Last October, a joint report by the New York Times and the New Yorker ousted Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a prolific rapist and sexual harasser that committed several grave offences over a staggering thirty-year period.
Famous actresses from Ashley Judd to Salma Hayek are just two of the eighty women who have accused Weinstein of harassing them whilst using their careers and even their well – being to threaten them into keeping quiet. The film producer has appeared in court in New York on charges related to this scandal, but it must be made clear that as of now he denies all allegations against him.
Ever since these revelations were brought to light, it has encouraged other women and indeed men to speak out about their treatment in various work and social settings using the Twitter hashtag #MeToo.
Out of this, there has been one buzz phrase that keeps popping up in public discourse – toxic masculinity. In this context, toxic masculinity is defined as being the narrow constructs imposed on men by society which expect and applaud them to be sexually aggressive, violently competitive and emotionally inhibited.
Fourth wave feminists and left-wing commentators state that the reason that Weinstein and other high-profile men, such as Kevin Spacey, who’ve subsequently been accused of similar sexual misconduct were able to indulge and get away with their proclivities was due to the prevalence of said “toxic masculinity”.
Now, I believe that the ‘MeToo’ movement started with some very good intentions and has allowed women – and men – to vent their frustration about sexual harassment, coercion and other more serious crimes such as rape. It also touched upon the imbalance of power that enables this behavior. Sadly, it is a conversation that was long overdue.
However, like most movements, it has been hijacked by a fanatical fringe element that to my mind want to turn all women into infantilized victims and emasculate all men and render them insipid and underachieving. They say that to get rid of sex crimes, violence and greed, we must make men less masculine and more feminine, this making society safer and better for everyone.
Problem solved. This is willful ignorance on a dangerous level. An abandonment of rational scientific reality that will not eradicate violence against women, other men and children. In fact, it will only exacerbate it.
It was the Irish statesman Edmund Burke who once famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The emphasis being on “good men”. It’s not masculinity that’s toxic it’s misogyny. It’s misogyny that allows the objectification, exploitation and degradation of women and girls to occur throughout our world since the dawn of time.
But it is good men, masculine men, that has stood up to this depravity whether it’s in the locality, in parliament or on the battlefield. It’s masculinity that has driven men to fight for freedom, thrive in industry, excel in sports and keep society safe.
Harvey Weinstein and men like him do what they do not because they’re masculine but because they’re misogynistic. They get away with it because other, weaker men (and women) choose to ignore how they treat people for fear they won’t get that promotion, that role or that Oscar.
On the other hand, men like actor Jason Priestley (a famous pin-up back in the Nineties) who claims that he once punched Weinstein in the face for his behaviour at a Hollywood party back in 1995, is masculine. He stood up for himself and others. The former attitude is toxic, the latter is not.
When we try and restrict natural biological traits such as assertiveness, toughness and competitiveness and say that these characteristics are inherently bad we end up instilling horrible complexes. Furthermore, we do ourselves a great disservice.
What we should and must do is harness those traits to do something positive for our communities such as set up a business, captain a team, become a protective provider. It’s when we suppress or ignore manliness it becomes a problem leading to bullying, greed and tyranny. It’s feeble, pervious and insecure men that hurt women, engage in brutality and take what isn’t theirs.
Instead, we should tell boys that aggression is a quality best used on the sporting field and not in the pub or that a desire for material possessions isn’t wrong as it encourages you to work hard and take risks that benefit not only you but the wider economy also. It’s when you cross the line into obsession about money and lose the ethics you may have had that you turn to theft and avarice.
At this time, when democracy is being undermined, income inequality is rising, and violence is surging; we need strong, confident, ambitious men alongside smart, intuitive, capable women to take a stand and be a force for what is right.