In the wake of the continually unfolding Harvey Weinstein scandal, there is much to be gained by shedding the toxic masculinity ideal which he, Trump and others represent, writes psychologist Lyn Bender.
IT'S ASTONISHING that, in 2017, we are celebrating the rarity of a female becoming prime minister.
Furthermore, we exclaim that Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s third female prime minister!
It is almost as unique as Barack Obama becoming the first black president of the United States. But an overcorrection has taken place. A white supremacist and openly sexually exploitive hyper-masculine president has come with the intent to undo Obama’s legacy. The man with the trophy wife has replaced the wholesome – but black – family and loving respectful couple that inhabited the White House for eight years.
I don't know Harvey Weinstein personally, but I know him well. I have met him or his facsimile on boards of management, in the hallowed halls of academia, in the form of revered public figures of esteemed institutions and, of course, in politics. I have heard of him in the voices of distraught women and abused children. As Donald Trump is a poisonous eruption of all that is toxic in American culture, so too are all predatory men who abuse power — symptomatic of the misogyny that still flourishes in the so-called advanced nations.
These figures of distorted masculinity share a sense of unbounded entitlement. They have no concern for the consequences to their victims. A lack of empathy makes the suffering they may cause invisible and incomprehensible to them. The traditional alpha male model is all about power, authority and contempt for those who seem weak or vulnerable. Strength is toughness, hardness and harsh decisiveness. Conquest and seduction of women is a birthright and advertises a man’s worthiness to dominate.
The notion that men alone were born to rule was challenged by the suffragettes. The women’s vote was hard won only a century ago. In 1920, for American women. In Australia, women got the vote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The right for women to stand for Parliament lagged behind suffrage.
Yet in 2017, far fewer women than men hold positions of power.
G20 leaders group photo during 2017 summit (Source: en.wikipedia.org).
- the world stage;
- our current Parliament;
- company boards;
- industrial CEOs;
- the Catholic Church; and
- even God is male.
Australian men are paid on average 20 per cent more than women. And men are dominating the news stories. A study published in The Guardian (UK) found that men dominated national newspapers at all levels. Money, position and influence mean power.
Disgraced serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein is being pilloried and shunned. Filmmaker Woody Allen, who is himself under a sexual misconduct cloud, has called out the potential for this to be a "witch hunt". Ironically, this very term originates from the hysteria, bogus trials and execution of, mostly women, as witches. President Donald "grab them by the pussy" Trump, who is an accused and self-proclaimed sexual abuser, also cast himself as the victim of a "witch hunt".
Weinstein should not be protected from a plethora of condemnation. Nor can he be exonerated by the dubious excuse of sex addiction. However, he should not carry the can for the myriad unnamed predators and inbuilt structural sexual abuse of women.
The risk is that we will let the misogynistic culture off the hook and see the abuse as just due to a few renegade narcissists. Or, we will see it as merely part of Hollywood, rather than as revealing the entrenched pathology of male domination – mostly white – in many spheres of power and influence. Hollywood is the chance at money and acclaim for many hopefuls. There is a game to be played. Women have been culturally set up and groomed to play into the predators’ hands.
While men are praised as tough, unemotional and dominant, women are expected to be warm, accommodating, emotional, loving, caring, nurturing, sexually alluring and available. This is a perfect fit for a John Wayne movie. The enduring American hero and icon, Wayne portrayed the ideal tough, rooting, shooting sexual dominator that could be Trump’s own heroic fantasy.
The outspoken defiant females are to be subdued as in Shakespeare’s Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew. Or as Scarlet O’Hara is tamed by hard, masculine Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. In these dramas (and many others) the figure of the hard tough male and the eventually submissive female are strongly romanticised. New narratives are being constructed – thankfully – but the tough man to whom women must defer, is still embedded in our collective psyches and being enacted in our culture.
Of course, there is no allotted place for gay love in this traditional view of relationships. Hence prominent “no” voters to marriage equality – such as Tony "ditch the bitch" Abbott – uphold what they claim to be traditional marriage. The subtext is the promotion of traditional male and female stereotypes — a world where men dominate and women are grateful.
What are the costs of this myth?
- it is massively destructive to all relationships;
- across all ages, males have a suicide rate three times higher than females;
- men’s life expectancy worldwide is below that of women; and
- it endorses male violence.
The ideal of masculinity that exalts suppression of feelings and reluctance to admit need can lessen the likelihood that men will seek support and health services. Failure is seen as shameful and emasculating. The cover-up of vulnerability increases the emotional isolation of men in crisis.
Trump exemplifies all that is wrong with our notions of masculinity. He is the perfect negative role model. In a land that has not got beyond its macho, alpha male fetish, Trump has been rewarded with kingship.
But the applauding crowds are growing thinner. He is daily being mocked and criticised. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reportedly called Trump a "f***ing moron”.
From his initial triumph of “I’m President and you’re not”, Trump appears increasingly sullen and angry. The danger for the world is that he will act violently in a showdown to regain his sense of power. The rage is infantile, but the roaring child Trump has the nukes. This is the ultimate danger of the toxic hyper-masculine ideal.
The thwarted enraged male sometimes punishes with a murder-suicide action towards his family. Children may be killed and the mother spared. This bequeaths a lifetime of anguish to the woman who refused to remain a possession.
Was the Las Vegas massacre the final shoot-out of a narcissistically wounded nobody? The perpetrator had a vast collection of guns and was a high roller who made millions investing in real estate. He gambolled by night and slept by day. He appears to have been isolated, apart from a relationship with his girlfriend. His grand finale was an act of violent domination.
Is the U.S., refusal to legislate gun control about maleness and guns? Freud might think so.
We have a lot to lose from this toxic version of male domination. Of 91 mass killings in America from 1987 until 2017, 89 were committed by males.
There is much to be gained by shedding toxic masculinity:
- reduced violence;
- less sexual assault;
- true intimacy;
- better partner and family relationships;
- perhaps, better sex,
- less war; and
survival of the planet.
Lyn Bender is a professional psychologist. You can follow Lyn on Twitter @Lynestel.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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