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Danger isn’t sexy.
It is 6 a.m., and I’m sipping coffee on my balcony watching the sky turn from gray to blue.
A worn poncho keeps out the morning chill. Ensconced in my own safe space in this new home, I’m reflecting on how ease-fulness in relationships similarly makes me feel good, safe, and, yes, sexy.
Danger, when it comes to intimacy, is not sexy. Or, I don’t think it should be. That’s a hard one to unlearn after a lifetime of subconsciously consuming tacit messages in popular culture that say the exact opposite—TV shows, movies, and bands peddling brooding, dark, dangerous male leads.
Little girls learn to idolize, fetishize the literal bloodthirsty vampire (hello, “Twilight“), just as boys are learning to sexualize the meek damsel in distress (we see you, “50 Shades”).
In these normalized (heteronormative) relationship dynamics, each party plays into the tired, wildly outdated fantasies of the other.
Unfortunately for those of us who like easy fixes, toxic masculinity isn’t a thing we can identify and quickly discard.
It is a complex fabric of desires, expectations, limiting beliefs, and patterns of language and thought in which we are all of us swaddled since our birth, and which we must dismantle thread by toxic thread. It is woven from history, culture, and religion, as well as our daily actions and interactions.
It is far older than us, a dusty heirloom we never asked to inherit, but now that it is here in our closet, we have a choice:
To wrap ourselves in its oddly comforting folds (the familiar is almost always comfortable and warm, even when it smothers us), or to tear it apart, burn it down, and craft something better as the smoke clears.
We are all responsible for mending and defending the fabric of toxic masculinity when it begins to fray under the stress of careful inspection.
Tending (perpetuating) toxic masculinity may look like:
>> Gifting “Twilight” to an adolescent girl.
>> Believing, “If my pubic zone doesn’t look like a six-year-old girl’s, then I am not desirable.”
>> Telling our partner that anything about their natural body (hair, fat, fluids, and so on) is disgusting or shameful.
>> Teaching our children that anything about their natural desires or bodies (sexuality, menstruation, defecation) is disgusting or shameful.
>> Disrespecting someone’s boundaries because they, “Don’t know what they want.”
>> Joking that, “‘No’ means ‘try harder.’”
>> Believing or in any way sustaining the notion that there is such a thing as “women’s work” and “men’s work.”
>> Regurgitating tired stereotypes such as “Real men don’t XYZ,” “Girls can’t XYZ,” or any other outdated, “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”—style clichés.
>> Erasing the voices of marginalized gender identities.
>> Fetishizing lack of safety in intimate or non-intimate relationships.
That’s not an exhaustive list. Feel free to add your own examples!
Danger isn’t sexy. Erosion of boundaries isn’t sexy.
Adrenaline is (maybe) sexy in the context of, “Let’s go skydiving together,” but not in the context of, “Is this vampire going to kiss me or kill me?”
You know what is sexy? Clear communication, boundaries, and agreements. A “yes!” That arises from desire—not fear or coercion. The sense of safety that comes from real consent.
“Twilight” and “50 Shades of Gray” are just a couple of wildly popular cultural phenomena and personal favorites to pick on, but in reality the culprits are everywhere, and often more subtle. The “harmless” jokes, off-hand comments and criticisms, or side-eyed judgments from family, friends, or partners can be just as damaging—if not more so.
It’s easy to call out celebrities and politicians—much more challenging to acknowledge the deeply rooted systems of patriarchy (racism, too; it’s worth mentioning) embedded in our own bodies, hearts, and minds.
Dismantling toxic masculinity is an inside-outside job. It might look like:
>> Compassionately calling people out for jokes that are misogynistic, racist, or otherwise hateful or violent.
>> Celebrating rather than criticizing personal choices that look different from our own.
>> Creating (and disseminating) art, music, culture, and media that uplifts oppressed populations, amplifies marginalized voices, and actively deconstructs overt or covert prejudice.
>> Owning our desires, our pleasure, and our boundaries without shame, and with love.
>> Honoring the desires and boundaries of others—with respect and kindness.
>> Deconstructing our own systems of belief, our sexuality, our communication, recognizing the seeds of patriarchy within our deepest selves, and weeding them out where possible.
>> Reconstructing ourselves with intention and self-acceptance, acknowledging that we are products of our society, and our beliefs, sexuality, desires, language, and boundaries are valid, so long as they do no harm.
And finally, we can keep these conversations going!
How does toxic masculinity show up in your day-to-day experience? How do you dismantle it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!