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Updated January 28, When news broke of singer-songwriter George Michael's death on Christmas Day, social media was flooded with tributes to a man whose chart-topping music helped define the s.

Teaching about toxic masculinity 'turns men into women'

But the English pop star was also remembered for the way he "dared to do manhood differently", and the license he gave others to express their gender identity on their own terms. Michael's death — just months after the passing of gender-bending artists David Bowie and Prince — was particularly poignant, some pointed out, because had been a year in which so-called " toxic masculinity reigned ". The term 'toxic masculinity' has crept into the lexicon in the past 12 months, having appeared in mainstream news articles, popular feminist blogs and, as of November, the crowd-sourced online repository of slang words, Urban Dictionary.

Generally used to denote how some aspects of masculinity — such as entitlement, homophobia and sexual aggressiveness — can harm women and families and cripple men's own health, toxic masculinity, at its most extreme edges, has been linked with acts of violence like mass shootings and university campus sexual assault. For this reason, some US colleges have recently introduced 'toxic masculinity' courses , in which male students can reflect on topics like rape culture, machismo and pornography.

In the lead-up to the election, numerous media outlets around the world published articles suggesting Mr Trump's 'toxic masculinity' — as exemplified by his "male privilege and excess" and his disdain for women — was symptomatic of a broader sickness afflicting American men. For example, when Mr Trump dismissed as "locker room talk" his remarks about grabbing women's genitals, the creator of TV series Transparent Jill Soloway lamented how "toxic masculinity" was perpetuating "man club" culture, allowing men to degrade and disrespect women.

Writing in the New York Times, Jared Yates Sexton of Georgia Southern University claimed Mr Trump's toxic masculinity — "his macho-isms, his penchant for dividing the world into winners and losers, his lack of empathy for anyone but himself" — was preventing "especially the white men who make up a majority of Mr Trump's base" from expressing their emotions.

Republicans condemn university's masculinity program as a 'war on men'

And at the recent Women's March on Washington, a rally for which hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered to express their concern that women's and other minority groups' rights will be eroded under President Trump, many carried placards emblazoned with references to ' toxic masculinity '. But while some experts say the term's ubiquity represents progress in gender relations because it acknowledges how gender norms and inequality can impact men too, others argue it's an antagonistic expression that vilifies and disempowers men.

Surely crying 'toxic masculinity' will only alienate men and undermine feminism's aim of recruiting mass support? Dr Michael Flood, an associate professor in sociology at the University of Wollongong who researches gender, sexuality and violence, suggests the term 'toxic masculinity' has two main uses in modern discussions about men's changing gender roles.

Indeed, a recent study published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology found men who adhere to traditional masculine norms — for example, self-reliance, power over women, and sexual promiscuity "Playboy behaviour" — tended to have poorer mental health and were less likely to seek help than men who conformed less to those norms.

But as much as the conversation about 'toxic masculinity' appears to be uniting people, it is also dividing; the term is typically met with fierce backlash, often on social media, from those who find it offensive. For example, a recent article about trends in men's pet ownership by this author that mentioned 'toxic masculinity' drew hundreds of angry comments on the ABC News Facebook page. We might go on strike.

#NotAllMen

Build your own stuff. And, in response to the news that some US colleges will run courses to help students understand and "unlearn" toxic masculinity, Fox News journalist Todd Starnes claimed universities were "trying to convince men to grow lady parts". Part of the problem, Professor Macdonald suggests, is that masculinity "has received such a bashing" in both academia and the media in recent years.

For example, the emphasis on curbing domestic violence in the community is important and "understandable", he said, but when men as a whole are blamed for some men's bad behaviour, it makes it "very hard to talk about non-toxic masculinity" and the positive sides of being a man. Catharine Lumby, a professor of media at Macquarie University who researches gender and media, said she doesn't use the term 'toxic masculinity' because it is "inflammatory". Still, she thinks the backlash against it is symptomatic of a broader anxiety among white men, many of whom are currently grappling with challenges such as unemployment and the loss of identity that can trigger — issues Mr Trump has promised he will address as President.

Indeed, research suggests many Trump voters are concerned about what they perceive as a 'weakening' of America.

My challenge to them is: In , the homeland security intelligence analyst Daryl Johnson wrote a report arguing that rightwing extremist movements were on the rise. The report became an unexpected political football: Republicans were enraged at what they saw as politically motivated alarmism conflating nonviolent conservative and libertarian groups with terrorists. Has any of your research touched on that issue? Just because a lot of recruits for white nationalist movements are veterans does not in any way imply that all veterans are going to become recruits.

What we do know to be true is that our military exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan have left veterans coming home with serious PTSD. I think that is an equation that might make some people susceptible to far-right ideology. And it is also true that a large number of guys enter the military precisely because they want to fight.

He was angry about that and that is where he started to drift towards extremism. So I would never say that veterans are more susceptible to far-right ideology. But I would say that a large number of veterans have been seriously affected by their experiences. Far more likely is Wade Michael Page [identified in a shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple ], not some jihadist group. One of the major points you make in Angry White Men is that the notions of masculinity which drive men to join far-right groups or go on shooting sprees are deeply rooted in humiliation.

In The Looming Tower , Lawrence Wright discusses how a similar sense of humiliation in the Arab world informed the line of thinking that eventually became al-Qaida and Isis. He argued that shame and humiliation underlie basically all violence: In his famous statement, Osama bin Laden talked about how the west had humiliated the Muslim world … that conservative Muslims have been humiliated by hyper-modern society and the cosmopolitan McDonaldization of the world. For them, restoring the seventh-century caliphate is their way of reinstating traditional masculinity.

