Have you ever been afraid to cry in public because you didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of your friends? Have you made or laughed at a crude joke which you didn’t find funny at all? Have you ever continued playing a game after an injury, telling everyone you were fine when you really weren’t? Have you ever rated another human being on a scale of 1-10, based on how sexually attractive they are?
Do you watch violent movies and experience no shock or horror at how gory and/or bloody they are? Do you hate the color pink because it’s “too girly”? Do you keep track of how much you lift so you can prove to others that you aren’t weak? Have you ever worried or boasted about the size of your genitalia? Have you ever done something cruel or violent just to prove that you fit in? Do you think that the way stop violence is with more violence?
My name is Shane, and I am a recovering victim/perpetrator of American Male Culture.
I am a perpetrator in that I have done most of the above. I have laughed at distasteful sexual jokes just because there were other men laughing in the room. I have joined in the chorus of mocking others who I claimed to be my friends. I am over-competitive in every sport I play and I have used my position as an athlete to make others feel inferior. I have hurt others by simply trying to promote my own status.
I know, however, that I am not alone in this. All my life, I have been fed a steady diet of standards that others have defined as “manly.” I have been told that I can’t do certain things because they make me less of a man. As a kid, my dad told me that he would disown me if he ever caught me wearing the color pink. When I dislocated my finger playing a game of baseball, I was told to keep playing, and I didn’t miss a game due to the injury. I have been told on numerous occasions to “grow a pair” or “rub some dirt on it,” which simply means to ignore the pain your body is feeling in order to look tough to everyone else around.
I lived with this false dichotomy that said I could only be a man if I didn’t act like a woman: I couldn’t cry, talk about my emotions, act gently, play with baby dolls, watch musicals, etc. I could play sports, climb trees, and play with my toy cars, but I felt the need to avoid any activities or toys that my sister had (if it was pink, purple, or glittery, it belonged to her). It took me many years to realize that listening to a band with a female lead singer was okay for a man to do.
Despite all these pressures, my mind rebelled against me. I couldn’t stomach any form of violence , on TV or otherwise. Blood scared me and murder was an appalling thought which I could not believe was marketed on television shows. I was in high school when I watched my first crime drama and it was a couple years into high school when I was finally able to watch an action movie. Now, I can stomach almost all violence on TV without so much as blinking, all because I felt the need to fit in with others my age.
When we see men on TV, we adopt the belief that if we are to be real men, we must be strong and courageous. We must be capable fighters who are tough enough to take a hit. We must remain rocks in times of emotional turmoil and our will is the only thing which is allowed to guide us. Compassion, mercy, love, hospitality, and peace are all thrown out the window when an action hero needs to save the day.
It’s amazing for me to look around now and see the damage this version of masculinity is causing our society. Men are taught from a young age that if they want something, they need only to put in the effort and claim it for themselves; those who do not succeed are those who simply do not try hard enough.
Have you wondered why so many men have recently been accused of sexual assault? It starts with this broken idea of manhood. Whether we want to admit it or not, woman are viewed as inferior in the public eye, as much of our language indicates (Things that are “weak” are described in feminine terms, e.g. “Don’t act like a girl,” or “That sucks.”). This gives the “superior” male the apparent right to be with whatever woman he desires, using all of his power and influence to make it so.
Men are taught to be conquerors and victors, a message which sports drills into our brains. Why do you think that men who sleep around are called “players,” while women who do so are called “sluts?” We are told that the whole world is a game that we must win through power and dominance. We flex our muscles and promote growth in the hope that we will one day obtain a position of high authority. The notion that men must be leaders is woven into every aspect of this society.
Men who do not conform to this image are ridiculed and shamed. Any man who acts in a way contrary to traditional masculinity is subject to questions of sexuality: if he doesn’t fit in, he must be “gay.” The fact that the term is used in a negative way is indicative of the harsh reality of American Male Culture. If a man does not desire what a “normal” man desires, he is viewed as less than a man. Homosexuality is therefore viewed as antithetical to masculinity.
Men are taught to show off our strengths, even by parading our power in the streets as a threat to all who may try to stand against us. When someone does wrong by us, we are told that it is okay to seek recompense through violence, even if it harms people who had nothing to do with it. We are told that violence is okay, just as long as there is a noble justification for it
Do not think for a second that the church is a safe place to avoid this thinking. Many churches do not believe that women should be in pastoral ministry, and even churches that allow women in leadership relegate them to “traditional” roles such as children’s ministry. Men are told that they must be leaders because it is their “God-given” role, and therefore the leadership of the church is placed on their shoulders simply due to their biological sex.
Even in churches that don’t believe in male superiority, there is often a dangerous belief that when Christ returns, it will be in glory and violence. Some believe that he will come to trample his enemies and crush those who do not follow him. Some believe in a place of endless torment for those who did not believe in Christ’s divinity and salvation. This means that the end of all violence is instigated by only the most supreme act of violence.
Sorry, but I don’t think God wins by proving he has the biggest guns.
God wins on the cross. God wins in his death. God wins when he chooses to be merciful and forgiving as his persecutors whip and beat him. God overcomes violence when he chooses to turn the other cheek. God wins in servanthood and Incarnation. God wins by loving his creation and having compassion on it. God establishes peace through acts of peace. God wins by acting contrary to American Male Culture.
How many more lives must be lost before we realize that power and violence are not the answer?
How many more mass shootings must we endure before we lay down our arms?
How many more victims must there be before we start to teach our boys a different masculinity?
**I happened across this article when looking for image for my post: https://www.xojane.com/issues/why-arent-we-talking-about-toxic-masculinity.
It’s more in-depth than what I have posted here and it’s worth taking a few extra minutes of your day to read.**