The Marriage of Violence and Masculinity: Todd Starnes and the Values Voter Summit

Speaking before the Values Voter Summit, Fox News radio host Todd Starnes said the following about “toxic masculinity”:

Many of you have started hearing a phrase in the mainstream media, something called toxic masculinity. It’s not just a war on boys, it’s a war on men! And there are those in this country that want to feminize men! They want to criminalize masculinity. Well I found something interesting, over these past few months our nation has been racked by terrible natural disasters, hurricanes, there have been fires, there was that terrible situation in Las Vegas, I saw men, grown men, wading into the floodwaters, running into the bullets, to save people, and I didn’t hear people complaining about toxic masculinity then!

On first glance, this looks like a definitional problem. I went looking around to see if I could find more specifics from Starnes—perhaps somewhere where he defines what he means by “masculinity” or explains what he believes “toxic masculinity” means. What I found was profoundly disturbing. First, though, I found that Starnes is worse than Doug Wilson in his utter lack of specifics and his belief that he is funny.

This past May, for example, Starnes said the following in a piece on a Vox report about “toxic masculinity” in the Marine Corps:

[W]e’re dealing with the kind of people who seem to want our Marines to prance into battle wearing high heels and camouflage rompers.

I am all but certain the Vox report would’ve caused a meltdown in the Obama Pentagon — think mandatory group hugs, essential oils and white wine spritzers.

You see what I mean about writing style? He thinks he’s funny—and he wears that on his sleeve.

Starnes’ article is horrifying, not funny. He has titled it “Why Does Vox Have a Problem with Masculine Marines?” The Vox article he’s upset about? It’s about the Marine Corps’ “revenge porn” problem, a network of marines sharing sexually explicit pictures of fellow (female) marines online. No really—the article’s title is “Exposing the Marine Corps’ revenge porn hasn’t made it go away.”

If you’re sick of reading about Starnes and want to be done now, this is a good place to bail. I’ll just leave you with one thing: Starnes was asked to speak before the Values Voter Summit. That is where he made the remarks we began with, remember. This, apparently, is the state of conservatives’ values. This is what evangelicals have come to.

Throughly disgusted, I thought I’d give Starnes one more look, because I honestly wanted to know he he was defining these terms. I found an article of his titled ‘Toxic masculinity’? Dude, now America’s universities are turning men into women that proved only slightly more helpful. Let’s start with this:

Universities across the fruited plain are trying to convince men to grow lady parts. And that’s a problem, America.

Instead of a country full of manly men, our universities want a nation full of Pajama Boys.

Get a load of the course description titled, “Unlearning Toxic Masculinity:”

“Men will often resort to violence to resolve conflict because anger is the only emotion that they have been socialized to express. Unfortunately, the way that young men are conditioned to view sex and their need to be dominant and have power over others also contribute to instances of sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence on college campuses.”

In the hit Broadway musical “My Fair Lady,” Professor Henry Higgins laments in a song, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Today, Professor Higgins might be singing a different tune, “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?”

Wait wait—that’s it? No discussion of the course description, which actually does a decent job of unpacking much of what is meant by the term “toxic masculinity”? Following that paragraph by suggesting that universities are asking men to be more like women suggests that what some term “toxic masculinity” is simply what Starnes considers masculinity.

The remainder of Starnes’ article is not all that helpful.

Could you imagine the Greatest Generation flitting about town after a spa and dishing about their inner-most thoughts with life coaches?

In today’s reengineered version of manhood, guys no longer have friends – they have bromances and they settle disputes by hugging it out.

I keep waiting for Starnes to be more specific about what he means and he keeps giving us passages like this, which suggest that he views interpersonal violence as part of masculinity but refuse to say so directly.

Men’s magazines are now filled with articles like, “Should a Man Show Nipple?” and “What Men Know about Wearing Eyeliner.” A survey by AskMen.com found that 20 percent of men have no problem wearing makeup.

