There is no shortage of toxic masculinity represented in the online comments section of social media. Everything from casual anti-feminism to harmful male tropes passed off as facts. For the most part, while reading some of these comments, I can shake my head and fight the urge to engage. However, on other days, like yesterday, I come across a particularly loaded reply on a thread, and I think this is the kind of statement every boy-mom should be aware of. How do I prevent my boys from being indoctrinated into these lines of thinking?
The comment I read was excellent because it covered the biggest problem with the toxic male trope: choice.
Skillful in the art of bringing unrelated topics into one big blurb of nonsensical rhetoric, this commentator was able to conflate several issues. He stated his hate for gender-neutrality in men, his stance on anti-vaccination, his political sentiments while simultaneously claiming opposing viewpoints are derived from sheep. I shook my head. I wrote three drafts as replies that I quickly deleted. I tried to move past it; I even logged off, only to return moments later. But why? What was it about this glob of goop that grabbed my attention?
This young commentator added his hate for men who choose plastic surgery, and that’s probably the only reason I noticed it. Had he not said it, I would have scrolled right through. It stuck out among the usual red flags because it was boldly macho. In short it stated: you have the right to choose not to vaccinate, you have the right to choose to own guns, you have the right to choose to shout these opinions like a Kevin in a Walmart, and somehow those rights stop at other men and their choices. For this young man, the only truth he understood was how men should behave, what they should wear, and how they should vote.
How did we get here? I imagine that this young man feels the effects of toxicity in his bones. He might not even realize how embedded his opinions are in macho male tropes. Though, the time I gave him while reading his comment is also toxic. The time I spent parallels because giving macho male tropes attention is like giving them oxygen. The more they are exposed to it, the more people start considering if these ideas are valid.
I can’t change anyone else’s mind; what I can do is try to understand the condition. To protect my boys from this kind of thinking I’ll have to raise them so that they recognize toxicity and its makeup. I can help them understand their own emotions and help them to understand empathy, and sympathy, and how to apply both to others and themselves. I can tell them that just because they’ve chosen something, that doesn’t make a choice particularly right, or for anyone else.
That’s it. Those are my choices. I can find grace for the troll, but I don’t have to. I can unfriend certain accounts so that I don’t have such jarring commentators on my social feeds, or I can keep shaking my head and continuing to scroll. Either way, the opposite of living a toxic life is realizing that choice allows the ability to comment or not, to befriend in real life or not, and to vote for whomever I choose.
Thank God for that.
Thank God for choice.