Does toxic masculinity have a counterpart?

In a large segment of the popular culture, there has been a disturbing analysis of recent events which tries to explain why there have been acts of reprehensible behavior, of violence, and betrayal. The problem, in their world view lies solely at the feet of men, who carry within themselves the seed of “toxic masculinity.” 

Sadly, frustratingly, maddeningly, men are at fault simply because they are men — too much men, and if we could just talk them down off their masculine pedestals, their seat of privilege as it were, the world would be a more peaceful and just place. Or to turn Professor Higgins on his head, “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?”

In this regard, we need to prayerfully revisit the consequences of Original Sin, which affected men and women differently. For both, certainly, their rebellion had a twofold effect of severing their prior intimacy with God and compromising their relations with each other. Moreover, both suffered a darkening of the intellect, a weakening of the will, and a disordering of the passions. Man, in particular, would find work — the very toil essential to sustaining the family — a great burden, and woman would suffer from the abuse of his authority and in bringing his seed to fruition. 

In his work, “The Original Unity of Man and Woman,” Pope St. John Paul II insisted that the template of healthy male-female relations was found in the time that existed before the fall. In that brief, harmonious setting, man and woman communed easily with God and each other without grasping, and without succumbing to stifling self-interest. The man gave himself generously to the woman, who received him with joy, and the mutual exchange echoed out to Creation, fostering a culture of love and life. Despite myriad obstacles which exist now, we are still required to pursue that collaboration by accepting God’s grace to pursue lives of virtue and mutual service.

As we look at our current culture of animosity, distrust, and accusation, to say that the world is dysfunctional strictly because of “toxic masculinity” is wrong on two levels. First of all, violence and aggression are neither authentically masculine nor worthy of any human person. Can we call such behaviors “toxic”? Certainly, but only if we recognize how men are called to holiness. A man is to use his strength, his aptitude, and his gifts as means to protect those entrusted to his care — beginning with his family. He is called to create, to guard what he has created, and to refrain from abusing those who are weaker or less apt, all of which require discipline, restraint, and selflessness. A tall order! 

If, though, we agree to the term “toxic” for some male actions, then we must turn the spotlight around to women and ask how they are prone to corrupting their femininity. Women on a wide scale are rejecting chastity, Marriage, motherhood, and creative collaboration with men. Having pointed to men’s corruption, we must admit that many women abuse their own creative powers, by replacing love with manipulation, and cooperation with contempt for authentic masculinity. Thus, too many men and women have issued a non serviam, and while masculinity is targeted as the root evil of today, the suggestion that we must “feminize” men is to ask them to act in ways that women themselves have abandoned. 

Bullies and beasts are reprehensible, for sin is sin. Still, it falls to men and women to search their souls and rediscover healthy ways of working together. Sexuality is not a single continuum with excesses on each and an ideal middle ground, but the source of a rich complementarity, relying on two distinct vocations. Truly, it is only when we return to the God-given template of the Garden that we will find a path of authentic joy and mutual love — and the urgent needs of the next generation impel us to do this sooner rather than later.

Anchor columnist Mrs. Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius.typepad.com.


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