One of the claims of feminism is that there are no significant differences between behavior between men and women when it comes to most roles in society, particularly those that involve social positions such as work, power, or recreation. Any association of people that are not evenly represented by men and women is evidence that there is some residual discrimination that lacks any justification. We have spent the greater part of a century on a project to give a chance to the concept that men and women are interchangeable in roles involving associations between people. We continue to be frustrated by the continued existence of associations that are not evenly represented between the sexes, or that have uneven distribution of responsibilities. We penalize those associations so that they become impractical to continue, as has happened to many men’s-only associations or spaces.
Despite our efforts, the disparity remains. There are associations or roles that women desire to occupy and yet their populations are dominated by men. Over a generation ago, there was some relief in the expectation that over time this balance will change through attrition, replacing established members with new members chosen equally between the sexes. This has not happened, or it has not happened nearly as fast as was originally expected.
Part of the explanation for this there are too many men who still discriminate unfairly against women. This must mean that young men are still continuing the discriminatory behaviors of their predecessors. This younger generation have grown up their entire lives in an environment that emphasized the society’s priority on sexual equality. The fact that they don’t seem to have learned their lessons suggest that someone is still teaching them the wrong lessons or that their teachers have failed to civilize them.
The recent discussions have turned to criticizing individual men for their unfair behavior toward women, and to criticizing other individual men for their failure to correct the uncivil behavior of the misbehaving men. The phrase “the best the men can be” refers both to behaving well oneself and to enforcing good behavior in other men. This is a new goal for society in order to get the next generation to meet the equal representation goals of our ancestors.
The phrase toxic masculinity is part of the persuasion to behave better and to enforce better behavior in others. A major impediment to full equality between the sexes is a set of primitive masculine traits. Eradicating these traits will finally permit the existence of equality of outcome between the sexes. These traits are toxic to the natural equality of men and women, an artificial distinction between individuals of the same species.
I see the term toxic masculinity as an admission that there are fundamental differences between men and women when it comes to self association. There are many circumstances where men prefer to associate with other men. This inevitably leads to disparities in outcomes when the associations select leadership from their ranks and rewards that leadership with their profits. The toxicity is merely descriptive of the fact that is obstructs the goals of equality. However the term used prescriptively in the sense that it needs to be removed from society.
As I mentioned in recent posts, I prefer to separate men from women when trying to understand behaviors and psychology. In other words, when it comes to psychology, I reject the utility of a notion of a human psychology that is shared between men and women.
I would have preferred that the science had always separate men and women when it comes to understanding behaviors. Had we done so, we might have come up with different categories of behaviors with different names and descriptions that best describe the conditions of each sex. We could end up with two different sets of behaviors that do not match one-to-one across the sexes.
My impression is that the predecessors to modern psychology and sociology did primarily study male behavior especially in context of larger social associations. This would be a natural course of study in societies that men predominately led. In that context, the motivation to understand how best to run society demanded attention to men’s behavior. When modern behavioral sciences expanded the scope to include women, they immediately projected the earlier lessons onto women under the presumption that men and women are created equal. There were specializations to study female behavior as distinct from male behavior, but these are variations on the more encompassing behaviors that we presume all humans to share although the original findings came from studying men alone.
For example, our ancestors observed that aggression is an important part of understanding men’s behavior and the later science just extended the same concept to women. Aggression as classically defined is something that all humans experience, and cultural factors primarily explain any differences in the expression of aggression. Aggression is general to all humans.
Clearly women do exhibit behaviors that we recognize as aggression. However, if we have started with a clean slate when studying women’s behaviors, we would likely have defined female specific behaviors that serve some female prerogative and these behaviors happen to have elements that mirror what we describe as aggression within men.
Aggression as a men’s behavior has a direct relationship to men’s roles in society (without making any claims of causality). The reason why we came up with concept of aggression in the first place is because acknowledging and controlling male aggression has direct implications on our ability to managing society or other associations. Our modern approach to describe aggression as something that women experience is a consequence of our wish for equality between the sexes, but it has the consequence of deducing that women somehow have a better way of dealing with the same aggression that men experience. Men have a more toxic approach to the same aggression shared by both sexes. The conclusion is that men must be taught to handle aggression more like women do.
