Noxious virility is a term I made up to describe a particular style of manhood that gets tossed around a lot these days. I’ve paraphrased the term in question because I haven’t thought of a better name for it, yet I feel the concept is accurate and still a crucial issue for us. I feel we are at a critical juncture where we are not only able to change, but we must change. We can construct a world where men are allowed to be human and women are not devalued. A world where women are allowed to be themselves safely because men are no longer worried about an artificially created hierarchy where they must be on top. These are all the fake constructs that keep us from being authentic.
Why now? Because we need it as a culture and as a species. I had this idea for my coaching practice four years ago, but it had been brewing for much longer than that. I realized I would be doing myself a disservice by not pursuing this. Many thanks to all the former clients in treatment groups over the years who helped me formulate this idea. I heard several times a year “if someone had taught me this in high school, I wouldn’t be here now” (I worked exclusively with probationers for twelve years.) We could use an attitude adjustment regarding “what it means to be a man.” We hide behind platitudes that are ultimately harmful to ourselves and others. We have elected to hide behind our platitudes because we are the top of that proverbial chain. If we were on the other end of it, likely we would understand the unfairness of it. Now is the best time.
Men in our culture are allowed the expression of anger without undue attention. That is the limit of acceptable emotions, however. Any additional emotional expression is somewhat suspect. Even expressing happiness “too much” can have unmanly connotations. All the other shades of various emotion available to us as humans have been removed from the table. This creates an emotional bottleneck. You can have a myriad of life experience but you are only allowed to express those experiences one way. Very limiting, no? This means many natural reactions must be purged until extinguished because that is the cultural demand. Don’t cry, don’t complain, etc. This is taking what is meant to be several different natural pressure valves and reducing them to one. Only one way to let all of life’s pressures out. Perhaps we get irritated at women being “too emotional” because we are envious? “I wish I was allowed to do that…” We wind up being emotionally one dimensional in many ways because we weren’t allowed anything else.
I want to change the way we view manhood to make us better, not weaker. Compassion and feelings are all essential parts of humanity. Feeling our feelings and processing them in a healthy way is where we fall down. It is regarded as anti-manhood to feel feelings. Because of that, we don’t know how to manage or process them. That is why anger is our fallback, our default. Its ok for men to express anger and while they are doing that, they might sneak a little sadness and vulnerability in there, when no one is looking. Its ok to cry as long as you start out raging, right? Rage is an acceptable doorway to sadness, correct?
One of the first things I learned as a boy was expressing genuine emotion was a guaranteed way to make your situation worse. ‘Don’t ever do that’ was the message…unless you enjoy the ridicule. Most of us don’t enjoy the ridicule, at least not if you are an American male between the ages of 5-105. There are many unwritten rules, and if you break one, other men know intuitively to give you a hard time for it. If they don’t give you a hard time, they are seen as complicit. Don’t stray outside the lines otherwise you may do the right thing or even learn a valuable lesson…
I think we need to examine why positive forward growth is frequently viewed as suspect by man culture. Progress (of many different kinds) is viewed as a threat to traditional man values just because it is new (will this make me look feminine? Weak? Left-handed?) For a very long time, anything viewed as even slightly outside of mainstream was deemed as “unmanly.” This must have made progress and learning very difficult.
Allowing emotional expression may cut back on a host of our problems including school shootings and teen suicides. It could lead to a whole new kind of understanding that leads to far less conflict and violence. This is about more than growing up and emotional maturation, it’s also about looking behind cultural standards and truly evaluating what is fair and what is not. For that, we would also need to raise our kids differently. In order to raise our kids differently, we have to embrace a whole new set of values regarding masculinity. We would have to venture further out of our mancaves to accomplish this, however. We might as well, we have nowhere else to go. The other option is to continue how we always have but we already know how well that has gone for us.
A certain amount of resistance to progress is expected. I believe a lot of men resist what is new because it is unfamiliar and they are uncertain whether it will be a threat to manhood. It is curious how we don’t look at new developments as ways to advance; frequently we view them as possible threats to masculinity that must be screened first rather than evaluating how big an advance a given discovery is. If it threatens the image of manhood, it may not be accepted as progress, no matter how miraculous. If someone wanted to stop progress in its tracks, all they would have to do is connect any new discovery to a decrease in manhood and it would get shelfed (at least in the U.S.) no matter how amazing the new discovery.
I am reminded of the time I was working as a trainer in a gym that specialized in fitness and weight loss via a plant-based diet. During the nutrition class for new members, there was at least one man in the group who would say “I heard tofu adds to male estrogen levels/reduces testosterone/makes men weak…what do you say about that?” Validated studies have shown this is not true and that the resting levels of testosterone in men who eat a plant-based diet consistently are slightly higher than those who eat animal protein. Most American men don’t know this and wouldn’t bother to research it because even the hint of lowering testosterone makes this concept a non-starter. Even the whisper of lessening one’s manhood places a perfectly healthy diet on the shelf. “What if it’s true” carries more weight in this scenario and is too risky to investigate, let alone try. We hang onto our virility as if it will blow away in a strong wind. Better to be safe than sorry, right? That is precisely what keeps us stuck.
After the nutrition class, I mentioned to one of the trainers that was a brilliant way to keep men from eating plants and keep them eating animal protein ad infinitum. Several people agreed with me. Anything that remotely threatens manhood (even anecdotally) gets buried. We tend to view feelings the same way. I’m choosing to remake a concept that has been choking us for hundreds of years. We have chosen to follow this path. Now it is up to me, and others like me, to pick this up and do the work of directing other men to a different course of action.