When was the last time we sat down to watch a movie and collectively questioned the role of a “bad guy” being played by a male actor? I’m going to go out on a fiercely sturdy limb here and say, with fervor, never. It’s too easy to believe that a man is capable of, let’s say, chopping up bodies, as opposed to a woman.
In fact, often times when we’re demonizing a woman within a role, we have to actually turn her into a demon, proving that no female-identifying human that is of this world, could possibly be destructive by nature. Here we see our infamous exorcist-esque characters, wherein a woman’s body has been possessed by the devil, and the entire plot is dedicated to returning our faire maiden back to her “sugar and spice and everything nice,” stature. Another example of this ludicrous notion is one of our favorite sinister sisters, Lizzie Borden.
In an article published by Rolling Stone in 2016, Lizzie Borden: Why a 19th-Century Axe Murderer Still Fascinates Us, journalist Elizabeth Yuko cites a quote from Deborah Allard, a staff reporter who resides in Borden’s hometown.
“I think the case has gotten so much attention because our proper Victorian ancestors couldn’t fathom that someone among the upper class – especially a woman – could commit such a heinous crime.”
Though the Borden murders took place in 1892 during the rise of sensationalized journalism, the same identity crisis still stands: to accuse a woman of committing a heinous crime takes not only infallible evidence, but a mere out-of-body experience as well. This ideology also introduces the facet of class; those with boundless pockets either qualify to pay their way out quietly, or are overlooked by the judicial system as someone far too economically above committing such a crime.
In contrast, let’s shift our lens to Harvey Weinstein; a man who has the financial backing to not only successfully hide insidious behavior that spanned decades, but also had the power to negatively impact the careers of the women who questioned his motives and denied his advances. Once one allegation surfaced, however, the rest followed like falling water. Following the harrowing accounts of 80+ women throughout Hollywood, we saw multiple male icons from TV, film and Broadway alike, come forward with the quintessential statement: “we knew this was happening, and we should have done something.”
Ah, but you didn’t. And the reason you didn’t (lucky guess, here) is because historically, men are innately more severe, strict, and irreversible in their inflicted punishment toward those who speak out against them. Women, however, are much more likely to go back on threats, either reneging entirely, or retaliating in softer ways due to society’s expectations of their behavior. This same softness is directly applied to their willingness to report a sexual assault. In one of the many related stories published by The New York Times, Lupita Nyong’o discussed the inherent fear women face when deciding whether or not to publicize their assaults.
“What I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done. I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served,” (Lupita Nyong’o: Speaking Out About Harvey Weinstein.)
What’s interesting about her sentiment, is that women typically will not discuss the traumas of their past with other women until there is a sturdy enough platform to support them. Men, however, share tales of taking women as trophies not only as dinnertime colloquialism, but with braggadocios tempo. This is a huge nod to the “locker room talk” made famous by the joke-with-no-punch line that’s been taking up residency in Washington.
Unfortunately, this locker room style of rhetoric between men is far from new. Published on Psychology Today, Jessie Prinz, Ph.D., discusses the historic reinforcement of aggressive male behavior in the article: Why Are Men So Violent?
“Consider the biological fact that men have more upper-body strength than women, and assume that both men and women want to obtain as many desirable resources as they can. In hunter-gatherer societies, this strength differential doesn’t allow men to fully dominate women, because they depend on the food that women gather. […] Once heavy ploughs and large animals become central aspects of food production, […] men become the sole providers, and women start to depend on men economically. The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions. Once men have absolute power, they are reluctant to give it up. It took two world wars and a post-industrial economy for women to obtain basic opportunities and rights.”
The collective reinforcement of male dominance stems not only from biology (a piece of the violent pie, undoubtedly,) but from their chronological history and stature in society. In other words, there’s a reason we don’t chop the tallest tree down, be it metaphorical or not. When a self-fulfilling historical context (patriarchy) is reinforced by longevity, expectations and demands of that particular gender become not only inherent, but inherently dangerous.
While there have been countless studies conducted to research the raising of boys vs girls, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or perhaps it does,) to draw a direct line between the harsh rhetoric we raise boys on, and the harsh arenas they build and perpetuate for themselves as they grow older. The opposite is true for the giant magenta bows we place atop girls’ heads no less than five minutes after their entrance into the world, and grow angry with them should they grow up to prefer a pair of cargo shorts. Disclaimer: Absolutely no one should prefer cargo shorts, under even the most desperate of circumstances, but you see where I’m going.
I’m not here to affirm that yes, in fact, the way we raise boys is actually affecting our society negatively. Those of us who pay attention to blatant detail know this. I am here, however, to make a case that acknowledging it, and making another sensationalized documentary about it, is certainly not enough. While there are many arguments – with a lot of proof – that men are raised in toxic environments, this neither eradicates nor invites the overlooking of holding them accountable for perpetuating these stereotypes.
We owe it to our future generations to start paying attention to the toxicity of cyclical history. To the ones that are told to toughen up, and told to toughen up some more once they’ve been caught. To the ones that society has practiced to return as an unidentifiable variable on the litmus test of punishment time and time again.
Historically, we’ve learned that anything that disagrees with or defies the “art of masculinity” is for the taking. Would masculinity still be as reinforced if men were to experience what it means to truly be at their hand? More obscurely: would sculptors exist if they could feel their own chisel?
With today’s media marketplace selling the idea of toxic masculinity for less than $1/slice, it’s no surprise that our mass consumption of gender-intrinsic stereotypical behavior continues to go down smooth. However, this notion begs the question: why as a society are we so easily able to follow the silver screen plotline of “bad guy,” but can’t swallow the same pill when it’s a headline?
could be, perhaps, that we’re simply afraid of the science behind statistic;
that the thought of holistically blaming all those that identify as male is
much too harsh a conclusion. Or, could it be because we refuse to admit that
we’ve been raising a stereotype, instead of a human, since the dawn of