Toxic Masculinity and Racism Challenged by Men Meet Kyle
Toxic Masculinity and Racism Challenged by Men Meet Kyle
© 2017 Sherryl N Weston MA, MSW, LCSW (pending in CA)
On what would have been MLK’s 89th birthday
For me personally, one of the most interesting aspects of the developmental process of White allies is attached to the number of White people who are raised with horrendously negative prejudices, but somehow figure out that that narrative is deeply flawed. We, who are outside of that container, are not likely to know who has this background unless they are the type who exact their venom onto us overtly. For that reason, among others, it is important for those of privilege to speak toward their inner circle with their stories and social pressure. They are much more likely to be listened to by their peers than those of us who are the targets of their prejudices.
In the case of Kyle, a phone center employee, who grew up in a very White suburb, the family of origin is from a state that has had the reputation of being very conservative—and in some points in time, quite racist. Those two aspects do not have to operate in tandem, but in Kyle’s case, they definitely do. How he managed to rid himself of those influences is a complex mix of experiences that are beyond the focus of this particular writing, but it is safe to say that his openness and his intellect have had a great role in his ability to connect the key societal dots. He would be the first to tell you that his path has not been easy, nor is it over, but he demonstrates quite well how to turn a negative narrative around, at least to a large extent.
1. What year were you born/raised? Where are you from and what/who were the strongest influences on your male identity? Ethnicity Born 11/25/69 in Greenville, TX. Lived in Garland, TX from age 4 through end of 3rd grade in May, 1979. Rest of growing up in Littleton, CO - went to Columbine HS. White male - origin of last name is Anglo-Saxon with some Dutch influences. Strongest influences - I'm kind of guessing. I know my dad was one. I'd also have to say his older brother had some, plus both grandpas in ways I didn't realize. The older women in my life didn't seem to influence in that way - at least not directly, but they did believe in conventional notions of masculinity and femininity.
2. Can you identify when you began to realize what was considered “too girly” or “weak?” Give one personal example.
I don't know when it began, but I know of at least a couple where it was reinforced. In the latter half of 6th grade - still at Dutch Creek Elementary in Littleton it was time to register for 7th Grade classes at Ken Caryl Jr High. One class I chose was Home Economics. My mom saw it and told me not to take it. I didn't take her seriously but she told me that Home Ec is for girls, not boys. My dad got word that I defied her and he sat me down and to my surprise didn't even raise his voice but told me in no uncertain terms that he agreed with Mom that this class isn't for boys. I took P.E. instead. A few years later Dad got a dartboard and erected it on a wall in our basement. He had me throw one and I guess my toss wasn't a "manly" toss. He was indignant, telling me "Kyle, you know who throws like that? Girls and faggots" then spent the next several minutes showing me the "manly" way to hold and release. During my entire living there it was stated more than a few times that my brother and I were not under any circumstance to pierce any part of our body.
3. What do you think would be the best strategy for a father to influence his son to NOT follow the gender double standards and “notch on the belt/ conquer, then brag” sexual games that boys & men play?
Parent by example. No matter what kind of domestic partnership you're in - married, common law marriage, etc. and whether your partner is a woman, man, gender non-conforming, etc. show your son that you value your partner for exactly who they are and consider them to be equal partners. Show them how gender boxes should be broken down in how you treat your son AND your daughters if you have any. Be emotionally available to your son. Show him that it's OK for men to be intimate with each other (of course in appropriate ways that respect consent and boundaries). Part of that example also includes teaching your children from an early age that they have rights to assert their own boundaries AND that they must respect others' boundaries. Show them that it's OK to express any emotions - including sadness and crying - in any situation. That it's OK for a boy to cry even if it's not in the aftermath of someone's death. It's OK to cry if life gets overwhelming too.
4. How comfortable are you with the way our society currently handles sexuality and expectations of cis-gender boys to men?
There are so many things wrong with it that it's honestly triggering. The way we approach it is just upside-down. Consent needs to be front and center but we teach boys to pursue conquest, to each obtain their own fiefdoms, and that some men are entitled to larger fiefdoms, and those fiefdoms they're entitled to purportedly include other men with smaller fiefdoms. This includes how sexuality is approached. Many churches that purport to adhere to the teachings of Christ - to love your neighbor as you would love yourself instead advocate perpetuating patriarchy.
Couple that with how deep Puritanism runs in our culture - look up "purity culture" and how toxic it is in many evangelical environments - and you have a completely warped view of sexuality. It's not just with the sexuality - it's with roles people are expected to box themselves into. Boys are taught that they'd better be pros at car care, lawn care, power tools, and the outdoor grill. They're things that should be learned at a basic level, but we need to stop this thinking that if you're not an ace at these things then you're wholly inadequate.
5. As the numerous accusers of sexual misconduct against male entertainment industry and political leaders come forward, how do you feel as a man? Do you feel any personal connection to what caused this environment and therefore somehow shamed? How common has such male attitude been in circles you have had experience in?
It's sobering. It shows me how oblivious and inattentive I may have been. I'm not knowledgeable of which and how many men in my life are viewed by women/woman-read people as "creepers" but I wonder if that's due to me being inattentive. That's all that comes to mind right now about this sub-topic. This topic also shows yet another example of "in group vs out group" thinking overrides everything else. I almost thought at some points I was going to hear "Al Franken is a sexual predator, but he's our sexual predator". The number one priority should be the safety of people who are more vulnerable. But when it's one of our own, so many of them sound like MRAs (men's rights activists).
