My Recent Encounter with Toxic Masculinity

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 What We Saw Down on the Farm

My wife and I took our girls to farm the other day. The owners specialize in maple syrup products, and it’s their busy time of the year.  We stood outdoors in the late winter chill learning about how they transport the sap. A spider’s web of plastic tubing weaves between the trees connecting all 5000 on the property. Through it flows the sap that eventually becomes syrup and sugar and other maple-flavored concoctions.

The whole operation is run by a single family. Our tour guide was obviously the patriarch. He spoke with authority as he showed us the the filtration system, the enormous boiler and the metal drums where the syrup is eventually stored. He was friendly, but his years had given him an undeniable gravitas.

The main room was filled with younger versions of this guy. Men, mostly in their twenties and thirties who could be aptly described as “strapping.” They were big guys who radiated strength, solidity and that intangible quality that, if you’ve been around the Midwest enough, you recognize as “farmishness”. The only thing in that barn flowing more thickly than maple sap was testosterone.

Later, I drifted back to talk more with the patriarch. He had grown up on the farm and raised his own children there. He spent most of his time on farmwork now that he was retired from the fire department. One of his sons was a fireman now.

What It Meant

These guys, with their physical strength, their rural lifestyle that includes slaughtering pigs, their demeanor and, presumably, their willingness to run into a fiery buildings to save other people’s babies, represent traditional masculinity. Not everyone is a fan. When the Left talks about “toxic masculinity”, these are the guys they are thinking of. I mean, those guys probably even owned guns.

Everything about these men and the life they’ve built marks them as failures in the broader culture. Our society has inverted the scale of value and men suffer for it. Once, these men would have been revered for the bravery, strength and competence, their ability to confront the challenges of life and prevail. Today they are viewed as, at best, low status hicks and, at worst, rapists in waiting.

Today we value the nice guy, the compliant guy, the guy who gives no offense and asks no favors. We value the man who accepts dependence on others, on corporations, on government. We value harmlessness and a willingness to drift.

Because we value these qualities, we get more of them. No wonder the qualities these farmers/firemen project are waning. No wonder testosterone levels are plunging. No wonder men are sicker, lonelier and more depressed than ever.

At the same time that such traditional manliness is no longer in vogue, many people long for the life it makes possible. The lives those guys lead that are more stable and independent than most. The majority of us can only imagine the ties to the land, to place and to family that sustain such men and their enterprises.

As we have demonized traditional masculinity, the kind of independent, rooted existence it makes possible has withered. The cornerstone of that kind of life is strong, stable, competent men. Without them, the mode of living most conducive to human flourishing vanishes. Yet our culture continues to push the myth that this wholesome way of life is rooted not in nobility of spirit, but in emotional and psychological toxicity.

What We Must Do

Reversing this situation requires  men willing to be self-consciously counter-cultural. The worst thing we could do now is follow our culture’s lead. We can’t wait for true manly qualities to be fashionable. We must take the lead to cultivate such qualities no matter how toxic we are told we are. We must build a renewed culture, first in our own bodies, minds and families and then among our neighbors. We must compel the tides of the larger culture to shift through the gravitational pull of our character and the strength of our wills. That is, after all, what men do.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start from zero. Traces of mature, traditional masculinity are still around. Its seeds still sprout and grow in out of the way places.  I know because I visited a farm recently and saw the fruit.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Etranger

    Nothing you describe in your encounter is what anyone on the “left” would term toxic masculinity. Sounded like a bunch of hard-working guys. Something the left respects. I think a full understanding of what toxic masculinity is (i.e., a misogynist, one-dimensional, unemotional, unempathetic masculinity) is warranted before writing such an article.

  • Dean

    I think that when people on the left look at these guys all they see is just a bunch of “misogynist, one-dimensional, unemotional, unempathetic” rednecks.

  • Theo

    Progressives define anything they don’t like as “toxic.” I think you could easily make a case that feminism has been toxic, creating suspicion and paranoia between the two sexes. In my life I’ve met very few men who really hate women, but quite a few women who hate men. Colleges are now so saturated with feminism that the sort of men you describe in your article feel out of place in higher education and thus avoid it as an option. I’m so glad I attended college at a time when feminism could still be chuckled at. “Progress” is definitely not the word that comes to mind when onsidering what feminism has accomplished.

