The Toxic Mission to Reengineer Men

Contemporary Western culture is now dominated by feminist ideology. One of its favorite tropes is “toxic masculinity.” This is part of the feminist strategy to lift females by lowering males.

Most Western governments are on the feminists’ side, protected under the banner of “diversity.”  Canada and Sweden have made feminization their highest priority, neglecting prosperity and negating freedom and justice. Most scientific agencies, such as the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Networks of Centers of Excellence of Canada, are mission-bound to diversify their workforces. Most colleges and universities have enthusiastically adopted a feminist ideology, and the feminization of both childhood and higher education in the West is almost complete.

The most recent to adopt the feminist claim about “toxic masculinity” is the American Psychological Association, which asserts this feminist “truth”: “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.” But men should not be offended because the APA, after all, is condemning “traditional masculinity” for men’s own good: psychological therapy can help men overcome these “harmful traits”: “Clinicians must be aware of dominant masculine ideals, and cognizant of their own potential biases. … Mental health professionals must also understand how power, privilege, and sexism work both by conferring benefits to men and by trapping them in narrow roles.”

[Reforming ‘Toxic Masculinity’ at University of Texas]

This is the newly published “official” guidelines for understanding men. But this approach is not new; it has been adopted by psychologists for some time. Here is the publisher’s description of A New Psychology of Men, edited by two male psychologists: “Inspired by feminist scholars who revolutionized our understanding of women’s gender roles, the contributors to this pioneering book describe how men’s proscribed roles are neither biological nor social givens, but rather psychological and social constructions. Questioning the traditional norms of the male role (such as the emphasis on aggression, competition, status, and emotional stoicism), they show how some male problems (such as violence, homophobia, devaluation of women, detached fathering, and neglect of health needs) are unfortunate by-products of the current process by which males are socialized.”

There is no shying away from the feminist origin of this condemnation of men, or that psychologists appear to accept the feminist perspective as disinterested, unbiased, and sound. Are we really meant to be reassured by the APA’s explanation that “Many researchers who study femininity also work on masculinity: Several contributors to the [earlier] guidelines for girls and women have also contributed to the new guidelines for boys and men”?

The Evolution of Masculinity

As a way of putting masculinity in perspective, let us consider the evolution of men’s roles in society. To begin, during the first one million, nine hundred and eighty thousand years of the two million years of the existence of our species,  human beings were foragers making a living by hunting, fishing, and gathering natural wild species. Assuming that natural selection continued to shape human beings during that almost two-million-year period, the characteristics of both men and women would reflect those hundred thousand generations of life experience.

Among foragers, men were responsible for hunting small and large animals with wood and stone weapons. Because animals tended to be spread widely, men often had to track for long distances, being away from camp for days. Women were responsible for gathering plants, and for processing raw materials brought by the men, as well as giving birth to and nurturing children. Natural selection would have favored successful hunters, men who were tenacious, robust, and intrepid. Good hunters would have had more protein in their diets, and their sharing of food would be rewarded by sexual access to recipients, thus leading to more offspring from good hunters, and the passing on of genes for strength and courage.

[‘Masculinity Is Being Dissolved on Campus’]

Among northern hunters, such as the Inuit, the environment provided little vegetation, so human life depended entirely upon successful hunting. Women specialized in reproduction, and in processing raw materials, such as animal skins for clothing. People lived in small bands, which sometimes broke up seasonally into family groups. In temperate climates, gather of plant matter was more important.

Men were responsible as well for defense, against both animals and human predators. Attacks between bands were not unusual. Each man had to defend his wife and children, and his equipment, e.g., sled and dogs, against any aggressor. Fathers and sons, and brothers tended to stay together, and this patrilineality and patrilocality benefitted through joint knowledge of the territory and cooperation in making a living and in defense.

Attempts in the 1970s and later, greatly lauded by feminists, to portray foragers as gender neutral, peaceful, and dependent primarily on gathering by females, were decisively refuted by systematic surveys and historical studies. Foragers thus failed as a model feminist society with which to criticize contemporary Western societies.

