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Into the Wasteland: Toxic Masculinity Edition

“The awful daring of a moment’s surrender Which an age of prudence can never retract. By this, and this only, we have existed” T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland...

Clementine Ford  is an outspoken feminist from Australia. Ford is the best-selling author of a book called, Fight like a girl (2016), a feminist manifesto for the modern woman. While on tour promoting her new book, Boys will be boys (2018), Ford addressed an issue modern feminists are crusading to end: “toxic masculinity.” Ford defines toxic masculinity as, “a rigid adherence to narrowly-defined, traditional norms of masculinity such as entitlement, aggressiveness, disdain for women, and homophobia” (Gleeson, 2018, para. 14). For Ford, toxic masculinity serves as the, “the embrace of online abuse, rape culture, men’s rights baloney and even the freezing out of women from government and leadership . . . . toxic male spaces and behaviours . . .  codify male power and dominance” (as quoted by Smith, 2018, para. 3).

Toxic masculinity is not only the feminist term for immoral oppressive male behavior, but also for “traditional norms of masculinity” (Ford, as quoted by Smith, 2018, para. 3). Examples of this traditionally masculine conduct include men who like to watch the game, grab a beer with the fellas’, work out, tell dirty jokes, and yes, pursue women in a traditional fashion. 

One area Ford addresses the issue of toxic masculinity in her book concerns domestic relations between the sexes. Smith (2018) addressed Ford’s opinions on gender roles and the division of labor in the home:

In a chapter on domestic labour, A Woman’s Place, Ford shows how gendered division of housework and childcare informs assumptions about adult roles. In a claim that will no doubt be quoted by many “Angry Internet Men” (as Ford refers to them), she proposes that heterosexual women are better placed living alone and inviting men “into our houses as guests occasionally”. Her point is not that there is no pleasure to be had for a woman cohabiting with a man. Instead she highlights that managing “the gendered conditions of domestic labour … takes a . . .ton of work”. This work happens regardless of whether women are consistently fighting for help with washing the dishes or changing nappies, or have begrudgingly accepted that the unending cycle of housework is their burden to shoulder. (paras. 3-4)

From this quote, Ford’s opinion that generated headlines recently (Wondracz, 2018) was that women would be better off living alone without men, and only inviting men, “into our houses as guests occasionally” (Ford, as quoted by Smith, 2018, para. 3).

Ford sees traditional gender roles in the home as a perpetuation of toxic masculinity. The solution? Do not live with men and only invite them in as guests. This decision will emancipate women from toxic male oppression. By barring men from the house, it will not enable them to permeate the home with traditional gender roles and ideas. Male absence will free women from patriarchal oppression by removing toxic masculinity from the home, and further reduce toxic masculinity at large.

Ford presents cohabitation and a male presence in the home as problematic. Ford’s assumption is in fact the problematic issue at hand, not the other way around. Ford’s supposition creates two key issues worth addressing. The first issue relates to the specific reasons having men in the home is in fact the cure for toxic masculinity, not the cause. If as a society, we want to raise strong and decent men, if we want men to treat women with respect and dignity, keeping men in the home with wives, mothers, and children is the only coherent solution. The second issue is the philosophical, theoretical, and ideological one relating to the discussion. This includes the moral foundations of equity, autonomy, and Meliorism (the original term for progressivism).

The first issue addresses the specific benefits of the traditional home with males present. In The case for marriage:Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially (2000), Waite and Gallagher explore the benefits of marriage to society. With data-driven evidence citing study after study, the authors articulate how immensely beneficial marriage is, not just for those in the marriage, but for society at large. Look at the chi-Square below on the benefits of marriage. These benefits include individual and public benefits, as well as social and economic benefits.

The greater the number of married couples there are in a society, the greater the benefit. The individual social and economic benefits increase, as well as the public social and economic benefits. Waite and Gallagher (2000) explain that these benefits are so overwhelmingly positive that marriage should be seen as a public health imperative in the same vein as the importance of wearing seatbelts and the adverse consequences of smoking cigarettes. The traditional marriage model of men and women cohabitating is the impetus for the immense societal benefits (Waite and Gallagher, 2000).