6. If you were “the power in charge” and resources were no object, what will be the most effective action at this juncture, in terms of prevention and in holding other men accountable?
One thing I've felt strongly about: in trials for rape/sexual assault, it should be strictly and inflexibly verboten for a defense attorney to ask anyone who comes forward about being raped/sexually assaulted about how much they had to drink, what they were wearing, did they go out alone, why did they agree to go to their companion's house where they ended up hurt, why didn't they come forward sooner, etc. Any attorney who does so is automatically hit with a contempt citation and loses their attorney's license. No exceptions!!!
We also must believe all who come forward. Stop the gaslighting. If there must be quotas for police departments, instead of them writing a certain number of traffic tickets or collect a certain amount of revenue from stops and citations, impose a monthly quota of rape kits that are examined. Women/woman-read people need to know that they are believed. They need to know that it is safe to come forward without judgment, without having their motives questioned, I believe they need to hear from men that they are believed. Men need to be sincere about it. When I say "woman-read" you may know what I'm getting at but just in case anyone doesn't I'm referring also to trans women or people who present or are read as femme but may identify something other than the traditional gender binary. Because face it, trans women are disproportionate victims of sexual assault (trans women of color even more).
7. What is your personal strategy in presenting yourself as a feminist man? (Toward women and men) What are any disadvantages? How acceptable do you perceive yourself to be as an ally to women?
I don't know how much of my approach is a strategy. Several women/woman-read people have expressed gratitude to me for being an ally. I've also been called by more than one guy a "simp" or "cuck" or "white knight". and I really do consider that a badge of honor. It doesn't mean that I'm without flaw or that I don't have a calling out coming sometimes. If there is a disadvantage it's that the fact that I used to hold really retrograde views but back then it didn't cost me much - I wonder if I've had it too easy sometimes. I wonder if people who are ultimately on the business end of retrograde views were more gracious to me than perhaps I deserved (at least outwardly).
To the extent that there is a strategy I don't think I throw truth bombs as much as I sprinkle truth spices - i.e. I throw nuggets into the mix of people's lives for them to think about. Sometimes I mix in the bombs but I'm all about the steak more than the sizzle. That's my method of letting people know what is OK and what isn't. Most paramount though, is if a woman or woman-read person comes forward, I believe them, and I let them know that I believe them. I let them know that their privacy will be respected, that if they confide in me nobody else will know about our conversation. For the record, men get that kind of respect from me too. Men get it from me too because a significant part of smashing patriarchy is cleaning up the toxic masculinity around us. To me toxic masculinity lies in the harmful gender policing that takes place. Part of dismantling the patriarchy isn't just in literal sexual violence toward women but in the fact that women's bodies are treated as public property. We demand a ton of emotional labor from women/woman-read people too. It's time men started doing more of the heavy lifting in that area, supporting the women in their lives AND the men/boys in their lives. I try to purposefully take on more emotional labor. Starting with my wife and extending it to women/woman-read people in my life.
8. What specific issues do you feel the most pressure to improve on in your own self-development, relative to these questions? Where are your discomforts?
Being intimate with other men. It's "on the brain" but my previous bad experiences with toxic masculinity make that a stumbling block. I have a hard time trusting many men in that capacity (with a few exceptions). I have no further elaborations on this question.
Raised with Rigid Negatives = More than 1 Problem
I am very fortunate to have found the kind of men who allow for this kind of analysis. Kyle has a particularly important role because the story he is telling us matches an unfortunate stereotype of who has the worst problems with openness of mind. However, we need to understand the “type” he is describing, but should expand our view to include the full range of privileges, and prejudices and the forms they take. Being raised with such values creates a very difficult role to navigate.
It is, in my view, being raised with a rigidly linear and exclusive set of values embeds (in this case) male privilege with “all that is proper.” For example, not that it is ever easy, if a LGBTQI person grows up in such a circumstance, how very painful it is likely to be to come to the realization that s/he is gender queer! If a boy prefers art to football or--like our prior interviewee Darren- prefers feminine dolls sometimes, often, the instinct by other males is to humiliate and degrade them. What happens to that kind of internalized degradation can be any number of things. Hardly any of them are really good. He can go through his childhood and adolescence in denial of his inner self through:
Hiding and “making up for” his true sexual orientation by self-harm, high-risk behavior and/or addictions;
Developing other mental health issues:
Establishing a maladaptive way of dealing with disappointment and anger, which can come out as things like intimate partner violence;
Passing along these unquestioned values to their children because they have not been permitted to “feel” the impact of those values;
Carrying this process into the workplace, therefore exacting these values onto employees and/or co-workers;
Or, miraculously he may say, “Wait. This doesn’t make sense.”
Kyle, at a crucial point, came to the place of questioning, through beginning to recognize inequities and double standards: reading, relationships and deep listening to the people he would like to be supportive to have been the key factors. He also admits he still has things to learn. That is what will insure that he will continue growing.
It is my belief that this is an evolving, developmental process and knowing men like Kyle will help men evolve if he keeps revealing himself. Men like Kyle could mentor fatherless boys, teach, coach, become therapists or spiritual professionals, enter the juvenile justice or prison systems. They could run for public office or help political campaigns. The possibilities are endless. We do not have to hold binary thinking about this progress—that someone is either a king or a loser. There is a delicate process that can be managed, therefore helping advocate during those incremental changes that need to be made. We need to make room for them, too. That starts with realizing such men exist.
An additional, and very important part is that men like Kyle need to realize they deserve to become experts in self-care, too. We need them for the long haul.
What would Dr. King think if he were to view this moment? Is it along the path he was imagining?