Can you imagine John Wayne using moisturizer and a concealer stick to hide razor nicks? Would today’s version of “The Godfather” accessorize with Dolche Gabana while settling “family” business with group hugs?

Starnes considers makeup unmanly, that much he makes clear (could he actually explain why, or is this a gut feeling kind of thing?). But here again we see his suggestion that attempts to encourage men to settle disputes without resorting to violence go against his view of masculinity (see his reference to The Godfather).

Starnes goes on:

A few years ago I conducted an unscientific poll to determine what the average American woman looks for in a man.

The poll results were not all that surprising. Ladies want a man who loves God and loves his family. They also want a man who, in no particular order:

1. Has a job;

2. Drives a pickup truck;

3. Uses the bathroom standing up;

4. Eats meat;

5. And is willing to carry them out of a burning building.

In other words — they want the kind of man made in God’s image — not the image of some effeminate intellectual stuffed in skinny jeans sipping chai tea with his pinky finger extended.

In case it’s not clear, when Starnes says he conducted an “unscientific poll” he means he asks a few women he knows, whether personally or professionally.

We see how Starnes defines “masculine”—drives a pickup truck, uses the bathroom standing up, eats meat—and what Starnes views as not masculine—being intellectual, wearing skinny jeans, and drinking tea. (As for the things in Starnes’ list being representative of a man “made in God’s image,” I’d like to point out that there are no pickup trucks in the Bible.)

Let’s pull this back around to where we started. In his remarks before the Values Voter Summit, Starnes stated the following:

Well I found something interesting, over these past few months our nation has been racked by terrible natural disasters, hurricanes, there have been fires, there was that terrible situation in Las Vegas, I saw men, grown men, wading into the floodwaters, running into the bullets, to save people, and I didn’t hear people complaining about toxic masculinity then!

Starnes appears to define masculinity as being gruff, muscular, and wearing lumberjack clothes; resolving disputes with violence; having a very very strong sex drives; and being willing to go out of the way to rescue others when there is danger. He believes liberals define what he means by masculine as toxic and want to eradicate it. He believes liberals want men to wear skinny jeans, read books, try on eyeliner, talk about their emotions, drink tea, and turn tail and run from danger.

I see a desire on the Right to present men as both hyper-sexual and willing to resolve conflicts with violence and gentlemanly protectors of women. It does not work like that. You can’t take a “boys will be boys, what did you expect to happen” approach to sexual harassment and revenge porn in the Marine Corps and position men as the protectors of women. The one gets in the way of the other. You can’t have both. And all that violence isn’t healthy for men, either.

But to Starnes’ main point, when liberals talk about “toxic masculinity” they are not talking about a willingness to run into danger to save others. Liberals tend to view that as a human trait, and as a good one. A problem does arise when one gender is expected to do the all the saving and the other is expected to do all the rescuing.

Starnes says women want men who will carry them out of a burning building. I would want my husband to drag me out of a burning building if I were injured, yes—but I’d do the same for my husband if he were injured. If I wasn’t incapacitated I’d prefer to walk out, and honestly, in either case I’d be more worried about my two children. How many stories have we seen about women throwing themselves into danger to save their children alone? Men do not do all the rescuing.

I would say that this is a communication problem—that Starnes is not listening—but it’s not, wholly. Starnes clearly understands that liberals view the link he draws between violence and masculinity as toxic. And he doesn’t deny this link! Instead, he promotes it. He goes so far as to suggest that it’s manly to solve interpersonal issues with violence, and that learning to solve problems in other ways is being a sissy (remember, he alleged that colleges confronting the tie between masculinity and violence were “turning men into women”).

When we talk about toxic masculinity, this is what we mean. Make no mistake—a man who views violence as a good way to solve problems won’t stay his hand when a woman gets in his way, and a man who sees sexual bravado and forcefulness as central to his identity as a man isn’t going to stop when a woman says “no.” And this, apparently, is what passes for “values” on the Right today. This, apparently, is what a man made in God’s image looks like.

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