Harassment, Bullying and Toxic Femininity

It isn’t often that I read feminist blogs. For the most part they don’t take too kindly to dissenting opinion and they are often far too infuriating to simply read and not comment. So I tend to stay away. Thus it was quite by accident that I stumbled across an article on Feministing by Dena Simmons who proclaims herself to be a doctoral student at Columbia University entitled Making the links between street harrassment (sic), bullying, and toxic masculinity.

The author begins by stating “I set out to write a piece about the psychological effects of cat-calling on women.” So far, so good. Then she discovers “I realized how easily the respondents and I started to villify [sic] men.” And then she concludes “If we are going to talk about feminism, we cannot ignore discussions of manhood or what it means to be a man in most societies.”

At this point I’m beginning to wonder “why not?” Feminism has very little to do with manhood or what it means to be a man, but I figure she was just trying to empathize a little, so I read on. She goes on to discuss her observations of her male students during the time she spent as a middle school teacher. She says “Almost all of my students, boys and girls alike, considered boys who were not manly enough (tough, aggressive, outspoken, confident, violent, and sexually experienced) effeminate and ‘gay.’ ‘Gay’ and ‘faggot’ were the ultimate insults for boys at the school and community where I taught, and that made me cringe.”

Thus she has managed to link street harassment and bullying. Though she never quite uses the term, she eventually explains what she means by the “toxic masculinity,” as mentioned in the title. “ [W]e must tackle gender stereotypes and redefine hegemonic masculinity so that boys are not bullied for not being manly enough, and so that boys do not feel the need to have multiple sexual partners, engage in homophobic bullying or in violent behavior, or hiss and holler at women just to prove their masculinity.” And so it appears that boys and men trying to prove their masculinity in ways she deems unacceptable is toxic masculinity.

At this point I ask myself why is it that boys feel the need to prove their masculinity at all, let alone in socially unacceptable ways? Ms. Simmons almost sees the answer, but because she is blinded by her feminist colored glasses, she misses it entirely. What she calls toxic masculinity is merely a reaction to toxic femininity. Having been a teenage boy, I suppose I have an unfair advantage at addressing this issue over someone who has never been a teenage boy. Call it male privilege if you will, but as you may have guessed, I intend to exercise that privilege.

Teenage boys are motivated by three basic drives, food, sleep, and sex. Now it’s only a guess, but I am willing to bet that food and sleep have very little to do with this so-called toxic masculinity.

I said that Ms. Simmons almost gets it. She says “Almost all of my students, boys and girls [bold text mine] alike, considered boys who were not manly enough… effeminate and ‘gay’” (emphasis added). Note that she includes girls in the bullying behavior that she considers toxic, though she doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of her words. It is part of toxic femininity.

Girls tend to go after boys who are higher in status. Some may settle for less, but typically, girls are attracted to those in higher ranks. Alpha males, if you will. Bullies are alpha males. They are dominant and higher in status than those they bully. Now I understand that there are a lot of girls who are turned off by this and wouldn’t be caught dead with a bully regardless of status, but there are many who are attracted to this type of male, the bad boy. It is these girls for whom the bullies compete.

This attraction to the bad boy is another part of toxic femininity. The two parts go hand in hand to create the reaction of what Ms. Simmons terms toxic masculinity. Thus toxic masculinity is born of toxic femininity and if Ms. Simmons wishes to tackle gender stereotypes as a means of reducing street harassment and bullying, the place to start is with girls, not boys. It is the toxic femininity of girls who are attracted to bad boys that poisons the masculinity of those boys that leads to the behavior that so offends her.

Ms. Simmons needs to learn behavior theory, more specifically, operant conditioning. If girls reinforce the behavior in boys, they will act accordingly. This behavior will be likely to continue into adulthood where it continues to manifest itself in ways that many women find offensive. Change a girls’ idea of what is sexually exciting and you will change the way boys (and men) behave. Don’t blame the men, Ms. Simmons, you girls and your toxic femininity rewarded that behavior and taught them to behave that way.

NOTE: I do not condone street harassment or bullying, which is one reason I don’t condone feminism. The constant negative portrayal of men, manhood, and masculinity is nothing more than harassment and bullying and is every bit as offensive as the harassment that Ms. Simmons is complaining about.

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