Last October, a joint report by the New York Times and the New Yorker outed Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a prolific sexual harasser who allegedly committed several grave offences, including rape, over a staggering thirty-year period.
Famous actresses Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek are just two of the eighty women who have accused Weinstein of harassing them whilst threatening their careers and even their wellbeing to keep them quiet. The film producer has appeared in court in New York on charges related to this scandal, but as of now he denies all allegations against him.
These revelations have encouraged other women, and indeed men, to speak out about their treatment in various work and social settings using the Twitter hashtag #MeToo.
In the copious commentary generated by the #MeToo movement, the buzz phrase “toxic masculinity” keeps popping up. In this context, toxic masculinity is said to result from the narrow constructs imposed on men by a society which expects them to be sexually aggressive, violently competitive and emotionally inhibited – and applauds them for it.
Fourth wave feminists and left-wing commentators state that the reason Weinstein and other high-profile men, such as Kevin Spacey, who’ve subsequently been accused of similar sexual misconduct, were able to indulge and get away with their proclivities was the prevalence of said “toxic masculinity”.
Now, I believe that the #MeToo movement started with some very good intentions and has allowed women – and men – to vent their frustration about sexual harassment, coercion and other more serious crimes such as rape. It also touched upon the imbalance of power that enables this behaviour. Sadly, it is a conversation that was long overdue.
However, it has been hijacked by a fanatical fringe element that seem to want to turn all women into infantilized victims and emasculate all men, rendering them insipid and underachieving. They say that to get rid of sex crimes, violence and greed, we must make men less masculine and more feminine, thus making society safer and better for everyone. Problem solved.
This is wilful ignorance on a dangerous level, an abandonment of scientific reality that will not eradicate violence against women, other men and children. In fact, it will only exacerbate it.
It’s not masculinity that’s toxic but misogyny. It’s misogyny that has allowed the objectification, exploitation and degradation of women and girls to occur throughout our world since the dawn of time.
It was the Irish statesman Edmund Burke who once famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” the emphasis being on “good men”.
It is good men, masculine men, who have stood up to depravity whether it’s in the locality, in parliament or on the battlefield. It’s masculinity that has driven men to fight for freedom, thrive in industry, excel in sports and keep society safe.
Harvey Weinstein and men like him do what they do not because they’re masculine but because they’re misogynistic. They get away with it because other, weaker men (and women) choose to ignore how they treat people for fear they won’t get that promotion, that role or that Oscar.
On the other hand, men like actor Jason Priestley (a famous pin-up back in the Nineties) who claims that he once punched Weinstein in the face for his behaviour at a Hollywood party back in 1995, is masculine. He stood up for himself and others. The former attitude is toxic, the latter is not.
When we try to restrict natural biological traits such as assertiveness, toughness and competitiveness and say that these characteristics are inherently bad we end up instilling horrible complexes, and do ourselves a great disservice.
What society should and must do is encourage young men to harness those traits and do something positive with them for our communities, such as set up a business, captain a team, become a protective provider. It’s when we suppress or ignore manliness that it becomes a problem leading to bullying, greed and tyranny. It’s feeble, perverted and insecure men that hurt women, engage in brutality and take what isn’t theirs.
We should tell boys that aggression is a quality best used on the sporting field and not in the pub; that a desire for material possessions isn’t wrong as it encourages a person to work hard and take risks that benefit not only them but the wider economy also. It’s crossing the line into obsession about money and abandoning ethics that leads to avarice and theft.
At this time, when democracy is being undermined, income inequality is rising, and violence is surging; we need strong, confident, ambitious men alongside smart, intuitive, capable women to take a stand and be a force for what is right.
Laura Buckley writes for The Burkean Journal, where this article was first published. It is republished here with permission.