The Flip Side of Toxic Masculinity: Conservatives and Anti-Feminists Have a Desire and Tendency to Depict All Women as Needy, Weak Vessels In Need of Perpetual Rescuing By Big, Strong, Capable Men
I believe I have a post about the subject of Toxic Masculinity on this blog that has been sitting in draft status for the past few months. I don’t know when or if I’ll finish it and post it.
A lot of my fellow conservatives misunderstand the phrase “Toxic Masculinity.” They seem to think that the phrase, which is used by feminists, means that all men are toxic, or that masculinity itself is toxic.
One thing I can say here and now is that when feminists use the phrase “Toxic Masculinity” they are not arguing that all men are abusive, toxic, or that masculinity is necessarily itself bad, wrong, or toxic.
But I don’t care to get into a protracted description or primer on what the term means in this post.
Around the time two hurricanes hit the United States in 2017, one in Texas, one in Florida, other conservatives began circulating photos on Twitter and other social media of male first-responders carrying women through flood waters.
(By the way, I recall seeing a handful of photos at that time of men helping OTHER men who were hurricane victims. For instance, I remember seeing photos of one young, black gentleman escorting an elderly, white gentlemen through flood waters.
There was even one photo of a woman first-responder assisting a male hurricane victim from his house and through the flooded streets.
I did not see my fellow conservatives make any comments or conclusions about gender in regards to such male- on- male help or in regards to the female- on- male help photos; they only did so in regards to the photos of male- on- female help.)
The caption under such photos of male- helping- female victims, or commentary accompanying such photos by conservatives, usually conveyed a messages such as,
“Oooh, I bet the Feminists would hate this photo! They would complain! How dare a MAN save and carry a WOMAN through a time of turmoil, such as a flooded street after a hurricane! Such ‘Toxic Masculinity’! Here is your Toxic Masculinity: a man helping a woman, oooh, how wrong that is!”
The problem, of course, is that the dispute with Toxic Masculinity by feminists is not that it’s bad or wrong for a man to help a woman in need.
To say that feminists would object to any man helping any woman who legitimately needs help in a time of tragedy shows a complete ignorance of what the phrase “Toxic Masculinity” means.
Conservative and anti-feminist critics of the concept of “Toxic Masculinity” chaff at the idea that Toxic Masculinity presents all men as being abusive, domineering, cave-men like brutes. (But again, that is not what the term of Toxic Masculinity is saying, but that would require another post for me to explain.)
I was just reading a 2008 book review by Geraldine Bedell about two books, one by an author who I consider to be at least partially anti- feminist, Susan Pinker, (who promotes the notion that all differences between men and women are biological in nature), and one by Susan Faludi.
I was fascinated by the part of the review that discusses Faludi’s book.
While conservatives and other anti-feminists ridicule feminists over the concept of “Toxic Masculinity,” (a concept most of them continue to misunderstand, so that they end up attacking a straw man version of it), the flip side of the coin is that American culture, and other cultures that are heavily biased in favor of men (patriarchal in nature), like to present women as being forever in needing of rescue. It’s a “Damsel in Distress” view of women.
This is so because many to most conservatives and anti-feminists think all women are too physically or mentally weak to save themselves.
If women are capable enough on their own, and if women come to realize that they are generally strong enough on their own, this undercuts the anti-feminist and conservative cherished view of ‘Man As Hero, Protector, and Provider.’
Perhaps they think if women realize they are strong on their own that this puts men out of a job.
In this thinking, women need big, strong, daring men around to guide them in life and rescue them.
Furthermore, in such thinking, the accomplishments of women go ignored or under-reported. Only the heroics of men in national news stories or in history get celebrated or recalled.
Here are excerpts from the 2008 page by Geraldine Bedell, In search of the visible woman
Snippets from that page by Bedell:
…There may well be useful conclusions to be drawn from this [i.e., some of the arguments by Pinker in Pinker’s book].