The first attempts at the cultivation of plants were around 20,000 years ago and horticulturally based, swidden (slash and burn), societies took eight or ten thousand years to develop. From anthropological studies of horticultural societies, the gender roles are strictly defined. While men do heavy labor, such as tree felling and removal, women do the arduous planting, weeding, and harvesting. At the same time, men are responsible for defense, for raiding and warfare are endemic in horticultural societies. In intervillage warfare, villages can be destroyed, croplands captured, and inhabitants murdered or chased away. In these non-state societies, only diplomatic chiefs and fierce village warriors could provide security for the community.

[What Your Sons and Daughters Will Learn at University]

Around the same time as plants were being domesticated, animals were also domesticated — first, dogs, then sheep and goats, later camels and horses. Many peoples have mixed economies of cultivation and raising livestock. Some groups, who became what we call “pastoralists,” specialized in raising livestock, whether sheep and goats, camels, cattle, or horses. Livestock can be maintained in a renewable fashion, in two senses: first, you can live on their milk and blood, without damaging the animals, which serve as live capital; secondly, livestock, unlike land, reproduces, and thus is self-expanding. On the other hand, livestock is vulnerable to extreme temperatures, disease, and human and animal predators.

For human predators, livestock is very convenient, because it is mobile under its own power. So, pastoralists must constantly be on guard, and ready to defend their flock. Pastoralists depend on nomadic mobility to avoid extreme temperatures and disease, and sometimes to avoid predators. But pastoralists can take an offensive stance also, acting to prey on others’ herds. Whether defense or offense, it is males who are responsible for action against outsiders. Women never fight; their reproductive capacity cannot be put at risk.

In the Iranian nomadic tribe that I lived with and studied, all men, except for the few religious officials, were warriors as well as pastoralists. Men were responsible for the flocks and herds. It was men who took the animals out to pasture. When a camel wandered off, it was the men who scattered through the desert to find it. When any threat arose, it was the men who mobilized to protect the people in their group and to protect their flocks and herds. The men were in constant negotiation and collaboration with other group members over herding labor and migration schedule and location. Solidarity in kin groups was highly desired and regarded. Women cooked, wove clothes, bedding, and tent cloths, brought water from natural sources and wells, and nurtured the children.

In highland Sardinia, in the western Mediterranean, which I know first hand, the roles of males and females are quite distinct, even though gender equality is strong, with both a male and a female designated head of household, padrone and padrona. Women and children stayed in the agropastoral towns, occupying the stone houses. Women worked to established social bonds among families. They also made daily trips to cultivate their gardens outside of town. The shepherds, pastori, lived out in their sheep stations, up in the mountains in the summer, down on the coastal plain during the winter, so that they could oversee the pasturing of their flocks, milk their animals, and make the sheep and goat milk cheese that is a staple of Sardinian and Italian cuisine. Out in the pastures, shepherds would have to defend their flocks against rustling, abigeato, and their pastures against encroachment, competition, and conflict sometimes leading to violence and vendetta.   

In states that emerged 4000 years ago, men were the organizers, and as kings, priests, and generals, arranged the building of cities and the expansion of territorial control. Some states developed into empires, and imposed their rule over wide territories, incorporating captives as slaves. The level of economic production was low, and it was easier to take wealth and labor from others than to produce it themselves. That ended in Europe in the 18th century, with the agricultural and industrial revolutions, which brought high levels of productivity to the world for the first time. Men brought about these revolutions, as they had previously invented science. Men were also the primary producers of literature, art, and music. Women played a necessary role, but their creativity was biological and social, not cultural. It is fair to say that men are characterized not only by “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression,” but also by ambition, daring, insight, creativity, application, and tenacity. These qualities were put to good use as men invented civilization. Women did not have the opportunities that men did, but that is hardly grounds for demeaning the vast achievements of men.

The APA guidelines accept the feminist delusion that male and female traits are entirely the result of “social construction”: “boys and men may experience incredible pressure to live up to these rules around masculinity that they may have learned within their own cultural context.” So, all “boys and men” need to do for all of us to live in a feminist paradise is to adopt feminist rules of socialization.

And so, the two million years of natural and sexual selection of male traits and characteristics are ignored by feminist psychologists. Yet psychologists know well that men have stronger spatial perception and skills than females, that males are more interested in the material world and females are more interested in people, that females favor talking and socializing, while males are more reserved. After two million years of selection, these and other differences between men and women are evolutionary based. Of course, there is still some room for social channeling even of genetically-based traits. But ignoring reality to advance our ideological goals is bound to fail.

