How to Overcome Toxic Masculinity Without Becoming a Wimp
Welcome to the death-throes of that bygone era where men were men, and women were… well, women tolerated men’s domineering bullshit.
You can see this expression of male strength and women’s perceived weakness in the ads of the era.
Ivory soap will settle mom’s ‘nerves,’ and take her “off the warpath:”
Teaching young girls that laundry was their job, by implying ownership of the washing machine, “our new Kenmore Automatic:”
Sears’ Lady Kenmore washing machine – a mother and a daughter doing laundry (with a smile, of course)
Even a tall woman needs help cleaning:
The subservient housewife being put in her place by a power tie, because, “It’s a man’s world:”
That age of sexual and cultural polarity of male-energy dominance, can be summed up in the name of one popular actor: John Wayne.
John Wayne, born Marion Mitchell Morrison, was an iconic actor in Hollywood for over thirty years.
As I use the word “iconic” above, I mean it in the sense that he was a household name and when you went to see a John Wayne film in the theater, you knew what you were going to get: John Wayne.
Slow, purposeful speech; no-nonsense masculinity; Alpha Male testosterone toughness – these are the hallmarks of the characters Wayne played.
John Wayne didn’t teach kids to swim; he threw them in the river. Learn or die.
If John Wayne disagreed with you, he threw punches.
He tended not to care about other cultures, native or otherwise, he just rolled over them as a symbol of American imperialism.
But, at times, he also stood up for justice, such as defending a Native American in McLintock!
Those years, post-WWII until Vietnam were an age of growth for the US. Our power dominated the world. We saw ourselves culturally as God and the USSR as our rival Anti-Christ.
Then Vietnam shook our sense of power. The loss of that war opened our eyes to the weaknesses that we had ignored.
And, more importantly, that new awareness was the beginning of the end for this cultural archetype.
The John Wayne Archetype (JWA) is nearly dead. It lost a lung some time ago and has been wheezing along on life support.
Of course, because it was tough, it declined life support. Being connected would have meant it was weak. For the archetype to have power, it had to stand on its own two feet.
The JWA was so attached to the myth of the power in its identity that it kept up its old ways.
It didn’t care that smoking would steal your breath and heart.
It didn’t learn that being rigid would repulse those to whom it wanted to be closer.
It didn’t realize that its “I’m in charge here” facade just angered most people when practiced. It’s one thing to associate into an actor’s character and wish we were strong, it’s another to actually act that way in real life.
But the JWA didn’t need people. It just needed to be an icon, proudly standing on the mountain as a symbol of freedom and power.
Sadly, it pissed off most of those who would worship it, and now its symbol is tarnished. Its few remaining acolytes continue to have loud voices, but their shouts are fading to whispers.
The JWA continued to fake its way along for decades, long after The Duke’s death. Our cultural zombie of what was, of what may have worked for a while, and what is no longer appropriate.
In the mindset of the JWA, the attitude of the larger culture didn’t matter – those ideas were growing against what the JWA knew to be true, what worked for it – the differing ideas of those around it were akin to children acting up, or Gawd-forbid, women speaking their minds.
We are in the extinction-response period of the John Wayne Archetype
Extinction response is an interesting phenomenon.
When training a dog, it occurs at the moment before an unwanted response is trained out of the dog’s behavior.
Let’s say you want your dog to stop barking at people when you are at a park.
You reward the dog for not barking, and ignore any outbursts, reinforcing the desired behavior with positive feedback.
In the final moments before the unwanted behavior is trained out, it will flare up wildly. Your dog will bark at everyone in an attempt to keep the behavior.
At that moment, you need to be aware of the desired payoff and ignore the activity. It will die out.
Once extinct, it will not return.
The dog, we as individuals, and we as a cultural collective, have an attachment to our old ways of being. They’re familiar.
Familiar doesn’t mean they are serving our growth.
Familiar means they had a value for a while and became comfortable, almost reflexive, responses.
In the JWA-era, we didn’t have to think. We could just react.
It doesn’t work that way anymore.
Our culture, both as a nation, and as the human culture of the world, is growing.
We are becoming more interconnected (there’s that word that the JWA fears, “connected” – not that it would ever admit to fearing anything) through long-distance travel, international commerce, and the Internet.
In this new age of interconnectedness, the full expression of the JWA is no longer helpful to building bridges and interdependent power structures.
The JWA builds walls. It doesn’t reach across them.
The JWA has become the shadow of American culture. It’s the aspect that we want to ignore. It’s our creepy relative, our asshole neighbor, and our domineering parent.
Unfortunately, as we give our collective energy to denouncing it, we fuel our cultural awareness of it. In a way, we are succeeding at doing what the acolytes of the JWA cannot: we are keeping the JWA alive.
It’s apparent in our politics of separation and fear. This mindset keeps us focused on our differences, keeps us afraid, and most of all, separates us from our personal and collective power.
It also separates us from our shadow aspect that reminds us of the JWA.