But the one Pinker draws, that women are naturally more empathetic, is a huge and unsubstantiated leap. Even if it were true on average (and how to tell, given the pervasiveness of culture?), it takes us no further in accommodating the millions of empathetic men and driven women.
Pinker first sets up what is probably a false opposition (public success and empathy are not in fact mutually exclusive) and then wholly fails to account for high-profile women such as Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton or all the women who are running companies and law firms.
Neither, I suspect, could she explain the pioneer-era women profiled in Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream, who bravely and often viciously fought Native Americans after their menfolk had failed them, usually by running away. These women, Faludi argues, have been airbrushed out of the founding-of-America myth, just as a similar airbrushing is now distorting our accounts of 9/11.
The attacks on the Twin Towers left America feeling exposed, Faludi says; by the time it was clear exactly what was happening, there was absolutely nothing that could be done.
Shocked at the utter failure of the state to provide protection, many Americans felt helpless and humiliated.
The media responded, as she painstakingly demonstrates, by re-framing the attacks and their aftermath as an atavistic myth of virile maleness and female vulnerability.
In reality, men and women were equally powerless that September morning.
But in the retelling, the firefighters (increasingly referred to as firemen) became heroes. The fact that many of them felt uncomfortable with this designation was ignored, as was the shocking knowledge that many fewer would have died had they had radios that worked.
Rescue pictures almost invariably showed women being carried out of the World Trade Centre, even though three times as many men were in the buildings and three times as many died.
Any women who attempted to present a more nuanced view (Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy and Barbara Kingsolver in particular) were demonised and accused of emasculating America.
The romance of the vulnerable woman and the Ramboesque male reached its apotheosis in the saga of Private Jessica Lynch, whose injury in Iraq (actually in a car crash after considerable failures of command) was retold as rape and torture and whose rescue from a hospital where she had been well treated was used to attack the presence of women in the armed forces, as a ‘stupid’ decision ‘to placate loud-mouthed feminists’. ‘Women, they always need rescuing!’ was the message and no one bothered to report Private Lynch’s own account that the bravest and best soldier she had served alongside was a woman of Native American descent.
Faludi’s book can sometimes rely too much on the usual suspects. Grown-ups know to treat with caution the writings of Mark Steyn in the National Review or the statements of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum or the foamy rantings of conservative bloggers.
The Terror Dream is at its best when it demonstrates the pervasiveness of fantasy, when it reveals the media at large reconfiguring 9/11 as an attack on hearth and home.
So, critics of Toxic Masculinity enjoy complaining and whining that the concept supposedly emasculates all men, or makes them look like buffoons or idiots (they misunderstand the term, it does not convey as such), and it gives them an opportunity to once more depict men as victims, but I’ve never seen these same people express as much dismay over how the ‘Damsel In Distress’ paradigm (used against women or to describe women) is an equally abhorrent, obnoxious gender stereotype.
The Toxic Masculinity detractors only care about if and when men are portrayed negatively by culture, magazines, movies, or feminists writers. They only care about when men as a group are criticized. I don’t see the same level of concern when women and girls are the target of stereotypes.
I’ve also noted before that some with-in the pro-traditional gender role camp in Christianity (gender complementarians) do actually, actively, promote this idea that Men Should Be Brave Protectors and Women Should Be Helpless Inept Victims At All Times So Men Can Feel Important and Needed.
I’ve written about that complementarian tendency here:
Apparently, there is a segment of secular culture as well that feels it benefits from portraying all men as tough, macho, can-do, competent leaders, and all women as being weak, dainty, helpless, overly emotional, irrational, physically frail, little idiots who are constantly in need of big, strong, smart men to guide and protect them. On that related note, see this:
Men Depicted as Victims Part 2 – “Depressed, Repressed, Objectified: Are Men the New Women?” by E. Day – Or: Is it Scientifically Plausible That Men Are Innately Dumber Than Women And Do Men Biologically Prefer to Fail School?