If All Masculinity Were Toxic, We Would Just Call it “Masculinity”

When I was a teenager, I saw an albino kudu on a trip to The Kruger National Park. Of all my sightings, that one stands out the most: a stark smudge of white against the brush I’d come to know so well. I’d never seen another albino in the wild, and its scarcity made it all the more affecting.

The term “toxic masculinity” is often called sexist for labelling an entire gender. I’ll see your complaint and raise you one antelope: Does the name “albino kudu” mean all kudus are albinos? Nope. Does the fact that I’ve never forgotten that sighting mean all antelopes affect me in the same way? Nope. Does my memory of that albino all these years later mean I haven’t seen hundreds of ordinary antelopes in national parks since then? No again.

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Toxic masculinity is masculinity that is violent, aggressive, and sexist, but the term is not sexist in itself. Just as I call my kudu an albino because it’s different from other antelopes, we call a particular kind of masculinity toxic because it’s different from other kinds of masculinity. If we thought all men fit that description, we wouldn’t need the word “toxic” because “masculinity” would do the job perfectly well.

Pointing out albinism is not speciesism.

Pointing out sexism is not sexist.

All over the world, millions of women are keeping rape schedules to stay safe in a world poisoned by toxic masculinity. They arrive home before dark. They order new drinks when they forget to watch the ones they were busy drinking in case they’re spiked. They wear flat shoes for running and carry mace. When they aren’t adjusting to rape, they’re recovering from it, and when they aren’t recovering from it, they’re wondering if this time, the leery guy on the other side of the street might be a predator.

One in 20, 000 people have albinism, and yet most of us have seen it at some point in our lives because scarcity is not a synonym for “completely nonexistent.” Toxic masculinity isn’t nearly as scarce. It may be the exception rather than the norm, but most of us have had to change the way we live to protect ourselves from it.

I meet good men every day of my life–men who understand their privilege, men who share that privilege, but it took me 13 years to recover from just one example of toxic masculinity. This disease travels far. It travels long, so our fear is justified. Our impatience is justified.

Every day, thousands of men are outraged by posts like this one. If their anger and commitment to expressing it are anything to go by, internet posts are profoundly affecting to them; and yet they judge our response to rape’s profound effects as specious.

Most men, however, do not. Most men’s response to the widespread abuse of women is compassion, and that is the norm. That is why “toxic masculinity” isn’t a synonym for “masculinity.”

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