  • Rod Bristol

    Conflating healthy masculinity with toxic masculinity helps nobody. Toxic masculinity has nothing to do with strength. Toxic masculinity perverts male distinctions into dehumanizing both male and female humans. Strong men respect women for their strengths. Toxic men try to hide their weakness behind bravado, aggression, and misogyny. Jesus was a radical feminist!

  • Darryl Ruby

    Men and their masculinity have been under attack for years. As far back as the Flintstones cartoons. Wilma and Betty were constantly putting their husbands down and treating them like they were buffoons. Nearly all of today’s TV commercials show women bailing their male significant other out of nearly every imaginable situation, from roadside service to home repair to car buying. Male bashing is rampant and out of control in mainstream TV society. I grew up hard and I have lived hard. I worked in a glass plant for twenty some years heaving heavy steel moulds every day I worked. The little girly boy men that I see walking the streets today would cry at the mere sight of actual manual labor, let alone sign up for it as their livelihood. I’m embarrassed and actually afraid of what the next twenty years have in store for our country full of sissified misfit boy men once they hit the streets as adults. High intensity labor intensive jobs will suffer horrible shortages of qualified workers. Roofers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, masons and the laborers that are must haves to support the journeymen in the field. I am a masculine man and I wear that title with pride. I’m not afraid to get dirty. I change my own oil and do my all own home repairs and mechanical work on my cars and motorcycles. I also am not afraid to call things how I see them. I see todays pansy ass little girly boy men and I am disgusted. Their pansy ass looking skinny jeans, man buns, make up and the like. Act like a man instead of a fragile little sissy. Put on a pair of work boots and do something real like changing tires or cutting wood or roofing. After work put on another pair of boots and hop on a big Harley or go hiking through the woods for some hunting or fishing. BE A MAN. NOT A PANSY ASS GIRLY BOY MAN!!

  • CruisingTroll

    Toxic men try to hide their weakness behind bravado, aggression,
    Bravado and aggression are characteristics of strong men. Neither is a NECESSARY characteristic, and either in excess is bad, but the strong man who lacks both is exceedingly rare, to the point of non-existent.

    Jesus was a radical feminist!
    uhhh, no. A radical feminist would say that a woman who divorces her husband and marries another is a strong, empowered woman, not an adulteress.

  • Libby Trudeau

    Based on my experience, masculinity is usually “toxic” if it rests on dominating others, taking what’s not yours and letting your self-worth depend on how many other people you boss around and how tough you “appear” to be. The lovely men you have described here who seem to enjoy what they do, work hard, care about their family and put others above themselves sound awesome and far from toxic. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that some feminist somewhere MIGHT be upset by these behaviors. However I can tell you as a life-long feminist I’ve never heard anyone complain that men are performing physical labor, working hard or being brave.

  • Rod Bristol

    By “bravado” I mean presumptuous or vain boasting, puffing up to compensate for a lame ego. Stepping up to take charge when I’m the right man (or woman) for the job is merely being responsible; stepping up is not bravado. By “aggression” I mean interpersonal aggression, the habit of domineering and threatening, too often by abusive language or violence. By “misogyny” I mean diminishing a person because she is a she. Jesus was a strong man if ever one was, and he eschewed bravado, aggression, and misogyny.

    Yes, Jesus was a radical feminist. His respect and inclusion of women were revolutionary, shocking, and confusing. “Radical” means from the root, based on profoundly different principles than custom would expect. What you describe is not radical feminism; it’s reactionary feminism, which could also be called “toxic feminism.” You don’t have to hate men or diminish them to love and respect women. A strong man is not a chauvinist pig. A strong woman doesn’t despise men.

  • GunnerMcGrath

    I don’t affiliate with any party but I’m certainly more left-leaning, and everything I have heard and read about toxic masculinity has nothing to do with what this article says.

    Toxic masculinity is things like insisting that boys don’t cry, don’t show their feelings, don’t hug each other, don’t say “I love you” to their sons. Toxic masculinity is the attempt to be rugged and independent in your emotional existence and to insist that creating true human connection through words, physical touch, and emotion is feminine, gay, or weak.

    Toxic masculinity has nothing to do with whether you’re a farmer or a banker, a firefighter or a scientist, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican. There are toxic men in all areas of life, like a politician or movie star who exploits women rather than dealing with his personal pain, and there are strong, rugged men who hug their kids constantly, are unashamed to cry when they’re sad, can express the full range of emotions. Toxic Masculinity tells us to hide our shadow from the world and put on a strong face because men don’t admit they have problems and pain.

