During my senior year of high school, we got a new track coach. Let’s call him Napoleon. He came in passionate. He came in with plans. He came in with a chip on his shoulder.
To be fair, we didn’t welcome Napoleon. He didn’t have a great reputation as a teacher, or a coach, and high schoolers are apt to make rash judgments based on rumors. But he was the adult, and he didn’t do anything to dispel our disdain.
From the beginning, Napoleon showed severe favoritism towards the guys. He desperately wanted them to like him, so he treated them as friends and confidants. Meanwhile, the girls were expected to submit to his authoritarianism. He refused to let the female coaches lead us, unless he gave them explicit instructions first. He belittled and berated them until they left, unable to deal with the hostile environment.
With the female coach staff gone, Napoleon’s anger turned to me- the senior team captain.
For a while, I tried. I told the team to give him a chance, even though I didn’t like him either. I came to him when I had concerns. At one point, we spent the entire practice talking about these concerns and he ended up bawling. I didn’t realize that I was starting a power struggle.
Napoleon ended up threatening me. He gossiped about me to the boys. I remember one friend approaching me and telling me to be careful, because the coach was saying some pretty awful falsehoods.
Now my parents taught me to be respectful of my elders, but I am naturally feisty and petty. So while he belittled me in private, I led the girls’ team through a rebellion of gossip and disrespect. And we didn’t even have to stretch the truth. I went from trying to support him to trying to ensure that no one gave him a shot.
In hindsight, I get why he hated me. He hated me because I had the respect of the team and he didn’t. He hated me because I seemed confident and he wasn’t. He hated me because I refused to accept injustices when I saw them. Mostly, he hated me because I was a woman, and not a meek one.
The funniest part: when I visited the following year, he greeted me with grand enthusiasm. He introduced me to the team as one of his proteges, because I was now a collegiate runner. Suddenly, instead of being his nemesis, I was his trophy.
I’ve heard he calmed down in subsequent years, and I’m sure he’s a different person now. I know I am no longer that vindictive, prideful teenager. But his toxicity made my senior season hell.
Now I understand that man was the exception. I am sure most men would never treat a woman, especially an underage woman, like that.
But until I got married (at the age of 22), I told strange men that I was 17, because just saying no or saying that I had a boyfriend wasn’t enough to deter them.
Sometimes I stand behind my husband and stay silent, because I realize that the salesman we are talking to doesn’t see me as my husband’s intellectual equal, and we will get a better deal if I don’t talk.
I hate getting my oil changed, because the mechanics work hard to convince me to add a bunch of upcharges. If my husband is with me, there is less pressure.
When I started this blog, I received this email: “Just a note to let you know there was NOTHING wrong with the 50s housewives. I was there so I know! They loved their kids and husbands and took care of them. They didn’t work outside the home and had very few affairs with other men. A major reason that we are in the mess we are in now is the fact that they left the home and went to work.”
(Sidenote: If you’re interested in the title of my blog, check out my Facebook page. I posted a video explaining my reasoning.)
I was once called a slut because I wasn’t as pure as the boy thought I should be. His justification? All women are sluts. Someone explain that to me.
An ex-boyfriend thought throwing me against walls was the appropriate reaction when I told him no. If I tried to leave? The appropriate reaction was to hold me down. If I fought back? Scream in my face. If I cried? “Why are you crying, it’s not like I hit you.”
And all of this happened in the US. Land of the free, home of the brave. It doesn’t even compare to the degradation and legalized oppression that women suffer in other countries.
The idea of toxic masculinity is often overgeneralized to include everything masculine. It’s an issue of semantics. Toxicity isn’t an adjective describing masculinity. Toxic masculinity is its own compound noun, with its own definition.
Men protect their women out of love and respect. Toxic men protect women because they believe women are incapable of protecting themselves.
A man takes a woman out on nice dates to show admiration and to make the woman feel special. A toxic man takes a woman out to see what he can get from the woman.
Men lead with the intent of raising new leaders. Toxic men lead solely to boost their own resume.
Men are able to walk the line between gentle and tough, because both are necessary. Toxic men are too tough on others and too gentle on themselves.
Men earn respect. Toxic men demand it.
Men take responsibility for their own actions, and demand that others do the same. Toxic men manipulate, make excuses, and play the blame game to avoid recognizing their shortcomings.
Men are sexually loyal to their partners. Toxic men believe porn and lust are acceptable alternatives and excuse their behavior in the name of masculinity.
Men are flexible, able to lead but also able to follow, because they realize that they don’t have all the answers.Toxic men think they must be the alpha at all times, particularly when females are involved.
And yes, I realize there are also toxic females out there. I could write a blog on that, too! But if you deflect the issues of cultural masculinity by pointing out feminine shortcomings, then you are part of the problem.
In my daily life, I don’t interact with any toxic men. My brother-in-laws, my uncles, my late grandfather, my male friends- All amazing men. I trust them. I am safe with them. I am their equal.
My father is the first to step up and do the dishes. He’s a hardworking, retired colonel with a PhD, but he remains humble. He has the wisdom of a teacher but the attitude of a student.
My husband has never yelled at me, no matter how angry I have made him. He doesn’t lie. I know he would die to protect me. I have high expectations of him, and yet somehow he exceeds them all. Although he is an alpha by nature, we are equal partners and we make our decisions together. He is amazing.
But because my husband is such a good man, he struggles to understand the reality of toxic masculinity. I don’t expect him to understand it fully, since he will never experience it the way I have. I just expect him to care that I have to deal with it. I expect him to fight it with me.
Your manhood isn’t defined by your interests, your talents, or your experiences. It’s defined by your character. Yes, be a man. But be the man who stands up for what is right, not the man who scoffs and pretends it doesn’t exist. And if you’re generally a great guy with a few toxic qualities, then swallow your pride and change. The world needs the best possible version of you.