(Non)Toxic Masculinity Columns

When Masculinity Goes Wrong

Robert Monson

“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?  Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”

Toni Cade Bambara

I try to stay out of social media mess. Truly, I do.

Social media can be so beautiful, bringing together brilliant thoughts and ideas. Things that challenge me to move beyond my own comfort level. It brings me face-to-face with beautiful things and people. 

Social media can also bring the vilest of people’s thoughts to the foreground. Hate gets a lot of airplay. Things that I had never considered, even in the deepest recesses of my mind, get amplified by people who have not only considered it but also have a business selling t-shirts dedicated to said thing. The base impulses to which some people on social media cater are why I tend to steer clear of social media mess. 

Sometimes (a lot of times, if I’m honest), the mess is unavoidable, and I find myself unwittingly swept up in the torrent of the latest hot topic—a disorienting experience. 

So color me confused when I logged on recently, and my timeline was filled with commentary on a topic that I particularly despise in online discourse: masculinity. But not just any kind of masculinity, the Black kind. 

The first stream of thought that began to trickle its way through my timeline was about, of all things, whether or not wearing the color pink was “feminine” and if certain visual aesthetics (like posing with flowers) could be emasculating. I found myself giggling at the utter ridiculousness of the conversation but also feeling frustrated. I’m Black–most colors look good on my skin. Pink is one of those colors. So what? Is masculinity so fragile that it needs to be protected with an armed security detail? 

And then, as if the discourse couldn’t get any more outlandish, A$AP Rocky had the audacity to stand in the background of his girlfriend Rihanna’s photoshoot holding  *checks notes* his own child. People wrote entire doctoral dissertations worth of analysis and commentary dissecting the lack of masculinity he allegedly displayed. His feminine energy. His submissiveness to a woman who clearly “wears the pants” in the family. There were countless diagrams mapping out the ways that Rihanna’s positioning in the photo demonstrated her dominance over him. More giggling and frustration. 

A$AP Rocky minding his Black-owned business with his child and partner
People on the internet showing their misogynoir, homophobia, and transphobia

People were quick to blast A$AP Rocky for his “feminine energy,” and in doing so, they showed us a lot about what they believe.  The ideas that masculinity cannot contain the multitudes of support, being in the background, and nurturing are evident. No matter how much we think we progress as a society and as individuals in terms of gender norms, we seem to remain tethered to antiquated notions of men needing to be dominant and strong. Additionally, there is a quiet part that many aren’t saying out loud. Equating a Black man being able to be submissive as feminine shows that we think the best place for Black women to be is cowering in the background. History has shown us that this has never been the case for our communities. Black women can thrive in the front AND lift entire communities in the process. 

What is the role of men in society? In relationships? What happens when a woman is successful? What happens if she is more successful than her male partner? Dominant men are appealing men in these scenarios, but haven’t we already seen those views of masculinity play out? 

Yes, these types of discussions are often weird and kind of humorous. It’s all too easy for us to laugh, cringe, share a screenshot to the group chat, and move on. But these conceptions of manhood have implications. 

Recently, I came across a situation that I think shows the clear end of these harmful views of masculinity. 

A Black woman therapist shared about how she was being viciously harassed online and in “real life.” The majority of her assailants? Black men. Not racist and sexist white men. She was being attacked by Black men. What began as online vitriol quickly escalated to offline confrontation. Within days, they found her place of work and began calling to harass her. The phone calls escalated to death threats. 

What did she do to garner such a hateful and dangerous response? She posted online that she would no longer be taking male clients because she had too many experiences with them demeaning her. I want to impress upon our minds that this woman was moving away from taking male clients because of her experiences with them–and then they engaged in some of the same behaviors she was trying to avoid. Rather than disagreeing with her decision and moving on, they chose to harm her. To assert their dominance.  To defend a perceived threat to their masculinity.

Dissertations on what colors men can wear and acceptable photoshoot poses seem rather innocuous until we see that men defending their silly concepts of masculinity can lead to women experiencing harm and even their lives being put in danger. 

I believe in Black men. I love Black men. I want us to thrive, prosper, and heal. Our healing can help make our communities and relationships whole. Many of us are already on this journey, but our collective healing can’t happen until that journey becomes commonplace for us.