    There is nothing in that article that even remotely touches on actual toxic masculinity, and because things like emotions and relationships aren’t mentioned. If anything I would say the most toxic part of the piece is the assertion that everybody on the left looks down on men who work with their hands for a living.

  • Dean

    Where did I assert that “he left looks down on men who work with their hands for a living.”

    Also, what you are describing as “toxic masculinity” is a bunch of abstract stereotypes.

    When Leftists have to point out what they mean by “toxic masculinity” in the real world, they point to men like the ones I describe here.

  • GunnerMcGrath

    “These guys, with their physical strength, their rural lifestyle that includes slaughtering pigs, their demeanor and, presumably, their willingness to run into a fiery buildings to save other people’s babies, represent traditional masculinity. Not everyone is a fan. **When the Left talks about “toxic masculinity”, these are the guys they are thinking of.** I mean, those guys probably even owned guns.”

    It’s basically your entire article. If that’s not what you meant with this article then I don’t know what the heck you were trying to say.

    And no, when we point out toxic masculinity we don’t point to farmers and firefighters. We point to Harvey Weinstein and those who abuse women with their power. We point to the dad who withholds love from his son if he doesn’t do well in sports and berates him in public when he cries.

    Read through basically every comment so far on this page and you’ll see a pattern.

    Also have to note the irony of talking about “abstract stereotypes” while abstractly stereotyping “the left” as a homogenous group who all think the same.

  • Dean

    You have no evidence that I said “the left looks down on men who work with their hands for a living” because I didn’t say that.

  • The Stormer

    Seems to me the wealthiest elite men lean towards the “girly boy” side (Gates, Zuckerberg, etc.). That’s probably just a result of their ability to pay higher-testosterone men to do everything for them.

  • The Stormer

    Distrust of men is prevalent in abstinence-only education, especially the kind used in Christian schools. My 10th grade Sex Respect class stated that “boys use love to get sex, girls use sex to get love.” We actually had to complete that statement for our final test.

  • Zebulon

    What we have is toxic feminism. Namely abortion.

    You’re lying; when in the last 100 years have women been refused education? women get to run the country but they are exempt from the draft. You women are the most privileged and entitled creatures on the face of the earth.

  • Alan Drake

    Hardly ! You have erected a straw man – created your own definitions – and then attacked your creation with a weak argument.

    Bullies and sexual abusers & harassers would be a better example of toxic masculinity.

  • Darryl Ruby

    My comment never referenced women, lesbian or otherwise, or their capabilities. My only reference to women was in the TV world of male bashing. So who is doing the judging here? I couldn’t care less about sexual orientation other than the transgender scam but that’s a whole different issue.
    I actually applaud women who can “take care of themselves”. I also never said anything about being persecuted. You come across like a true liberal. Other than a like minded liberal, anyone who stands up for themselves and what they think is somehow misguided and therefore must be attacked and made to surrender to the liberal mindset. There are many women who do all the things you mention and more. A lot even “shoot (yes guns)”. I looked high and low for years for a woman that would do things with me and yes I found one. A 6′ -1″ blue eye beauty that men are extremely intimidated by She is a former basketball star, mother and grandmother, and she will be the first one to the tool box when it comes to tinkering on her house, cars and motorcycles. She also has her motorcycle license and her carry permit as do I. She loves primitive camping. She fishes and yes she baits her own hook and takes her own fish off and doesn’t’ flinch at helping me load or unload our 16′ 120# canoe. She’ll move furniture as well as most men and yes much to my delight she is a bad ass. But she cleans up nice too. So when you start trying to analyse what kind of personality I have and my likes concerning women, you need to realise that you aren’t the only woman who does more than eat Bon Bons while getting a manicure.

  • disqus_ZBXJDbYJHe

    To me, toxic masculinity means that guys are not allow to cry, laugh and develop a full range of emotions as human beings.

  • SCUBAsabre

    FYI… nope not a liberal but nice try.

  • SCUBAsabre

    YOu should read some blogs on men’s attitudes toward women…. You will find quite a few men who not only distrust but resent and loath women that don’t capitulate to what they deam is “feminine”. I would not say it’s most men but as a woman that is on the dating scene as an adult…. there are a lot of men that resent women. Glad you and your male friends are some of them but make no mistake, there are many of them. To your assertion that Feminism is the issue I say nonsense. Feminism is about women having options to pursue life in whatever fashion suits them just as men have always done. It is not about “distrusting” men in any way. Distrust is born out of behavior… if someone isn’t trustworthy (man or woman) than trust should not be automatic.