            In books like, Families without fathers: Fathers, marriage, and children in American society (Popenoe, 2009) and Fatherless America: Confronting our most urgent social problem (Blankenhorn, 1995), the authors detail the importance of having men in the lives of sons, daughters, and wives. In the same fashion as Waite and Gallagher, Popenoe and Blankenhorn systematically detail the values of a present father and male role-model in the home. Fatherlessness is the number one demographic commonality among prisoners; it is the leading cause of teenage female promiscuity, juvenile delinquency, and school attrition; the demographic status of wife is the safest demographic position concerning domestic violence initiated against women; and a strong male presence is the only way a boy learns to become an upstanding man (Popenoe, 2009; Blankenhorn, 1995).

A male presence in the home is precisely the antidote to toxic masculinity. If we, as a society, want your boys to grow up as men who are honest, decent, and respectful of women, then the only way to accomplish this goal is having a strong male presence in the home (Popenoe, 2009; Blankenhorn, 1995). The further removed the male is from the home, the less capable he is of performing his duties which inculcate these values (Blankenhorn, 1995). The greater the number of absent male role models in the home, the greater the probability of legitimate toxic masculinity that Ford addresses (Popenoe, 2009; Blankenhorn, 1995). 

            Despite Ford’s misdiagnosis of the problem, she is correct in many of her assessments regarding male behavior. There certainly are toxic male habits like misogyny, violence, and other appalling behaviors that we are all aware of. Unfortunately for Ford, she fails to understand that a male presences in the home is the solution to toxic masculinity, not the cause. Conversely, absent men from the home is the real cause of toxic masculinity. In, Marriage and civilization: How monogamy made us human (2014), William Tucker explains that the single most important factor in creating civil society is monogamous marriage. Men are capable -and more probable than women- of violent and criminal behavior (Tucker, 2014). The greatest deterrent to this undesirable behavior in men is in fact a stable marriage to a woman and living with her and any of their offspring.

            As Tucker offered, “Surplus male populations are characterized by high levels of crime, addiction, and poverty, and that governments usually end up turning these pent-up aggressions outwards against other countries” (2014, p. 202). Here, Tucker is talking about gender imbalances in a civilization. The cause of this moral turpitude and aggression is the absence of females in the lives of men. A woman’s presence will cause a man to reduce risk-taking behavior (Waite and Gallagher, 2000). Women provide a calming and soothing influence on men, their behavior, and their work habits; men work harder, smarter, and safer when they have women and children in their lives who depend on them (Waite and Gallagher, 2000). When men are not needed or welcomed in their own homes, as Ford professes should be the case, men are unmoored (Popenoe, 2009). When there is nothing tethering men to society they never develop any incentive to grow up and leave the “frat house” (Popenoe, 2009). The further removed from the home the man is, both literally and figuratively, the weaker his incentives are to be an upright citizen and productive member of society (Popenoe, 2009; Blankenhorn, 1995).

            To cure the toxic masculinity that Ford makes legitimate claims to, keeping men out of the house with the exception of opening jars, killing spiders, and occasional sexual unions will not cure toxic masculinity, but rather cause it. A man with no motive or incentive to come home at night and wake up early for his family will have idle hands, and idle hands are the Devil’s playground.

            Ford theorizes that by freeing the home of men, it will free them from the oppression and toxic male presence that traditional gender roles oppress women with. To understand how Ford and other social justice scholars reach this conclusion, we must examine the two liberal moral foundations most strongly influencing the liberal mind in this instance: equity and autonomy (Haidt, 2013). Liberals, influenced by Jean Rousseau (1753), believe human beings are both naturally benevolent/good, as well as naturally equals. Both of these features are corrupted by society (Rousseau, 1753). Liberals believe that the rules imposed on us by society corrupt and restrain our natural goodness, henceforth  necessitating removal so that our natural goodness can shine. This is the rationale for the importance of autonomy to the liberal (Kessler, 2018A).

The second relevant moral pillar for liberals germaine to the issue, Equity, is a well intending idea in theory, but is troublesome in practice. An emphasis on equity erodes order, hierarchy, structure, and a sense of objectivity (Weaver, 1948). Basically, equity has caused a

collapse of the idea of neutral, purely objective knowledge . . . any set of rules inevitably privileges certain individuals, groups, or ways of life, which in turn has led to the despairing conclusion that since reality is ultimately only a chaos of subjective interpretations, no true knowledge is possible. (Jardine, 1998, p. 32)

If we’re all equals, than myself, my opinions, and my ideas are just as good as anyone else’s. If we’re all equals, than no one can establish objectivity, structure, or truth. Everything is merely subjective and a matter of perspective, including facts and knowledge. Therefore, because, “no true knowledge is possible,” (Jardine, 1998, p. 32), the only way to establish order, truth, and structure in human societies is, “only by sheer power” (Jardine, 1998, p. 32).

