Every time we hear of a new mass shooting the finger is pointed at “toxic masculinity.” Certainly, masculinity is in the mix, but it is not the highest order problem. We should be looking at the disease, not the symptom.
Last year I wrote about “peak toxic masculinity.” In that article I noted that while people bemoan violence they have a habit of celebrating violence, even as entertainment such as watching movies full of killing: both men and women. I said that, “If every person who has enjoyed watching such films was forced to stop posting about toxic masculinity, social media would be a much quieter place.”
What this suggests is that we are all complicit to various degrees in the net effect of toxic masculinity. It is not good enough for individuals (including women) to point a finger at the “problem” and state it should be fixed as if it has nothing to do with their actions and behaviours.
Because things are often easier to understand as a diagram, I have created what might be called the “power, violence and complicity cycle” (pictured above). As we can see, the first order problem is a culture of power and violence. This culture of power and violence is then celebrated by most people (both men and women, in the form of watching violent movies and generally rewarding power with cultural capital). This celebration of power and violence is then acted out mostly by men: this is the “toxic masculinity”: but note, it does not happen because of men and masculinity, it happens because of society’s celebration of power and violence. Performances of power and violence are then waged upon most people, which in turn feeds back into a culture of power and violence.
Now there are lots of other things going on this cycle, including different experiences of power and violence by men, women, gay people, different races and so forth. But the distilled message in the diagram is that masculinity is not the highest order problem: it is power and violence and we all play a part in this.