When we denounce that part of us that we fear, we are not whole beings. And thus we are weak.
And trust me, if the JWA mindset pisses you off, then you have at least a little JWA inside you. Go read Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers if you don’t believe me.
Toxic masculinity is summed up in the full-expression of JWA: I’m in charge, I’ll take what I want, and I’ll beat your ass if you get in my way.
The #metoo movement has brought toxic masculinity out of the shadows.
Women are claiming their power by speaking up and drawing attention to this inappropriate sexual imperialism and abuse of power.
Gillette has boldly addressed it in their advertising.
The backlash stemmed from the belief that if men aren’t allowed to be men, well, they’ll just be little wimps.
That’s polar thinking. It’s false and it’s bullshit.
(For simplicity of this discussion, I am going to address only the male and female genders. This is not intended to limit or imply a lack of sensitivity toward those who feel they are outside of those poles. It is merely a way to be economical with my words. Please accept my apologies.)
Please take a moment to really look at the parenthetical paragraph above. Was that John-Wayne thinking?
On the whole, no. I am aware that there may be those who read this who may be offended by the concept of binary gender roles. And, I am aware as a writer with limited space, that I can’t address everything in a way that will please everyone.
Instead of just plowing ahead with a “fuck you and your attitudes” mentality (that’s what John Wayne would do), I addressed the possibility of differing points of view and explained my reason for writing in the way I am.
In the meantime, I’ll stand in my power, secure in my sense of the world, and ready to learn more.
Standing in your power and being open to discussion… HOLD THAT THOUGHT.
Embracing the Sensitive Male Archetype
In the extreme, the sensitive male archetype is the polar opposite of the JWA.
This is what the JWA-mentality fears men will become when it is extinct.
This male is unaware of his own presence, he defers to others, and projects weakness.
Perhaps uncomfortable with himself and his expression, he holds back, hides in the corner, lets others decide for him, and is generally just following along.
The power of the sensitive male is in his ability to be open to others, to hear and experience their ideas.
Unfortunately, that power is lost when he allows these others to overwhelm his space, as he tends to have weak (or non-existent) boundaries of self.
He is the ultimate loser, in contrast to the Alpha Male winner. A doormat compared to a steamroller.
Embracing the John Wayne Archetype
I’ve been pretty scathing toward the JWA in this article.
Here’s where that shifts. Slightly.
There is still power in the idea of the JWA, but not at full strength.
How do we find balance?
First, we must ask what are the strengths of this divisive icon.
1. The JWA provides us with a boundary for our identity and beliefs. When not rigid, it gives us room in which to choose that which we allow in our space. We define ourselves.
2. It gives us permission to stand in our strength and stand up for ourselves assertively, and when applied properly, to stand up appropriately in any situation.
3. It reminds us that we are powerful. All of us, men and women. In that power, we do not need to impose our will, we can listen to others because they are not a threat, they provide perspectives that we may not have considered.
Finding the Power of And: Creating the Strong Male
What’s that mean in a nutshell?
You can be a strong man without being a dick, and you can be sensitive man without being a crybaby.
You can be the best version of you that embraces the power of both extremes.
There is no power in the extremes. Weakness comes in separation, power comes in wholeness.
It’s time for us, particularly men, to realize the power of our whole selves: Strong yet caring, stoic yet emotional, rigid yet flexible.
Let’s rewrite our cultural identity together – men and women. Let’s discover the power in creating bonds across genders and cultures, as we hold our beliefs in ourselves, choosing what we allow in our space and allowing others to do the same.
When we give others the grace to be themselves and they grant us the same, we all grow exponentially.
This quote by Harlan Ellison is appropriate for this discussion of the appropriate balance between being open and standing up for ourselves:
“I will defend to death your right to have religion, but I’ll defend to your death my right to have none.” - Harlan Ellison
When we are strong and comfortable in our beliefs about who we are, then we are not threatened by the beliefs of others. We can discuss without imposing, we can talk without fear of losing our sense of self.
Imposing beliefs is the equivalent of imperialism.
If someone attempts to impose their will on us, well that’s when our inner-John Wayne must come out to defend our space.
And, appropriately, if we impose our will on them, I hope their inner-John Wayne comes out toward us.
It’s only fair.
In this polarizing era of Left v Right/Dem v Repub/America v The World/ Men v Women/Culture v Culture, it’s time to stop embracing the poles.
That’s what the character of John Wayne would do. Standing in his perspective, he’d judge all others of their worthiness, and find most lacking.
We say we want inclusion, yet we act in the energy of separation, focusing on differences and how we are victimized and limited, and imposing our perspectives on others as an absolute truth.
Please understand, that sentence is not intended to disavow or discredit these experiences. They’ve happened, they’re real.
It is now time to create the communication necessary to heal and move past these events. Because standing in polarity, picking at their scabs, does not bring resolution.
Are you ready to heal your toxic shadow and move into a more powerful, whole mindset?
Let’s talk. I’ll listen.