In Case You Are Not Yet Sick of Hearing About Steubenville

Perhaps the title for this post is a but uncharitable; this post entitled “Toxic Masculinity” discusses Steubenville, but it is really picking out a larger phenomena as its topic.

For instance,

 “as former NFL quarterback and newly-minted feminist Don McPherson recently put it, “We don’t raise boys to be men. We raise them not to be women, or gay men.””


“Toxic masculinity is damaging to men, too, positing them as stoic sex-and-violence machines with allergies to tenderness, playfulness, and vulnerability. A reinvented masculinity will surely give men more room to express and explore themselves without shame or fear. (It will also, not incidentally, reduce rape against men as well, because many rapes of men are committed by other men with the intention of “feminizing”—that is, humiliating through dominance—their victim.)”


I’m willing to bet feminist philosophers have already taken up similar arguments in regards to masculinity.  Does anyone know of any work in particular?

10 thoughts on “In Case You Are Not Yet Sick of Hearing About Steubenville

  1. The idea that masculinity is preventing men from developing their voice or personality is definitely present in Carol Gilligan later work. I don’t have a reference unfortunately. I heard her discuss this point in a lecture that has since disappeared from the net.

  2. I am skeptical of the strategy, which the linked article employs, of distinguishing between “good masculinity” and “bad/toxic masculinity.” I suppose I can see the short-term, pragmatic value of “reclaiming masculinity” (it might get some males to stop acting quite so ridiculously). But, ultimately, this is a strategy that relies on an implicit conception of “real manhood” and on shaming or punishing (perceived) males who are deficient by its standards. It can’t not be defined in opposition to femininity, because whatever the particular content of the masculine gender role, “masculinity” doesn’t mean anything unless what it means is set up as opposed to femininity.

    The author of the linked article doesn’t quite seem to grasp this. For example, she says, “Taking action can be as simple as men publicly owning their preference for ‘female’ coded things, whether that’s child-rearing, nonviolence, feminism, or anything else—and being willing to suffer the social consequences.” To the extent that a gender role involves “publicly owning” a preference for female coded things, then to that extent, it is simply not masculinity. “Masculinity” has lost all meaning if it can admit of the feminine. I am not arguing that a sharp division of gender roles needs to be maintained. What I am saying is that reclaiming/reinventing masculinity is not a wise feminist strategy in the long term. Better to get rid of it.

    Ben Almassi has a paper defending the idea of reclaiming masculinity, but I don’t know if it’s in print yet. He presented at the SAF session at the Cental APA last year.

  3. Oh, my, yes, there are many, not the least of which is Ben Almassi! He’d be able to add to this list, but his APA paper focused on critique of GUYLAND by Michael Kimmel, and see also Tom Digby, Larry May (especially Masculinity and Morality), Arthur Brittan (Masculinity and Power).

  4. I want to second the call for looking at Tom Digby’s work. His collection Men Doing Feminism (Thinking Gender) has a terrific TOC in regard to philosophical perspectives on masculinity. Brian Pronger is one of my favorites, but there are so many more (e.g., Susan Bordo).

  5. I was incredibly fortunate to present that paper on feminist reclamations of masculinity at the SAF Session at the Central APA in Chicago last year, and the helpful & challenging comments, criticisms, and questions from my commentator (big ups Kate Norlock!) and the other gathered folks there have really impacted my thinking. I continue to work on that paper, but as a positive aspect of the process, I myself am still in flux about what feminist masculinity/masculinities look like.

    In addition to Kimmel, to whose portrait of just guys (as in guys qua guys committed to gender justice) I’m especially sympathetic, bell hooks has also written thoughtfully and extensively on reclaiming masculinity. I like much of the picture she offers us, but I still don’t quite understand what makes that picture one that’s distinctively masculine. Nevertheless I strongly recommend her book THE WILL TO CHANGE as worthwhile reading on this subject.(Digby and May also offer great work, as beta says in #3.)

  6. D’oh! Comment #5 should say (with respect) that I am *not* especially sympathetic to Kimmel’s portrait of just guys. Apologies for the missing word and possible confusion.

  7. I like the expression “toxic masculinity,” so long as it is understood that the toxicity is suffered not just by women who are targeted by it, but also by men themselves. To make that clear, I use the term “sacrificial masculinity” in my forthcoming book, Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Heterosexuality (press to be announced next week, it appears).

    I’d love to see Ben’s paper, although I have to say that, like Pepe Nero in comment #2, I am skeptical of any feminist project of reclaiming or reinventing masculinity. In Love and War, I offer explanations of why heterosexuality is so pervasively problematic, focusing mostly on masculinity. Any optimism I might have would be along the lines of what I described in “Male Trouble” (Social Theory and Practice 29) as the shrinking of masculinity. Of course, it’s more complicated than that :-)

  8. Should have said: I like the expression “toxic masculinity,” so long as it is understood that the toxicity is suffered by both women and men. After posting, I realized I could be misunderstood as trapped within the comparative victimization game – no way! One of the chapters of Love and War is about how our culture often treats gender as a zero-sum game, and how tragic that is.

  9. I’ve found John Stoltenberg’s old book _Refusing to be a Man_, quite good in articulating the problems with masculinity. Even though he began his work in the late 70s, it is truly excellent.

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