If you’re reading the title of this article and rolling your eyes, believe me, I get it. Nowadays it feels as if masculinity—hypermasculinity or otherwise—has become the source of all-evil in the world. One can hardly step outside their door without hearing about the malevolent cancer of the patriarchy. I’ve even heard detailed conversations about how toxic masculinity is to blame for global warming. Ridiculousness!
Well, it’s actually not as crazy as it might sound at first.
Part of the problem with terms like “feminism” and “hypermasculinity” is that people like to ascribe genders to these concepts. Women are noble feminists and men are hypermasculine monsters. E.g. women good, men bad. No matter how these words sound they actually work hard to transcend concepts of gender and instead focus on behavior. Many men—I propose, as many men as women even—are feminists. And many women—yes, again potentially as many women as men—are guilty of hypermasculine tendencies and ideologies.
Feminism vs. Hypermasculinity: The Need-to-Know as Told by a Layman
So what actually are feminism and hypermasculinity? To understand how toxic masculinity could be connected to climate issues it’s important to understand exactly what these two terms mean. The “quick-n-dirty” definition goes something like this: hypermasculinity is an exaggeration of the negative stereotypes of masculine behavior. This includes aggression, sexual dominance, and even physicality. Feminism, on the other hand, is a discursive term with many branching sociological implications. At its core feminism seeks the economic, political, and social equality of the sexes.
Alright, now that we understand the vocabulary it’s time to discuss two words loved by liberals and hated by conservatives: the patriarchy. In short, “the patriarchy” is the belief that due to hypermasculine ideologies—that is, the idea that negative, masculine stereotypes are somehow the superior and rightly dominant in society—those who possess hypermasculine qualities have historically (and currently) held political, social, and economic power over the sexes. Feminists claim that many issues surrounding our current political climate can be traced back to hypermasculinity. Regardless of your affiliations or views for the time being let’s just operate under the assumption that this is correct.
Before moving on it’s important to understand the distinction between masculinity (i.e. possessing traits traditionally associated with manhood) and hypermasculinity. Innately, there is nothing wrong with taking pride in your sex. There are many qualities men are capable of embodying which should garner self-pride. However, when the emphasis of those qualities segregates other—or makes definitive claims about what does or does not make a man—and becomes the norm than that’s when masculinity mutates into something darker. Hypermasculinity, in this way, is very easy to spot even if it’s harder to define. A simple way of deciding if someone’s actions are toxically hypermasculine is to ask a) if the person is using their idea of masculinity to defend actions that are harmful or exclusive and b) whether a person’s ideals lambast or villainize femininity. This can be a direct attack on women, feminine traits portrayed in men, the LGBT community, or those that are gender non-conforming. If the answer is “yes” to either of these questions then it’s fairly likely you’re dealing with hypermasculinity.
How Does Ideals About Behavior Effect Environment?
We’ve established that hypermasculinity is aggressive and dominant in nature. This mentality isn’t limited to social interactions though. Rather, it permeates across discursive fields and ultimately impacts everything it touches.
The two examples we will focus on are consumption habits and ecological regard. Have you picked up a Men’s Health magazine in the last decade or so? What’s on the cover? Chances are it’s a (highly photo-shopped) picture of a man: half-naked, boasting large muscles and a “chiseled” physique. The captions under this picture will almost inevitably advertise three things to its target clientele: food, muscles, and heterosexual sex. I target these three things specifically because they are the foundations of what is supposed to interest a hypermasculine man. Inside these magazines you’ll find tips on how you can get bigger, stronger, more chiseled muscles. The point of these muscles is rarely advertised as a health benefit, but rather as a means of getting laid and dominating other men through subtle references to sports and work. And to get these muscles the message is always the same: eat lots and lots of meat.
To be clear, I am not a vegetarian, vegan, or even really picky when it comes to food. I have no issues with meat and enjoy it on a regular basis. The thing about meat, though, is that it’s actually really damaging to our environment and economy. That’s not an attack: but a fact. Consider the steps it takes to get meat on the table: food has to be grown which can feed an animal, the animal has to be fed that food for months and sometimes years before it is ready for slaughter, only certain portions of the animal can be used, and all the time the animals have to be sheltered, vaccinated, and otherwise cared for. This takes it’s toll on the land—which has to produce a massive amount of food for the maintenance of animals—and results in humans having to spend more money to chemically treat overused soil. And why? Certainly because meat is a staple of the human diet. But also because of the social and hypermasculine implications. Big, strong men eat meat. To gain massive muscles a diet of high protein meat is advertised as a staple.
Despite these being verifiable facts very little is done to deviate away from the massive production of meat. This social disregard for the land leads to the second point: ecological regard. In part, I blame the Bible: “…let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). Regardless of religiosity this sentiment of dominance rings true for how the earth is treated. Rather than living in harmony, we force the earth to conform to our needs. Rather than adapt to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change in the future, we continue to run dry the resources of the earth at an alarming rate. This seems as much an act of hypermasculine aggression as anything.
We Can Do Better
Whether you find yourself stuck on one side or the other, I don’t believe that it’s so far that people can’t see the middle. It’s a cliché repeated more times than I care to think about but since we are all living on this planet it might be time to band together and figure out a way to ensure it’s habitable for future generations. The first step to stop upholding ideologies which revel in the dominance of the land; of utility over preservation; of consumption and excess as markers of status. Whatever your views consider how your attitude towards others affects your attitude towards the earth. You might be surprised to see how similar they are.