            To dovetail these concepts of equity and autonomy is to understand contemporary liberal progressive social justice ideology. Everything is subjective and a matter of  perspective because we are all equals. The subjective nature of life, combined with our natural equity, means that the only way to create and order society is through force. This is why liberals believe everything is “predicated on power structure.” The power structure relevant in this discussion is the patriarchal oppression of women. This oppression enables toxic masculinity and creates the desire for females to expunge from their homes the arbitrary presence of men. These oppressive patriarchal social constructs unfairly impose restraints on women, corrupting their natural goodness. The patriarchal restraints necessitate removal to restore the natural goodness and equality of women. 

The conservatives see the issue quite differently. The conservatives believe that society is not an arbitrary social construct, but rather the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors (Kirk, 1989). Through trial and error based on tradition, practice, and legitimate biological differences between men and women, societal norms regarding family and male/female gender roles were established (Kirk, 1989). Russell Kirk understood these values the same way Ford does, as he also called them norms, which are, “an enduring standard. It is a law of nature, which we ignore at our peril” (Kirk, 1989, p. 17). The liberals, “assume norms are no better than the pompous fabrications of . . . ancestors” (Kirk, 1989, p. 17). When this is the case, “every rising generation will challenge the principles of personal and social order” (Kirk, 1989, p. 17). Unfortunately, they, “will learn wisdom only through agony” (Kirk, 1989, p. 17)

The liberals desire freedom from these gender roles because they believe gender roles are the pompous fabrication of our ancestors. To the liberals, progress consists in the liberation of the individual from the ancient ties of things like the family (Nisbet, 1966). They believe in progress of human nature, a concept known as “Meliorism” (Kessler, 2018B). Meliorism postulates that we in the present are superior to the past (Kessler, 2018B). We therefore necessitate new laws, customs and traditions to emancipate ourselves from the chains of yesteryear. As William Godwin, one of the original Meliorists, said, “Nothing must be sustained, because it is ancient, because we have been accustomed to regard it as sacred, or because it has been unusual to bring its validity into question” (as quoted by Sowell, 1987, p 40). Condorcet, a contemporary of Godwin’s and a fellow Meliorist, believed that, “everything that bears the imprint of time must inspire distrust more than respect” (as quoted by Sowell, 1987, p. 40).

Liberal Meliorist progressives believe that by virtue of the fact that something is old, we must get rid of it to achieve true progress. They believe traditional gender roles, the traditional family unit, and the traditional patriarchal society are all arbitrary social constructs predicated on power structure, and impose outdated beliefs that foster toxic masculinity.

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that, “Real progress consists in the movement of mankind towards the understanding of norms, and towards conformity to norms” (Kirk, 1989, p. 20). The norms regarding male and female conduct, family, marriage, and cohabitation are not arbitrary social constructs, nor are they patriarchal oppressive fabrications that exist solely to subjugate women. These norms are predicated on the objective facts of life bequeathed to us by our ancestors. Real progress consists not in the destruction of old norms, nor the creation of new ones, but rather in adherence to the old ones. As far as the family is concerned:

There are no new family norms. Nor are . . . families changing. Rather, disruptive human relationships existent since the beginning of social life, but always discouraged or restrained in healthy and growing societies . . . have been elevated to family status (Laxalt, as quoted by Berger and Berger, 1983, p. 64).

The norms of the family unit are not new, nor are they arbitrary. They are the laws of nature that Ford chooses to ignore at her and society’s risk. Ford is attempting to legitimize destructive behavior that will precipitate and foster the very behavior she wishes to eradicate.

Ford’s gripes with rude, abusive, chauvinistic male behavior are legitimate. We need to teach our boys how to be honest, strong, compassionate, and stoic, especially concerning their treatment of women. Ford’s answer as to how to rid the world of this problem is not the solution to toxic masculinity, but rather its cause. We need strong men present in our homes to raise strong boys. That can only occur when these men are in the house with their families, and not outside, in the doghouse, looking in.


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