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Another Reason Why We Should Ditch Toxic Masculinity

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May 5, 2016

A high school student in Mesa, Arizona has been making headlines for a photo that appeared in the yearbook that has resulted in “69 misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure and one felony count of furnishing harmful items to minors.” Hunter Osborn, in response to a dare, “exposed himself in the varsity football team picture.”

Yes; the then eighteen-year-old exposed his genitals in a photo he knew would appear in the yearbook and would ultimately be distributed to his classmates.

There are a lot of angles I could choose to look at this story. How did nobody on the yearbook committee notice this—or the photographer, for that matter? Did Osborn not for a second consider the fact that one of the thousands of students at his school might see it and bring it to someone’s attention? Did he consider the potential consequences of this dare? Are the charges, that will likely decrease as teammates choose not to press charges, too harsh? Why was a petition created for him in response to his actions, stating that “he didn’t put the picture in the yearbook, he didn’t create the page, he wasn’t the editor that approved it, or the teacher responsible for publishing it and distributing it to students”? Why is Osborn receiving the benefit of the doubt for a dare when women are still frequently criticized for breastfeeding in public?

I could tackle any of these topics, but what I want to talk about today is toxic masculinity.

Toxic masculinity is “the socially constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.” It harmfully perpetuates the idea that men have to be/can only act a certain way to be considered ‘real men.’ The indoctrination of those presumed to be male into the world of toxic masculinity starts young and can be “emotionally damaging.”

Society has trained us to believe that men are programmed to be sexually aggressive. Even before it involves sexuality, if a boy pushes a girl on the playground at school, it’s because he likes her, or he’s just teasing her. If a middle-school aged boy snaps his classmate’s bra or yanks her hair, he just doesn’t know how to express his feelings. ‘Romantic’ aggression, in this case, is accepted as the norm as well, which gives way to the sexual aggression that comes later. It’s just natural, after all.

Except it’s not. The idea that men and women are so fundamentally different, that women are submissive and men are dominant, aggressive, and unemotional, is entirely socially constructed and is rooted in sexism, not biology or science. This is a case where sexism and the patriarchy harms both genders (and non-binary/gender non-conforming folks as well). From the time we are young, we are told that we need to be a certain way, ladylike or loud, docile or domineering, submissive or savage. We’re taught that it’s normal if boys act in overtly sexual ways, because, hey, that’s just in their nature.

And that’s what leads to the Mesa high school incident, where a high schooler didn’t think twice about whipping it out in a school picture for a dare. No concern for consequences, no thoughts of repercussions, no questions as to why he was doing it—he just did it. And while I don’t agree with what he did at all—I find it disgusting, actually, as unwanted public exposure can be triggering for some and is simply unwanted—I don’t fully blame him. I blame toxic masculinity.

I blame the society and the culture that told him over and over that to be a man is to be sexually aggressive. I blame the damaging sayings like “man up” and the violent language surrounding sex. I blame the prevalent idea that ‘boys will be boys.’

I blame the patriarchy for making this kind of dare such a simple, ordinary thing (I imagine it went something like, “Hey bro, dare you to pull it out for the picture!”); for spilling the sludge that is toxic masculinity into our lives in so many different ways. I blame Hunter Osborn for the actual act, but I do not blame him for everything in our culture that led to it.



Image via Wikipedia Commons 

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