My objection to above is we are using the same word (in this case “aggression”) for two different behaviors entirely. Men can not train their aggression to be more female like because women innately do not have this trait in the first place. Conversely, our experience has shown that had we been successful in training women to be more male-like in the same innate aggression, we would have had a more equitable representation by now in the most competitive positions. There is male aggression, and there is female something else but it is not aggression.
Defining certain behaviors as being toxic because the individual is male, presumes that there is some underlying condition that both men and women share but that women happen to have a superior means of handling it.
It is interesting that we generally are not forbidding the underlying condition itself. In the example of aggression, there is a sense that some level of aggression is necessary in life. We need to be aggressive in pursuing our goals, and we need to be aggressive in training or disciplining others to continue our goals. Aggression itself is not bad. Instead, certain ways of expressing and dealing with aggression are bad and these ways are predominantly expressed by men.
I would say that what we describe as aggression is an entirely male phenomenon. The concept (as a social behavior) arose out of study of men within primarily men-only roles. Women may behave outwardly in ways that mimic some of the ways men behave when they are aggressive, but that external behavior is an expression something other than aggression we have defined for men. Within this way of thinking, the only way men can exhibit less toxic aggression is to eliminate aggression entirely. This amounts to something like lobotomy — the removal of the entire function from men. Even if this can be done, I seriously doubt there is some suppressed female behavior that would take its place. Removing aggression from men would solve the problem of toxic aggression, but it would leave those men incapable of offering any form of assertive help in progressing society. Removing aggression in men would not result in more effeminate men, instead it would result in a subclass that would have to find utility in roles that do not involve anything resembling aggression.
I believe there is an inescapable reason why men prefer to associate with other men outside of family contexts. I don’t buy into evolutionary explanations, but such explanations can back me up in that such associations offer advantages. Within such associations there is considerable male aggression involved in establishing leadership roles and there is an aggregate aggression directed to other male associations (whether competitors or collaborators). Men recognize the aggressive behavior that other men exhibit and they reward the ones that have the right combination of aggression and goals.
I think that anyone who arrives in the group with competitive aspects of aggression, that person has the chance to out-compete the others for the leadership roles. So few (if any) women win that competition because they don’t have male aggression in the first place. In the rare case she does achieve that role by pretension, she would quickly lose that role when that pretension gets exposed when male aggression is required.
As I discussed above, if we were to approach the study of behavior differently for male and female subjects, we would likely come up with different defining characteristics for both, magnifying what makes them difference instead of minimizing the differences at minor variations on both being human. In the classical approach that focused on men, we came up with the term aggression. We later defined this as a human trait where any differences in expressions are individual differences unrelated to the sex.
Aggression is a useful measure of men in that their varying approaches will have a major influence on their outcome in life. Restricting the definition of the term to just men, we still recognize a range of good to bad aggressive behaviors. In terms of associations, we follow aggressive behavior we agree with and we separate ourselves from aggressive behavior we disagree with. Such decisions are made at individual levels and frequently will separate groups into factions that will fight it out in one way or another. This indicates to me that there is something more fundamental driving male aggression: how do men decide what aggressive is acceptable?
To the extent there is irrational aggression and rational aggression, I will focus on the latter. I think most male aggression is rational. In other words, the aggression is a consequence of something that that man believes in. In general, men do not reveal their rationalization for the aggression. When he does explain it, he often will tell us something superficial (such “he insulted me”). Other times he will tell us his real reason but the reason is so deeply thought through that we don’t recognize it for what it is: the driver for the aggressive behavior.
