Some Thoughts on ‘Toxic Masculinity’

A guest post from four friends of the blog on the topic of (toxic) masculinity. Maria Tanyag is a Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University. Twitter: @maria_tanyag. Ibrahim Bahati is Mastercard Foundation Graduate scholar at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Twitter: @Bahabris. David Duriesmith is Development Fellow at the School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland. Twitter: @DavidDuriesmith. Marysia Zalewski is Professor of International Relations in the School of Law & Politics at Cardiff University, UK. Twitter: @ProfMarysiaZed. Each shared their thoughts and reflections on two questions – (i) How do you understand the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’? and (ii) What can ‘we’ do about [toxic] masculinity?


How do you understand the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’?

Maria

I have many reservations about the increasing use of ‘toxic masculinity’ (noted in 2018 as the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries). As a ‘buzzword’ it simply depoliticises wider inequalities and individualises and de-contextualises what specifically constitutes the ‘toxic’ in/with/through masculinit(ies). And for me, it is no coincidence that toxic has attracted wider applications to some of its original uses in relation to health and the environment at precisely a time when we are observing the rise of extremist ideologies, reversals in women’s and human rights, and environmental degradation. If we work with the feminist idea of a ‘continuum of violence’ we might be able to articulate how toxicity occurs on multiple levels or scales, as well as how it has come to represent a multi-dimensional phenomenon. The term toxic might reveal how it is not just individuals that incite a range of bodily harms, but also to gradual depletions in health and the environment. All of these are linked to power structures and embodied in gendered ways.

In my research on women’s bodily autonomy in the Philippines, I find that in social media, concepts such as toxic relationships, toxic politics, toxic workplaces, and even toxic ‘national’ culture (as in ‘toxic Filipino culture’) are increasingly used. I find this notion that there are toxic aspects of culture that can go hand in hand with nationalist sentiments and representations of ‘Pinoy Pride’.[1] I myself have started using ‘toxic’ in making sense of polarised politics in the Philippines under Duterte. Toxic is a very appropriate word to describe how my body reacts to hearing him speak and upon seeing images of him particularly as he interacts with women. Consequently, part of self-care for me has been to ‘detoxify’ or unplug from watching local news from time to time, though I know friends who do the opposite. They ‘rant’ or vent through social media to ‘purge’ the toxins out of their system.

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Feminist Fatigues; Or, What Can Feminism Be in International Relations?

What is feminist IR and what does it do? Not a new question, by any means, but one worth mulling over in light of Laura Sjoberg’s attempts to make the case, or just plain describe, feminist IR across several posts at The Duck Of Minerva, spurred on by some less than charitable peer reviews. The complaints, and the responses alternating between outright hostility, condescension and general bemusement, happily confirm critical (European) prejudices. The American mainstream doesn’t think something counts as a knowledge practice unless it can be co-opted into a regression analysis, and lacks what would pass as an undergraduate understanding of feminism elsewhere.

So far, so self-satisfying. Educational-cum-critical interventions of this kind clearly do have their place. As Joe put it to me, marginal and critical perspectives (no less than others) require constant re-inscription and repetition. Different students, different times, different world-historical events: all call for a re-engagement through our preferred lenses, which is how we absorb and become committed to them. It’s not enough for people to just be referred back to de Beauvoir or Enloe.

That said, these are also acts of performance. As Sjoberg herself notes, the conversation repeats itself. Repeats on itself, even. You Just Don’t Understand. Like an algorithmic inter-paradigm debate. The steps are as obvious and stale now as they were decades ago. Feminists are humourless; feminism is inherently a negative critique; there is no place for men in feminism; feminism isn’t really IR, even if it has some purpose somewhere;  feminism is obtuse; feminists lack research projects and cumulative understanding. A stack of intellectual veneers on one big trope of man-hating idealist sex-phobic anti-rationalist frigidity.

So why doesn’t the conversation ever seem to go anywhere? Continue reading