Usually, when the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) sends me an email, I can understand where the authors are coming from and generally accept what is being discussed. I might disagree, I might not like the topic, but I can usually understand the premise and then move forward. Not today!
Holly Althof, writing for SHRM, discusses “How Toxic Masculinity is Ruining Your Workplace Culture: When Leaders Fail to See How Toxic Masculinity Influences Their Teams’ Dynamics, The Whole Organization Will Fail.” Here’s the rub, the behaviors discussed as “toxic masculinity” are just rude, boorish, and downright abysmal behavior and are behaviors that arise in all genders. “Men talking over women,” women talking over men, LGBTQ+ talking over everyone, non-gender militancy in the workplace; all of these behaviors are detestable, but only men are accused of being toxic to the workplace. Wrong!
Men are not the offenders, or rather they are not the only offenders of toxic communication practices in the workplace. I worked in one toxic call center where a member of the LGBTQ+ community was actively sexually harassing the males on his team. The leadership refused to believe that any member of the LGBTQ+ community could act in this manner, refused to believe that the higher number of men on his team were leaving due to sexual harassment, and denied any culpability when these men demanded the supervisor/team leader be stopped. Worse, this person has retained his position and continued to act in a hostile, toxic, and sexually aggressive manner to the men on his teams.
I have written about the boorish and inexcusable behavior of a female lead who physically attacked me, actively harassed me, and discriminated against me in Federal Employment, how she was promoted and awarded for her leadership, and how she continued to make my life hell, even after I ended that work relationship. This specific incident was fed and made worse by disinformation received by the assistant director and director of the VA Hospital administration we both worked for. Abhorrent and boorish behavior comes from every gender, and it is past time for authors to recognize and admit the truth; men are not the only perpetrators of bad behavior in the workplace. Men are simply a usual and easy target for authors, an action and misnomer that must cease!
What is Toxic Masculinity?
Dr. Timothy J. Legg provides an excellent example of both toxic masculinity and covers the ever-evolving process to define and categorize behaviors considered as toxic masculinity. The current, definitive definition of toxic masculinity is “the constellation of socially regressive [masculine] traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.” However, what eludes Dr. Legg, and Althof is that these are just normal behaviors found in all people, not only men! Want examples from Dr. Legg of what is considered “Toxic Masculinity:”
- lack of emotion
- sexual virility
- sexual aggression or control
- showing no emotion or suppressing emotions
- needing to dominate or control others
- a tendency towards or glorification of violence
- low empathy
- chauvinism and sexism
Seriously?!?! Having served in the US Army and US Navy, and having traveled ¾’s of the way around the world, I can claim for certain, with lots of examples to support the conclusion, that all people can take any one or all of those examples of “Toxic Masculinity” and turn the culture of a small team or large organization on their ear! I have seen women, strong and independent, smart, intelligent, but with an ax to grind, destroy units, and have to be restrained. I have witnessed enough militant LGBTQ+ members and non-militant LGBTQ+ members wreak havoc on organizations, taking advantage of people’s fear and making the workplace harmful and toxic. Yes, some men do the same stupid and boorish behaviors; but this is no excuse to single out just men for “Toxic Masculinity.”
What makes no sense, the term “Toxic Masculinity” was created by a men’s group in the 1980s to describe attributes that made a man a man and were refused by society as positive and acceptable. Now the tyrants of modular language have plasticized the term into any action a male person does that is not the precise response desired by another gender. Phrases like “Man-Up” are considered ridiculous and generate aggression, whereas the term “Woman Up” is seen as liberating and positive expressions of women’s power. Uwe Poerksen remains correct; when words lose their definitions, terms are plasticized, tyrants of thought police abound, and logic is lost for emotional hyperbole.
While Althof attempts to claim toxic masculinity is not a “campaign against men,” the entire article is written from the position that men are the only offenders. Men are the problems, and men are the only ones who show masculinity in the workplace. I contracted with an organization, a well-known brand, whose CEO was female, most of the board was female at the time, and the organization honestly strove to be a diverse and welcoming culture. But, critics still called the organization a patriarchal system designed to keep men on top. Seriously, this was the main complaint against this organization, proving that since you cannot please everyone, stop trying to please anyone!
Before you go ballistic over that last comment, please allow me to explain. I sincerely believe that one of the most damaging behaviors seen in today’s workplaces is a desire to please everyone. You see this in diversity and inclusion discussions. You see this in men being marginalized; it is apparent in so many conversations and behaviors that castigated men have become part of the organizational design at a lot of well-known branded companies. Business requires returning a profit to the stakeholders and shareholders. Being actively hostile to 50% of the binary gender populations is not conducive to producing a profit, nor does it make any sense. Hence, since you cannot please everyone, stop trying to please anyone. Working together towards a common goal, sacrificing personal opinions for a greater effort by a team is referred to as professionalism, and men and women are very good at getting along and making things work.
Men and women are different; this is acceptable, enjoyable, and makes the world better. Men and women approach situations from differing angles, and this is also acceptable, enjoyable, and makes the world better. Trying to force men and women to approach situations from the same perception will only breed hostility, and blaming men for the problems is frankly inexcusable. The answer is not found in more inclusion and diversity conversations; the answer is found in allowing working together to occur more naturally. Is this concept clear?
Forcing men to refuse masculinity places the burdens of socially working together solely upon men, which is unfair and blatantly false. Forcing women to restrict their feminity destroys the potential for better solutions while muzzling female creativity and ingenuity, which is also patently false. Both binary genders need to express openly, without fear of tyrants belittling them for being different in their approaches and methods of finding solutions; this is the conversation we need to be having in the workplace, not “Toxic Masculinity!”
Finally, if you choose to be a member of the non-binary genders, for whatever reason, this is your choice. Nothing here implies that you do not have a choice or cannot be part of the solutions. Make your gender choice, enjoy your gender choice, and may the consequences of that choice be acceptable to you. There is no judgment and no criticisms implied or otherwise; if you choose to take offense, that also is your choice and consequence.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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