The communists in the USSR and Cuba tried to invent a “new man,” a “socialist man” who would give up his individuality in order to advance the interests of “the people.” But the population never bought it, and oppressive security agencies were imposed to coerce people to live according to socialist ideals. That is why the “beneficiaries” of communism were delighted when their totalitarian societies fell.

Today, with the freeing of females from traditional role constraints, it is still primarily men who do the dangerous and dirty jobs, who make up most of the first responders and the military who defend us, and who, as scientists and engineers, continue to address the natural world for understanding and to serve our needs. These are some of the ways that the characteristics and qualities of men benefit society. And it is the job of socialization to direct the traits of men into constructive channels, a more realistic and productive strategy than trying to turn males into females.

Yes, being a man is not stress-free, and sometimes we have inner struggles. But do women not also have inner struggles, and is that not in our nature as human beings? Feminists who simplistically argue that women’s psychological and other problems are all and always the fault of “toxic” men, are doing a very human thing: blaming others for their problems. That such sad naivete has been adopted by our governments, scientific organizations, and schools and universities does not reflect a very sound understanding of people or the world. Even more so for psychologists, who should know better.

Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

11 thoughts on “The Toxic Mission to Reengineer Men

  1. Mind you also the false idea to create more equal conditions in school by forcing boys to comply with various rules and behavior does not involve kind, caring support as girls receive on a daily basis but much more aggressive disciplinary treatment which only adds to the more aggressive treatment they were given even before the false idea of some genetic masculine traits became an issue. So they are being hurt even more now.

  2. We need to understand male students are falling behind their female peers in all socioeconomic areas today collectively. This means that even in higher socioeconomic areas, girls/women are doing better; that girls/women in middle class areas are doing even better still; and in working class areas girls/women are doing much better. This varied achievement is due to very real differential treatment from infancy through adulthood mixed in with a little more stability and knowledge as they go up the socioeconomic ladder. To understand how this takes place we need to see average stress in a very new, important way today. We need to see our average stress as not simply old mental/physical work such as laughing/running or older learned skill work, but as many maintained layers of mental work which take up real mental energy from many past, present, future- experiences, fears, anxieties, needs along with many weights and values (mostly for boys) which revolve around fear, courage, and preparation for defense. Try to see an upright rectangle showing our full mental energy. Then begin at the bottom, drawing in many maintained layers of mental work. The leftover space shows our leftover mental energy for learning new mental work. The length of that space shows our amount of reflection time to consider longer-term, more complex thinking, requiring more mental energy. These are not genetic areas of differences but from infancy very real differences in treatment given by parents, teachers, others through adulthood.
    The belief boys should be strong allows more and increased aggressive treatment from infancy to make them tough with more aggressive words and treatment. This was designed to create more fear, anger, and preparation for defense so they would be tough. In higher socioeconomic areas there is more stability, care, knowledge, and skills provided and less anxiety used a catharsis for aggression. So those male children receive more care. In the lower areas there is more anxiety and more values of toughness still ingrained to make boys tough. This shows just how the trend of achievement changes due to their environment and values of toughness.
    For boys in general, much more so in lower areas making boys tough also involves much less kind, stable, verbal interaction or support for fear of coddling. This and social/emotional distance created by the more harsh treatment creates much less communication skills and much lower social vocabulary. This combines to create more activity for stress relief (not genetic); higher muscle tension which hurts handwriting/motivation; and much less communication/fear of adults such as parents and teachers. This also hurts greatly in reading requiring much more mental energy for decoding, visualizing, reflecting, organizing, enjoying the process; and also using their social vocabulary (boys have much less of) for learning new words in print using their social vocabulary/communication skills. Also the false idea of just trying hard hurts all students but boys mostly with higher average stress, for those higher layers feed into improper pace and intensity exacerbating their already higher layers and trying harder still, hurts even more. Here the principle of approaching mental work correctly/more slowly at first to develop mental frames is completely missed. Boys/men are also given love honor only according to their achievement. When not achieving in school they are given more ridicule and discipline by parents and teachers to make them try harder, not knowing the false genetic models of ability and effort by Galton and Gardner are not true. In more stable environments here the middle and upper classes have an advantage also by having less anxiety, more stability, and care with more knowledge so their mental frames are constructed more so from an early age and their pace is not nearly as stress driven.
    As for girls, the kind, stable, verbal interaction we receive from infancy by parents, teachers, others creates much lower average stress; much protected verbal interaction/communication skills; much more ease in learning, reflection, motivation. Our handwriting and reading is much easier and more rewarding. We are given support for any weaknesses by all. We are not as driven to achieve as highly as boys in society, for we are given love honor for being girls. This enables us to achieve anything we wish and find fulfillment but perhaps not at some very high level in general. Those girls/women who wish to do so are. This is why in stem fields and other corporate/political areas, we are not taking over. As for boys/men, they are given love/honor only for achievement. Those few boys with sufficient care and support will do well in school and society, but they must keep achieving in order to keep receiving love/honor from others. This enables those very few boys/men to keep achieving with drug effect of having to keep seeking out money, power, status, image, etc. Still even so, as we can see, as the boys/men begin falling out due to more harsh treatment, we as girls and women are now taking over achievement in school and in many areas of society. As the middle class falls, there will be fewer boys/men achieving, and as we can see, more and more girls/women are slowly rising up in stem fields and in corporate/political areas. We must provide much more care for our male students and men.

