Like English cuisine, French fortitude, and Italian military, the term toxic masculinity is an oxymoron. If it is toxic, it’s not masculine and if it’s masculine it isn’t toxic. Okay, I was joking about those old national slurs (I apologize, you social Stalinists, yes, I know it wasn’t funny!) But think of the phrase ‘cowering courage’. Again, if you cower you’re not courageous, and if you’re courageous you don’t cower. If you’re masculine, you’re not toxic; no, you’re a colossal asset to your family, your community, and your country.
As the brave feminist professor, Camille Paglia, put it in her 1990 book, Sexual Personae, “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.” Her point: most of the dangerous and grueling jobs that make our comfortable lives possible are done by men. Yet we’ve heard this mendacious phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ repeatedly uttered by hysterical pundits of both genders in the context of horribly behaved men in entertainment, politics and news media. They usually intend more than a wisp of a suggestion that all men manifest ‘toxic masculinity’.
Nothing could be a more dangerous distortion of the truth. Most women deeply desire masculinity in their men and few qualities are harder to imbue in a boy than masculinity. Let’s stipulate that the bullying, grabbing, groping, and touching of women (as well as of themselves) by disgraced men isn’t masculine at all—it’s pathetic. Masculinity is what most women yearn to surrender themselves to. It follows that males who seize what no woman wishes to grant is the very opposite of masculine. It is their behavior that is appalling not their masculinity. The culprit is their character, not their chromosomes.
When a woman possessing power and authority over a man torments him, nobody says its because of toxic femininity. And they’re right not to blame her X chromosomes. Her failing is one of character not biology. The same is true for men.
When we describe a man as possessing masculine qualities, we don’t mean that he possesses male genitalia, an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. We are saying far more than merely that he is male. We are describing far more than his biological details; we are speaking of his spiritual qualities. We think that he exhibits strength, confidence, competence, and character. We admire his eagerness and his ability to support his family financially. We might view him as assertive and ambitious but we are certainly not seeing him as creepy or criminal.
The Bible provides dozens of subtle clues to masculinity. Here is one that is easy to miss. Scripture contrasts two men who each spotted a woman he fancied and then involved his parents. The first, a fellow called Shechem was a scoundrel. He raped the woman and then asked his father to, “get this girl for me as a wife”. (Genesis 34:4)
The second was the great Hebrew judge, Samson. After seeing a woman he desired, he told his father and also his mother about her and asked them both (Hebrew reveals the plural of the verb) “Both of you, get her for me as a wife”. (Judges 14:2)
Though the subsequent marriage (of which his parents disapproved) ended in disaster, it was part of God’s plan. Nonetheless we learn from the differences between the scoundrel who seized the woman and the hero who wooed her. Thugs, whatever their social station, prey on people they can overpower for the money and the sex they are unable to secure through service and honor. It has nothing to do with masculinity.