Toxic Masculinity of Wolves and Men?

By Scott Keith

“Traditionally, masculinity is what stands between the innocent and the wolves.” – Ben Shapiro

Well, I’m back. You can call me Pappy or call me Cantankerous. At this point it doesn’t matter. What I am today is mad, outraged, and oddly—at least for me—a little sad. The Gillette commentary on masculinity which was closely followed by Harry’s not-so-subtle jumping on the bandwagon has pushed me over the edge. I didn’t want to be the Cantankerous Critic, but apparently someone needs to be.

What is a man to do when his preferred razor company tells him he is toxic? Well, unlike Gillette and Harry’s (the Harry’s ad has since been taken down – ED), I refuse to tell you how to act even if it might be “for your own good.” I will not tell you to boycott. I will not ask you to write a comment, review, or blog. I will not tell you to stop shaving, though more men with beards wouldn’t be a horrible thing. I think all we can do at times like this is think, be discerning, and call out bullshit when we see it. And let’s be clear: both the advertisements are a load of misplaced bullshit.

To my way of thinking, there are at least two deeply seated errors with both advertisements. First, both assume that all masculinity ought to be labeled as toxic and therefore identified as negative and harmful. This is evident from the examples given. If a man fights, it is always toxic, never mind that men fighting have kept us free in this country for going on 243 years. Taking charge in a group of people is harmful, never mind that men taking charge, sometimes even when they didn’t want to, built this nation. Allowing boys to be boys instead of acting like little girls is harmful, even though stopping our boys from being boys is having devastating consequences on them, not least of which are considerable failures in school, the workplace, and social life. This is evidenced by the ever-increasing feelings of loneliness and despair reported in young men, which is in turn evidenced by a skyrocketing suicide rate among them.

Can masculinity be toxic? Perhaps. But if so, it can be toxic in the same way any human trait can be toxic if taken to absurdity. In this sense, an excess of femininity can undoubtedly be toxic, as could an excess of compassion and so on. Many of the examples of masculine toxicity provided in these advertisements can, and do, swing both ways. Has a woman never spoken for a man publicly or corrected him in front of his peers? I suspect most married men would say this is a common occurrence. “Mansplaining,” (as depicted in the Gillette advertisement) is perhaps misplaced and even personally embarrassing or offensive, but is it toxic?

Second, the direct inference of both ads is that identifiers, such as strong, competent, bold, etc., which once were used to describe what it means to be a man need to be replaced. With which identifiers ought they be replaced? Well, with those that have historically been used to describe women: nice, sweet, tender, caring, etc. According to this “logic,” only boys who can be described to be like girls are good, and only men that kind be described to be like women are good. Or said more simply, boys who act like girls are the only “good boys.” Men who act like women are the only “good men.” This is nonsense. The data is clear: society needs men to be men—masculine men—and fathers. Not men who act like women and not fathers who act like mothers. Perhaps it is not an abundance of masculinity that is causing toxic problems in our society but a lack of truly masculine fathers being present in the lives of their children.

Maybe that ought to be our focus. At the risk of repeating myself, boys who grow up in homes where they were raised by their mothers alone are more likely (much more likely) to fail in school, suffer from anxiety disorders, drop out from high school, become addicted to drugs or alcohol (or both), get arrested, be imprisoned, or at the end of the spectrum, be suicidal. They genuinely become toxic to themselves and others at a much higher rate, not because they are too masculine but because they are not masculine at all.

So, what does it mean to be masculine? Well, there is probably not much agreement on the answer to this question these days. But in days gone by, it seems there was a kind of universal sense of what it meant. Then, descriptors like strong, brave, wise, capable, self-guided, entrepreneurial, self-sufficient, gracious, kind, and good would have summed it up nicely. Men like this protected people. Men like this literally moved mountains and built cities. Men like this dispensed justice when needed and mercy when called for. Men like this tamed the wild places and used enough wisdom to retain some of those places as wild. They were brave enough to be frontiersmen and gracious enough to be good fathers. These men knew when it was necessary to fight and when it was time to make peace. Because, let’s not be deceived, it is sometimes necessary to fight. In short, they were men, which is why it was not then, and ought not be today, a bad thing to say to about a good man, “He’s a man’s man.”

Masculinity is not toxic, but calling it so indeed is. It’s toxic for our society, for our families, and for the men we wish to turn into women. To quote the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro: “Traditionally, masculinity is what stands between the innocent and the wolves.” We should be very careful not to be ignorant of our history and current reality. If we eliminate truly masculine men from civilized society, the wolves will come. Perhaps they are here already. What will we do if those wolves find us and there are no masculine men around to keep them at bay?