above a recent ad by Gillette.
We see boys, men, engaging in bullying behavior. Granted. However, bullying is not exclusively a male/behavior, there are female bullies too.
Wait! Neither woman nor man is indicted in my argument, plain and simple: violence is a human behavior (give me a minute to elaborate).
the masculinity part
Gillette gets "masculinity" wrong. Here's the Wikipedia entry:
... a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men." so far so good, then we get this: "... traits traditionally viewed as masculine in Western society include strength, courage, independence, violence, and assertiveness.The problem with this definition is the inclusion of VIOLENCE as a "traditional" trait for masculinity:*
... the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.This definition is very close to that of "abuse":
... physical or verbal maltreatment, injury, assault, violation, rape, unjust practices, crimes, or other types of aggression.violence and abuse, or abusive violence, or violent abuse (see how easily they meld) becomes automatically by fiat? a masculine trait.
the logic behind violent masculinity:
Is "masculinity" a necessary condition for violence? Not as long as someone other than men, say, a female, is capable of violence (only one female defeats the conditional — that weak is the statement).
Is "masculinity" a sufficient condition for violence? Not as long as you can find a man as calm as a platypus.
Is all violence "toxic?" Not necessarily. I'm thinking of Aristotle's "righteous indignation." Eye for an eye is part and parcel of Homo Sapiens' survival as species. Even the Hindu's idea of ahimsa has limits. Gandhi admits ahimsa can be suspended when justice is at stake.
A more esoteric point is the mounting tensions in making masculinity toxic for identitarian ideologues. If sex is a subjective social construction —as identitarians claim these days— where does "masculinity" fit in all this? For masculinity would apply not solely a man's set of attributes, but also to females and transgender individuals as well.
Is a "masculine" female, or a "masculine" F-M transgender person more prone to violence just because of their masculinity? Bunk.
the toxic part
Gillette's "toxic" characterization is left purposefully vague (they parade it but are clueless as how to resolve it). In fact, the problem is intractable:
1- if there is something particular that makes masculinity "toxic" then masculinity qua masculinity CANNOT be toxic (hint: Remember masculinity is not ONE, but A SET of traits). If the balance of traits in an individual man is such that a single trait, i.e., VIOLENCE predominates, he has effectively abandoned masculinity.
2- follows from 1-. If masculinity was INTRINSICALLY toxic, why does Gillette play it as if there is "redemption" for masculinity (at 1:04 the voice over goes: "to act the right way... some already are, because the boys of today will be the men of tomorrow"). Yeah, there's hope for men.
What are these men of tomorrow suppose to be? NOT MASCULINE? The Ad is not clear about this important point. Suppose you guess, no, it's the TOXIC part, i.e., VIOLENCE. Then why is the message so convoluted? There are violent and very violent men. Verily. That man or that group of men don't represent their kind, just like a very violent woman doesn't represent hers.
If Gillette's moral admonition was about one trait of the set of characteristics, i.e., violence, why not address the violence in particular individual men? Unh uh! that would make TOXICITY so feeble as to become superfluous.
3- How about a radical diktat? Burn masculinity altogether! But then, will men be able to procure for themselves a NEW SET of traits? What new set do you put in its place? Who is to say is will be any different than what we had before?
Nature has a stubborn tendency to disappoint utopian prophets.
The irony is that this tale of moral hubris comes from Gillette, a Proctor& Gamble company, in the business of selling razor blades to ............................. toxic men.
* "Traditional" means pertaining the tradition. The idea of violence is condemned in early Greek philosophy by Plato, then Aristotle, as infirmity of character. In Greek tragedy, violence is acknowledged as human fate handled by the gods (in Euripides and Aeschylus violence was not really presented, but hinted at by the chorus). Epicurean and Stoic philosophy abhors anger and violence. Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius & Cicero write against violence in various contexts. Enlightenment thinkers, such as Rousseau & Montesquieu oppose it. Romantic poets like Shelley, Coleridge and Blake, address violence as a pivot point to liberate self from the chains of, again, injustice. More recently, Zizek toys with the idea of violence as a tool for change.