Men come up with plans for what they want to get out of life. Such plans often are more than a goal such as becoming rich or respected, but we usually reduce the motivation to such basic goals. This is often a mistake. We think a person is acting aggressively because he wants wealth or respect he doesn’t yet have, and then we’re disappointed when he continues to act aggressively when he gets it. There is usually a larger plan where immediate victories are small steps toward something else. That something else may be ultimately unrealistic, inherently impossible to achieve, but it is deeply motivating to the individual. That deep motivation drives the aggression. The aggression is not for the sake of being mean, nor is it for the sake of some immediate dominance, instead it is a consequence of the frustration of the incompatibility between the current circumstances and that deeper plan or vision.
We often see this expressed in literature or in history where the antagonist is someone who has some recognizably diabolical plan such as usurping the rule of another or conquer some other group. In the case of historical acts, I think this is often a mis-characterization of the real motivation. Most of the time, the person has some particular plan in mind when he achieves the goals of his aggression. The goal of aggression is to achieve some form of power over others, but the motivation for that aggression is to allow his plan to proceed.
In mundane day-to-day experiences, we discourage behavior such as bullying, fighting, or persistently approaching (and re-approaching) women despite their rejection. We describe these as individual aggressions that can be excised from their lives, as if they can continue their lives without the bullying, without the fighting, without the approaching of women who don’t welcome it. It may be instead that such instances are not isolated activities done out of boredom from not having anything else to do. In most cases, the perpetrator rationally decides to act based on some deeper motivation where the current action is a mere small step. In that context, the aggression is not optional, even when everyone else disagrees.
The real toxicity of men is that they often come up with unrealistic plans for themselves or where they want to see the world go. This has played out many times in history where occasionally one of these men become the hero who ushers in a new era, often more advanced that one before even though no one then asked for it. The major changes in history came about through some form of aggression that almost certainly discouraged by the majority of the people living at the time. Sometimes this person would be the general of armies winning decisive battles. Other times, it is someone who refuses to give up on an idea rejected by the consensus of his peers. Even in that non-violent example, the individual may employ aggressive persuasion tactics (such as ad hominen attacks) that eventually win with favorable consequences when the idea was a good one.
Often the aggression that results in some positive change was motivated by some ideal compatible with that change: the aggressor desired something like the change that actually occurred. Even after the change, the people at the time may forever resent the aggression and never appreciate the change. In the end, his goal was that the future generations would appreciate the change.
What makes aggression toxic is a plan that few if any people understand or want. If sufficiently motivated by whatever vision he has, he will escalate the aggression until he is stopped or until he wins. For people living at the time, this requires making an uncomfortable decision of stopping him or of suffering the consequences. In either case, the real measure of the aggression is the satisfaction of the generations that follow.
Men can have visions or plans for that future population. He considers the welfare of that future population to be more important than the welfare of the current population. The toxicity of his aggression is precisely this disregard for the welfare of his contemporaries.
The fantasy of the modern world is that we can make progress that benefits future generations without disrupting the peace and welfare of the current population. Such thinking may be able to make some incremental progress (such as having smart phones) but it may never be able to make the major leaps such as redefining governments or colonizing outer space.
I think this type of behavior is innately male in nature. Men have a tendency of building alternative realities in their minds and they have a tendency of rationalizing a plan to achieve that reality. That often hidden plan (not necessarily workable or beneficial) motivates his acting to see that plan enacted. Aggression is a natural escalation of any resistance to his plans. At that point, another male quality kicks in: widespread rejection of his plans does not discourage him from continuing — he doesn’t give up until he is stopped.
When faced with such an aggressor, other men have to make the choice to stop him. That choice is not entirely a choice between fighting or not fighting, it is also a deeper analysis of whether the aggressor’s ideas have sufficient merit to not fight back. The hesitation is also a male trait, often ridiculed as cowardice especially since it delays action from the point when the consequences would have been less dire. Inherent to male nature is the evaluation of plans that might benefit the distant future: either that is their own plan, or that is evaluation the plan that convinced someone else to fight for it.
Most of the history of rise and fall of human advancement comes from the combination of a man having a plan he is willing to fight for and that fight being delayed by other men taking the time to evaluate whether it is a plan that needs to be fought against.
Underlying the proposal to ban toxic aggression is the untested proposition that major improvements for our descendant’s future can result from such a ban.