Toxic Masculinity

I’ve fallen behind with my regular Friday updates to this blog, and I’m sorry.

When I post Profiles In Positive Masculinity on this blog, I’m contending with another kind of masculinity, generally referred to as “toxic masculinity.” Not that men are toxic, but that there are toxic ways that men are taught to be men. Toxic to men, and to women, and to everyone. Here is a video about it, because I have to get back to the other things that are eating up my life right now:

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: DeRay Mckesson

I think that these profiles have been a little celebrity-heavy lately, and one of my goals is to focus on an attainable idea of positive masculinity. The problem being, of course, that it is hard to find non-celebrities who are people everyone knows about, or who I can describe in a brief blog post if they aren’t widely known.

One person who came to mind is DeRay Mckesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement who has been on TV a lot but was a community activist first, and only became something of a celebrity because of the political situation in the United States. A community organizer even as a teenager, he ended up being a school administrator, before quitting his job to move to St. Louis. He had been spending all of his free time working with people in Ferguson, MO, in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

First, here’s a manly image of Mckesson, one of many times he was arrested in Ferguson (and Baton Rouge, and other places):

Mckesson didn’t start the Black Lives Matter movement (three women were the originators: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi), but he did quit his job to move to the Ferguson area full-time as an activist and leader. He brought to the Ferguson movement a lot of skill with social media and communication, and rose to a position of visibility. He is one of the go-to voices and faces of BLM in the media because of what he has written and what he has risked.

I like what I know of his story, because what he has done is something that anyone could potentially do. Mckesson is not (to my knowledge) a world-class athlete; didn’t come from a prominent, wealthy family; he isn’t a celebrity in some other area who is lending his face and name to BLM. He didn’t strike it rich or have a particular string of luck – I mean, he is partly well-known because of how often he’s been arrested, and that’s not something anyone enjoys. He’s also not some kind of Everyman, but in his passion and commitment I think we can see the best of ourselves.

Black Lives Matter, and I support that movement, because I see it as a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement, which has been ongoing for generations now. DeRay Mckesson’s words and actions also matter, and the relationships he has built matter, and his arrests matter. His struggle matters and his suffering matters, and through him, we are able to get a window into a whole movement. Anyone who gives themselves to a cause can matter in these ways, and one thing he does is show us that. Anyone can fight for what’s right, and one doesn’t have to hurt anyone, or threaten to hurt, or have a lot of political clout.

For showing us what commitment to a nonviolent struggle, and integrity, and eloquence can do, even for those who don’t come into the world with any particular advantage, DeRay Mckesson is our Profile in Positive Masculinity.

Positive Masculinity Moment: No Means No in Kenya

This cool video came up in my Twitter feed, and I thought, hey, that’s positive masculinity right there:

The group is what the video shows – here’s a link to the full website for No Means No in Kenya. If you have time, check out the other things that Ujamaa does.

What I like about this program is that it is addressing both boys and girls, in somewhat different ways, but with the same basic idea: fight for yourself and fight for other people. I like the excitement on the little boys’ faces when they think of themselves as potentially heroic.

I think that fighting is probably part of masculinity, but it’s like with the Mouse Guard: it’s not what you fight, but what (or whom) you fight for. I know that was a leap from No Means No in Kenya, but I like Mouse Guard.

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Edit: I got some good critiques on this profile that are worth thinking about. I’m going to leave it up, as I think the conversation itself is good to have. If you want to read where I’m seeing these critiques, check out this thread on Reddit

Sometimes you have to just turn masculinity up to 11, and when you do, you create Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I’d go ahead and say that there can be no reasonable measure of masculinity, no masculinity scale, that doesn’t at least include The Rock, and I imagine he’d be at or near the top of any of them. But what about his masculinity is positive, in light of the other men we’ve looked at?

I’m pretty sure there is no photo in which Dwayne Johnson does not look masculine, so here is a photo of Dwayne Johnson from his Wikipedia page:

Dwayne Johnson 2, 2013.jpg

He looks a little bit tired, and I can’t blame him. One thing about The Rock that you pretty much can’t question is that he works his ass off. If you follow him on social media, you will find that he is up at like 4:30am every morning to go work out like a maniac, despite not going to bed until around midnight a lot of the time. It’s hard to hate a guy for succeeding when he keeps a schedule like that, day in and day out.

There is even a Rock Clock app he’s developed that helps you set goals, and you can sync the app to The Rock’s own alarm clock and try to get up when he does. Good luck with that, by the way. Project Rock is what he’s calling his foray into being a motivational professional, and while I find these kinds of things to be irreducibly hokey, it seems like Johnson is excited about helping people achieve their goals, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

For a superstar, he seems to be very engaged with his fanbase. It’s one of the reasons he has nearly 100 million followers on Instagram. He set the Guiness World Record for selfies at the opening of San Andreas, taking over 100 in just 3 minutes with his fans. He also founded the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, a charity working with terminally ill children, and made the largest-ever donation from an alumnus to the University of Miami athletics department. He was granted a noble title by the Samoan government for his, and his family’s, contributions to that country.

For showing how epic victory can come from epic dedication and hard work (and freak genes as a third-generation professional wrestler), for remaining connected to fans even when he is a multi-millionaire movie star, and for wanting to use what he’s achieved to inspire others, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is today’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.

P.S. He’s Also Problematic

I tend to focus on the positives when presenting these profiles, but it’s been pointed out that this is still a one-sided way of presenting each of these people. My goal is to be pithy, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the other side of the proverbial coin.

In The Rock’s case, there are two problematic things that were pointed out, both of which I was aware of if I had thought the issue through and written about it. One is that The Rock presents an unattainable physicality. There’s almost no doubt he is augmenting himself with at least a plethora of supplements, and maybe more. If he really does get 4.5 hours of sleep a night, he has a one-way ticket to early stage dementia and a host of other problems related to a lack of sleep.

He also has a long history of smack-talk from his wrestling days, including using “hermaphrodite” as an insult. Clearly, that’s a bigoted thing to say as an insult. Now we’d maybe call it intersex-phobic. If anyone can find an instance of him apologizing for using that kind of language, let me know, because he certainly should. 

I still think we can learn about positive masculinity from Dwayne Johnson, but that hardly means he’s perfect.