger it can spell trouble for their nearest and dearest.

The rise of the Incel 1 ( involuntary celibates) is an extreme example of toxic masculinity. Fed by rejection and loss of entitlement. Isolated and rejected, particularly by women they seem to be born of a social awkwardness but also a belief that they should have what everyone else has without the realisation that everyone else has worked for those things. Their feelings appear to be directed at the women who reject their sexual advances and outpourings of misogyny and hatred provide the outlets for their frustrations with social media providing the ideal conduit for the expression of their toxicity.

In its most extreme form it can see one person, so totally overwhelmed by rejection and isolation commit acts of mass murder such as been regularly seen in America.

A recent TV interview by Aaron Stark saw him admit that during his darkest days he was close to committing a mass murder of the kind frequently seen in America. He was lonely, depressed, isolated and felt unloved and unheard. His motivation for thinking about carrying out an atrocity was to show his family “what a monster they had created.” (see - I was nearly a school shooter - Aaron Stark TED talks)

A more common outcome of such isolation is anxiety and depression. Being seen especially among younger generations. The loss of a traditional role, a lack of friends or a significant other can be debilitating and potentially deadly for anyone suffering with depression. Inability to find jobs or to form relationships only exacerbate a sense of worthlessness.

The loss of traditional roles and with it a sense of loss of place in a community are perfect breeding grounds for extremist groups, and drug gangs who can offer these young men the material things they are told they need to have. They offer the financial security men are told they must provide or be worthless in the eyes of their family or even in their own eyes. But most tellingly, these groups and gangs provide a sense of belonging, a sense of community or family when their families or “normal“ society has told them that they are not needed or necessary 2.

In all of this I am not arguing for the removal of equality or the return to some 50’s ideal when men were men and women knew their place. Things are changing and they need to change. Rather I am asking the question;

In the here and now; How do we achieve equality in a way that does not isolate the people that have previously held a more privileged position?

How do we achieve equality without creating the kind of isolation that strips away a sense of meaning an inclusivity?

And for the future; How do we raise young men that are able to express their feelings without feeling judged as weaklings or somehow inferior?

How do we maintain a sense of meaning and purpose for young men in a world where their roles are no longer clearly defined?

In a changing world, what role do men have left?