Boys and Masculinity
The recently released Gillette ad about masculinity has sparked not only sparked blowback, both positive and negative, but has inspired ads in response. The most notable of these is that of Egard Watch Company, whose CEO not only wrote the commercial but served as its voice-over. The pair of ads constitute a creative point-counter point on the issue of “toxic masculinity”.
Numerous opinion writers and bloggers have raced into the space created by this controversy. In the process they seem to have exposed our underlying confusion about how masculinity is defined. We believe this has led to the view by some that masculinity itself is toxic. We believe that view is seriously flawed. In the debate the distinction between masculinity, norms of masculinity and toxic masculinity has been muddled.
As the Egard ad makes clear, masculinity itself can be a positive, virtuous thing. Norms of masculinity, on the other hand, can either promote or discourage positive masculinity. Norms that discourage positive masculinity can lead to so called “toxic masculinity.”
That said, the term toxic masculinity requires a broader context than the narrow view of it as merely being the expression of violence and sexual aggression. In a broader context of masculinity gone wrong, toxic masculinity is the outcome of unhealthy norms of masculinity. One of the more challenging questions is “toxic to whom”? We posit that both the victim and the perpetrator are dehumanized by toxic masculinity.
Much has been written about how unhealthy norms of masculinity have their roots in boyhood. Others have conducted research that has found that once boys reach puberty they lose their earlier, innate ability to connect with and maintain close relationships with other boys. This loss of connection creates a void that leaves boys vulnerable to unhealthy norms of masculinity. This underscores the broader view that before some males became “toxic” they were simply unadulterated boys.
When healthy norms of masculinity are twisted, virtues are destroyed. Strength becomes aggression. Honor becomes disrespect. Courage becomes fear of having vulnerable feelings. The protector becomes a bully.
From our perspective, toxic norms of masculinity are not only destructive for society as a whole, but dehumanize males from their own innate goodness. This is an issue we as a society need to recognize and grapple with by helping young males become the men they not only were intended to be but who they once were.
Dennis J. Barbour, Esq. Susan J. Wysocki, NP, FAANP
President and CEO Medical Director
The Partnership for Male Youth The Partnership for Male Youth
Dennis J. Barbour is Co-Founder, President and CEO of The Partnership for Male Youth, the only national organization whose sole focus is on the health and wellbeing of adolescent and young adult males.
Susan J Wysocki, NP is the Medical Director of The Partnership for Male Youth and is a founding Fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and former CEO of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health.