If you feel entitled and you have not gotten what you expected, that is a recipe for humiliation. At least in the case of the German, Swedish and American guys that I interviewed, sometimes it is not really political at all. Many of them, especially the American guys, were sexually abused, beat up, bullied as children. Some of them have basically the same sort of profile as the victims of the Catholic priests. That just made them better targets, and the far right drew them in.

The camaraderie of the community validates their masculinity, and — even more importantly than that — gives them a sacred mission.

The crisis in modern masculinity

That is really powerful for these guys. Do you think with Trump in office, the MRAs may actually influence change in legislation and policy? The group that I think has a point is the fathers, or some of the fathers. But I do think that the courts have not kept pace with changes in society. Far more men now are involved in childcare. But our laws were really designed for the Don Draper era, when men were absentee landlords at home.

So in some respects, some of these guys really have gotten a bad deal. As societies across the west became more industrial, urban and bureaucratic, property-owning farmers and self-employed artisans rapidly turned into faceless office workers and professionals. Increasingly deprived of their old skills and autonomy in the iron cage of modernity, working class men tried to secure their dignity by embodying it in bulky brawn. Historians have emphasised how male workers, humiliated by such repressive industrial practices as automation and time management, also began to assert their manhood by swearing, drinking and sexually harassing the few women in the workforce — the beginning of an aggressive hardhat culture that has reached deep into blue-collar workplaces during the decades-long reign of neoliberalism.

Towards the end of the 19th century large numbers of men embraced sports and physical fitness, and launched fan clubs of pugnacious footballers and boxers. Upper-class parents in America and Britain had begun to send their sons to boarding schools in the hope that their bodies and moral characters would be suitably toughened up in the absence of corrupting feminine influences. Competitive sports, which were first organised in the second half of the 19th century, became a much-favoured means of pre-empting sissiness — and of mass-producing virile imperialists.

It was widely believed that putative empire-builders would be too exhausted by their exertions on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow to masturbate. But masculinity, a dream of power, tends to get more elusive the more intensely it is pursued; and the dread of emasculation by opaque economic, political and social forces continued to deepen. Nations and races as well as individuals were conceptualised as biological entities, which could be honed into unassailable organisms.


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European colonialists went on to impose laws that enshrined their virulent homophobia and promoted heterosexual conjugality and patrilineal orders. This accounts for a startling and still little explored phenomenon: The most lethal consequences of this mimic machismo unfolded in the first decades of the 20th century. Mussolini, like Roosevelt, transformed himself from a sissy into a fire-breathing imperialist.

Such wannabe members of the Aryan master race accordingly defined themselves against the cowardly Jew and discovered themselves as men of steel in acts of mass murder.

White masculinity in the recent South in SearchWorks catalog

This hunt for manliness continues to contaminate politics and culture across the world in the 21st century. Rapid economic, social and technological change in our own time has plunged an exponentially larger number of uprooted and bewildered men into a doomed quest for masculine certainties. The scope for old-style imperialist aggrandisement and forging a master race may have diminished. But there are, in the age of neoliberal individualism, infinitely more unrealised claims to masculine identity in grotesquely unequal societies around the world.

Myths of the self-made man have forced men everywhere into a relentless and often futile hunt for individual power and wealth, in which they imagine women and members of minorities as competitors. Many more men try to degrade and exclude women in their attempt to show some mastery that is supposed to inhere in their biological nature. Frustration and fear of feminisation have helped boost demagogic movements similar to the one unleashed by the locker room bully in the White House.

Young Pakistani men revere the playboy-turned-politician Imran Khan as their alpha male redeemer; they turn viciously on critics of his indiscretions. Rodrigo Duterte jokes, with brazen frequency, about rape. Misogyny now flourishes in the public sphere because, as in modernising Europe and America, many toilers daydream of a primordial past when real men were on top, and women knew their place.

These are sanctioned by pseudo-traditional ideologies such as Hindu supremacism and Islamic fundamentalism that offer to many thwarted men in Asia and Africa a redeeming machismo: This recurrent search for security in coarse manhood confirms that the history of modern masculinity is the history of a fantasy. It describes the doomed quest for a stable and ordered world that entails nothing less than war on the irrepressible plurality of human existence — a war that is periodically renewed despite its devastating failures.

An outlandish phobia of women and effeminacy may be hardwired into the long social, political and cultural dominance of men. It could be that their wounded sense of entitlement, or resentment over being denied their customary claim to power and privilege, will continue to make many men vulnerable to such vendors of faux masculinity as Trump and Modi.


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  • A compassionate analysis of their rage and despair, however, would conclude that men are as much imprisoned by man-made gender norms as women. She might as well have said the same for men. Compared with women, men are almost everywhere more exposed to alcoholism, drug addiction, serious accidents and cardiovascular disease; they have significantly lower life expectancies and are more likely to kill themselves.

    The first victims of the quest for a mythical male potency are arguably men themselves, whether in school playgrounds, offices, prisons or battlefields. This everyday experience of fear and trauma binds them to women in more ways than most men, trapped by myths of resolute manhood, tend to acknowledge. Certainly, men would waste this latest crisis of masculinity if they deny or underplay the experience of vulnerability they share with women on a planet that is itself endangered.