A Crisis of Masculinity

Roughly one month ago, the American Psychological Association (APA), the foremost psychological guild in the Western world, released a public statement that “traditional masculinity” was a harmful and destructive concept that “impedes the development of men and boys.”

Understandably, many were very angry about that claim. Critics claimed that the APA was attacking core aspects of male psychology in the misguided effort to “cure” men of their masculinity, falsely conflating masculine ideals of assertiveness and stoicism with aggression and stubbornness, and strawmanning the negative aspects of masculine presentation into broad, sweeping statements about the health of masculinity as a whole. To be quite frank, they’re right.

On some levels, it’s easy to see where the APA is coming from. I’ve personally seen men get comically aggressive and lash out violently over inane jokes about sexuality or penis size, get possessive and disparaging over what they perceive as exclusively “their” friends or relationships and act like embarrassing manchildren, making fools of themselves at bars and clubs in the pathetic attempt to “prove” their manhood. But when did “traditional masculinity” come to mean senseless violence, stubborn possessiveness or immature buffoonery?

The majority of men I know do not act like this. The most masculine men I know are honest, legitimate and passionate without at all resembling the insecure child who throws punches over comments he doesn’t like. I would even argue the number of masculine men who are, in fact, passionate without being violent and possessive dramatically outnumber those who are. So, what is the problem with a “traditionally masculine” man who is unabashedly “assertive and self-sufficient,” as the APA puts it? If it’s just the fact that self-sufficient individuals are less likely to seek psychological help with their problems, then why not criticize excessive stubbornness instead of the entire psychological concept of masculinity, of which excessive stubbornness is, at best, one particular expression that can be damaging?

Perhaps in saying “traditional” masculinity, what the APA really meant to say was what we tend to refer to as “toxic” masculinity. I agree with the concept, though I disagree with the term. When toxic masculinity is invoked, the emphasis typically falls on the “masculinity” rather than the “toxic.” Certainly, there are expressions of masculinity that are toxic and harmful, and I’ve discussed a few of them earlier in this piece. But that doesn’t seem to be the idea. The APA appears to be latching onto a much larger and more dangerous concept in the modern American environment—that there is something inherently harmful, even “sinful,” about masculinity. It’s difficult to pin down where and how this concept began, but it certainly didn’t begin with the APA’s guidelines against “traditional masculinity” last month, and it didn’t begin when toxic masculinity entered the popular lexicon either.

What the APA’s claim represents, however, is a dangerous and growing mindset, perhaps due to the rampant growth of intersectional-identitarianism within America. It’s the belief that certain identities are inherently evil and wrong simply because they are perceived to hold power. To the APA, I wonder, what makes “traditional masculinity” inherently evil? Is it because the immature men often twist masculine traits, like assertiveness, into violent aggression—in the same absurdly sexist way one could say the worst women often twist feminine traits, like socialization, into gossip and manipulation? Or is it because they believe masculinity has fallen outside the reign of “acceptable” identities to proudly display in our present society?

Contact Max Goldenberg at [email protected].