Recognizing toxic masculinity

Priyanka Voruganti

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Sometimes, it helps to look at an extreme: in this case, incels. Involuntary celibates, or “incels,” are mostly heterosexual male members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. Looking at incels, while it may seem odd, gives us a lens through which we can begin to explore complex yet important issues like toxic gender norms. The two constructs, masculinity and femininity, play a huge role in how we as young people develop our identities and learn to navigate our school’s halls. These concepts create rigid molds for what it means to be male or female, not to mention a mindset that excludes anyone who feels they don’t fit into either of those categories. A huge question has arisen from this whole topic of gender norms, which is how do we reconcile these societal constructs and how should we approach them? Where do we begin? In my opinion, incels are a key component of this conversation because they give us a reason to have one.

Most people understand or are at least vaguely aware of what toxic masculinity is, but its implications can only be fully realized when we look at its effects in its rawest, most jarring form. Incels are usually characterized by resentment, self-pity, self-loathing, misogyny, and racism. There seems to be a duality among incel communities: a longing for a romantic/sexual partner that coexists alongside a staunch hatred towards women of all sorts because of their so-called lack of affection towards this specific subgroup of men. As a result of this hatred, incels direct the blame towards women, claiming they choose romantic partners based on looks, money, and social status (LMS) and always settle for the “Chad” (a stereotypical toned, white, attractive-looking male).

A male student at HM talked to me about the prevalence of toxic masculinity within our own academic setting and noted that the “Chad” ideal even exists in our own little bubble. If you don’t meet certain criteria, especially as a male, the student said, it’s plausible you’ll feel everything an incel does: despair, self-hate, and anger.

At HM, as at any high school, it can be hard to fit in. A huge part of “fitting in,” especially for me, has been the need to “play the part.” At times, acceptance into our community feels conditional and is often related to how masculine or feminine you are. Do you play sports? Do you at least watch sports? Do you get with girls? Are you in good shape? While these questions may sound rather ridiculous and in no way should influence someone’s self-worth, they’re normally the standards used when declaring whether someone is ‘masculine’ or not. For girls, are you considered attractive by the opposite sex? Are you not promiscuous but not a prude? Do you subconsciously invalidate other women? Are you suspicious of feminism in front of your male friends? While we have taken big steps towards becoming a more inclusive community with gender-neutral bathrooms, a prominent gender and sexuality club, and more, I frequently still feel an implicit need to act feminine to be accepted and unfortunately, I think others feel this as well.

It’s important to break down these molds and unrealistic standards to create a more inclusive, supportive environment. And, for men, it’s essential that they recognize rhetoric they’re using when talking about women or sex. It can quickly grow into a toxic hookup culture, one that perpetuates violence, sexual abuse, degradation, and honestly, sadness. It’s hard to not feel all the things incels feel- despair, self-loathe, loneliness. They’re all very real and difficult emotions that we go through during this time in our lives, especially for students of color. Attending a white institution as a girl of color can be alienating at times. Besides feeling pressure to be feminine or act female, I’ve often felt the need to assimilate. Going to school wearing a lengha always makes me feel proud, confident, and ready to take on the day, but at the same time, I also usually feel anxious. By making myself starkly and very obviously Indian, do I just become “the Indian girl?” Am I still desirable?

These standards of beauty are heightened through the HM hookup culture. And yes, I said it. Hookup culture. Too often I have heard boys brazenly state that they only get with white girls. And we should all know by now that it is 100% not okay to make that statement.

Our school’s hookup culture perpetuates a set of racialized, skewed, and offensive beauty standards that affect the community as a whole. High school is a time where societally idealized standards of beauty deeply permeate our conscious thought. We pretend like we don’t value appearances more than personality, but often we do. It’s important to recognize this flaw and fix it. To grow we have to face our implicit biases and work to change or diminish them.

These issues – toxic masculinity, misogyny, unfair beauty standards, are all related and present in our lives. As young people, it can be hard to grapple with these concepts, but the way to rise above them is to talk. Talking about these issues helps to erode sexual hierarchies, and sharing experiences is a valuable tool to reach a middle ground. Toxic masculinity is a term that makes people to feel uncomfortable or defensive, but we should not avoid it. The only way to truly create a better world, a safer world for women and men, a world in which incels aren’t fueled by hate and powerful men don’t commit heinous acts of sexual assault, is to talk.