Imagine you have been forging your way through life’s journey, happy to have the company of other travelling companions. And then all of a sudden you find you are alone. Your travel companions have backed away from you, and some of them are covering their mouths. They view you as toxic, because of the Male Label on your back.
They never thought this way before, but all of a sudden you are the problem; you are the aggressor, and they want nothing more to do with you. If you try to reach out to them, they back away as if they fear that your Male Label will somehow contaminate them.
Some believe that the Male Label is toxic. They say that the Male Label gives a person power and privilege, and with that power and privilege comes corruption. A corrosive, toxic corruption.
Here is why this does not add up -
No person is toxic. To label someone this way is to dehumanise them, and we can all see from the history books how quickly dehumanisation can destroy a society.
Only when we treat someone as a human being, with the potential for good, can we start to understand them, and perhaps see a glimmer of hope for change.
There is a lot of work to do at an individual level, but this needs to be carried out in concert with changes at a structural level. Dr Wizdom Powell (Director of the Health Disparities Institute and Associate Professor at UConn Health) explains that we, as a society, have created this problem:
‘We are complicit in maintaining this idea of masculinities that is mythic and difficult to achieve’.
The Male Labelled are given these messages at a very young age, and they often grow up believing that this is the only way. We need to look long and hard at the way we raise our young Male Labelled people and learn how to make changes in partnership with, not in opposition to, each other.
Dr Powell adds that we need to pay particular attention to the structural arrangements for ‘racial and ethnic minority males that make it even more likely that men will push back from seeking the help they need’. I would add that this also applies to the Male Labelled who are Gender Diverse, and other members of the LGBTQ+ community. When discrimination such as racism, transphobia, homophobia and biphobia interact with a gender bias in the helping profession (for example, when members of the helping profession refer to the Male Labelled as ‘toxic’), this can leave the Male Labelled at a distinct disadvantage.
So if we are going to look at ‘toxic masculinity’ and the Male Label, we have to also consider other forms of abuse of power and privilege, other forms of dehumanising people. In short, we need to tackle the toxicity of gender bias, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia and racism.
So what do you think?
Does any of this resonate with you? Get in touch by sending me a message privately via the Contact Page, or add a public comment below, and engage in the debate
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Therapist, writer, educator, and LGBTQ+ advocate