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ISU Professor: Addressing Toxic Masculinity Means More Conversations


A recent Gillette advertisement on "The Best A Man Can Get" highlights the various ways men interact with the #MeToo movement, pointing to typically male-centric behaviors.

The ad received both praise and criticism, some men going as far as throwing away their Gillette brand shaving products and shaming the company for using stereotypes to profit.

Illinois State University Women and Gender Studies Professor Tanya Diaz-Kozlowski said reactions to the ad on both sides of the spectrum point to an interesting question: “How do we ‘activism’?”

The way Gillette is using activist roots to sell their products isn’t new, she said. It’s just like Nike using former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the face of the brand last year.

But the difference here is gendered. Gillette pointed to acts no one wants to talk about: sexual harassment and bullying.

“If you're offended by Gillette and their commercial, then I am a little concerned,” she said. “Because the ad itself is trying to speak to men in particular by saying, ‘Hey, who are we as a group? We need to recognize these things.’”

Diaz-Kozlowski said what Gillette is doing isn’t exactly right, but it’s not wrong either. She said what we choose to do with this makes all the difference. Her suggestion? Keep talking.

“How are we going to continue to have these conversations about toxic masculinity and patriarchy and how all people participate in patriarchy,” she said. “Because it’s a socio-political system. It's not an individual man or a group of men. Now, do men participate in patriarchy? Yes, they do. Is toxic masculinity problematic? Yes, it is.”

Diaz-Kozlowski uses black feminist scholar Bell Hooks’ words to define patriarchy: “Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”

But Diaz-Kozlowski said addressing patriarchy takes the work of people from all parts of the gender spectrum. But, most importantly, she said it involves changing the way we have attempted to address toxic masculinity in the past.

“So rather than saying, ‘Well, how can we protect women?’ and ‘How can we have more emergency lights on the Quad?’ and, you know, ‘Let's do a safe walk program,’ we need to be interrogating why is it that the majority of violent crime is being committed by men.”

The American Psychological Association recently released a study providing its first-ever male-centric guidelines for mental health care. A main theme throughout the study is addressing the behaviors of toxic masculinity.

“Toxic masculinity is kind of like an everyday colloquial term for hegemonic masculinity. So hegemonic is just like a boujie word for power and dominant,” Diaz-Kozlowski said.

But she said a lot of these behaviors coined as toxic masculine behaviors begin as socially constructed and learned behaviors. Like men holding doors for women. It’s a nice gesture, she explained, but its history is rooted in showing male dominance over the “weak” female.

Toxic masculinity can be unlearned, but you have to be willing to recognize that it's actually harmful.

"It's harmful to people of all genders, but it has different impacts and effects for women than it does for men,” Diaz-Kozlowski said.

In order to move forward she said we first have to have the ability to talk about toxic masculinity and the will to change.

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