If you’ve followed my Problematic Badass Female Tropes series (over at Writers’ HQ, kids), you’ll recall that the central argument to all those discussions was that those tropes restrict and weaken strong (read: badass) female characters. The bait and switch problems of each PBFT was the dangling of the “badass” in front of us to distract us, while assuming that the character’s strength is enough to make us not notice nor care about the inherent misogynistic structures she has been constructed with.
This new series will look at seven Problematic Toxic Masculinity tropes, and its central argument differs somewhat from that of the PBFTs, though of course the two sets of problematic tropes are intricately and innately connected. This series centers around the inherent assumption that males are strong and dominant. Where the PBFTs focus on the bait and switch of the strong female that’s in fact not strong but subservient to males, the PTMTs focus on the false labels of strength in male characters, as well as the narrow, restrictive, and damaging definition of what it means to be a strong man.
Both sets of tropes do similar things; both are examples of problems of gender and power. We will learn as we go through the male counterparts to the PBFTs that both sets of Problematic Tropes affect how media and entertainment express characters of all genders, and that all these problematic trope characters have a negative impact on the real people that consume and admire them.
But first, what does this trendy phrase Toxic Masculinity actually mean? Lately, in the continued wake of the #metoo movement, the phrase Toxic Masculinity is being bandied about by feminists of all stripes, mainly as a way to shut down conversations. I want to start conversations by writing about these tropes, not shut them down, so real quick let me give you, dear intelligent readers, my working definition of what Toxic Masculinity means (at least as far as these discussions go).
In a nutshell: Toxic Masculinity is the harmful view (ingrained in our patriarchal and heteronormative society) that if a man does not dominate, he is not a man. Domination of all things (from one’s own emotions to other people) is the key poison that puts the Toxic in Toxic Masculinity. Also remember: just like the Problematic Badass Female Tropes were, the Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes are not examples of what real men in the real world are actually like, but rather are problematic expressions of masculinity in the forms of characters in popular culture, art, and entertainment, and as such are influential to those who consume and attempt to emulate them. I want to point out the problems in these characters so that we can be aware of what the tropes are doing to us even as we continue to enjoy our media.
I will be writing full blog posts discussing these seven tropes, just like I did with the PBFTs, but first (as indeed I did with the PBFTs), here’s the bare basics in a rundown of what you can expect from these new magnificent seven:
1. Go Big or Go Home
As a man, the only choice you have for beauty is to be big and muscular. Thin, short, “feminine” or small men aren’t men, and certainly aren’t desirable. Where women are told by culture to lose more and more weight, diminishing themselves to invisibility, men are told they are nothing unless they take up more and more space, and are physically strong to boot.
2. Grow a Pair (or, Stoicism Ain’t Just For Hellenistics Anymore)
Pop Culture Detective’s excellent video article, “The Case Against the Jedi Order” describes this harmful trope well. Basically, boys are taught at very young ages to man up, grow a pair, boys don’t cry, etc. which means by the time they become men, they are not able to express emotions healthily, or even at all. The Jedi are a prime example of this, as is every Shane that breezes into town, kicks the bad guys’ collective ass, and moves on. The coolest male characters are ones that show no emotion whatsoever, and certainly don’t form deep emotional connections with other humans. Which leads me to:
3. Bond, James Bond
The misogyny and classism of the gentleman’s gentleman will be explored here, with our good friend 007 at the helm of our examples.
4. The Tale Of The Nerd and the Neckbeard
Nerds are sub-males. That’s the gist of this problematic trope. Brain bigger than your biceps? Well you certainly won’t get the girl. And the extreme of this trope is the seed from which incels sprout.
5. Sassy Gay Friend (with his polar opposite companion, the Terrifying Leather Daddy)
This pair of gay male stereotypes are two sides of the same problematic coin. Both sides of this trope speak to the deep seated fear ingrained in men of being seen as feminine, and as we have said in our definition of Toxic Masculinity, a man who does not dominate is not a real man.
6. Violence is Normal
Not only is violence a normal behavior trained in boys since early childhood, it’s encouraged and even necessary in most social situations depicted by culture. Violent domination is the most commonly seen form of domination in our entertainment and arts, in the form of Problematic Masculine characters taking their strength and power by force.
7. Mr. Mom
LOL, men can’t be good parents! The awful trope of the bumbling dad, nothing more than another child for moms to manage, is the trope on this list that angers me personally the most. Look for some heartfelt angry rants in this article, readers.
Well that’s the basic idea! What do you think? Look for this series to start up on Writers’ HQ after the PBFTs are all done. And leave ideas you have in the comments; I may want to include some of them as I get more in depth with these tropes during the writing process.