  3. My most recent approach to the feminist claim about “toxic masculinity” is the American Psychological Association, needs some psychological and paratactical adjustment to say the least which asserts a ‘Feminist’ “mythical deception”:

    “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that the oppressive attitude of ‘Feminism’ has made it’s mark by deception, abuse, violent competitiveness, dominance, and aggression; This concludes that the whole of the issue of so called shouted form of equality has turned into a massively harmful, childish and irresponsible attitude towards equality as a whole..”

    But men should not be offended because the APA, after all, is condemning “traditional masculinity” for men’s own good, as suggested in the text issued in this discussion.

    Psychological therapy can help ‘WOMEN’ overcome these “harmful instigated and manufactured traits”:

    “Clinicians must be aware of dominant successive brutish and deceptive ideals, and cognizant of their own potential bias. …

    Mental health professionals must also understand how power, privilege, and sexism will not work whereby one side takes the stand that they are and should have the right to abuse the other, because conferring excessive benefits to ‘Women’ over men, has trapped ‘Women’ into a war of intolerance and ignorance, reference the whole idea of equality overall.

    Thank you

    Ray

  4. Something not touched upon here is the effects of the industrial revolution on promoting feminism and diminishing male toxicity.

  5. Men need To Be Men and Women need to Be Women!! Personality I Don’t want A Feminist Man – I Prefer A Man’s Man!! One Who Knows what he is!!

  6. outstanding! what a great anthropological perspective! it just reinforces that in order for liberals to gain legitimacy they must reject history, absolute truth, science and God’s creation and Natural Law. see 2 Timothy 3 and Jude 1.

  7. What needs to be remembered is that these APA’s guidelines have virtual “power of law” in most states — they are applicable to everything from child custody disputes to civil psych commitments. Remember that it is the APA which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, i.e. the DSM-5 — “the” book which defines who is sane and who is not.

    The problem is that the cops and the courts — not to mention all of K-12 — defer to the “expertise” of the APA and hence these guidelines are potentially far more significant than they may appear at first glance.

  8. It’s never enough, apparently, to be pleased, even triumphant, that in the modern developed world, finally women’s full potential to contribute to society in ways other than reproduction can be realized. Nope. Instead, we have to strain to give birth (metaphor absolutely intentional) to a version of history – I should properly say “history,” but I refuse to say “herstory” – in which, in the “good” societies, women were the ones who wielded power and influence, created art, undertook diplomacy (and of course shunned warfare), and in the “bad” societies, were prevented from doing so by The Patriarchy. It’s history-by-screenplay and it annoys the crap out of me. I may be the only female misogynist I know.

  9. I’m not sure Sweden can be considered a friend of feminists at the rate at which they are importing Muslims who are kind of rape-y and patriarchal and such.

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