The Representation Project, the media literacy force behind the eye-opening documentaries about gender construction and the crippling limitations of such social constructs Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In, released a video on Wednesday, December 14th, calling 2016 the “Year of Toxic Masculinity.” Between the pathetic lack-of-convicton/justice and reparation of Brock Turner, the Stanford Rapist, the brutal murders of innocent black men by the police, the tragic Pulse shooting in Orlando (and the news coverage, most of which refused to call it a hate crime, which in and of itself was a show of fragile masculine bravado), and the presidential election of Donald Trump, who based his entire campaign on rallying and corralling hate, and using that hate to prey on people’s (see: white men’s) hatred for anybody who isn’t white, straight, or male, I can’t help but wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. In fact, I’d take it one step further and state more bluntly that 2016 was the year where hypermasculinity and male superiority won over social progress and equality. Where fiction triumphed over fact, and voters opted to believe fake news over fact-checking. Where history (not the proud kind) became the present and elected a man many call fascist (not to mention the recent reports by the CIA, NSA, and other US intelligence agencies that Vladimir Putin was personally involved in Russia’s manipulation of the presidential election in order to discredit Hillary Clinton and bolster Trump, who, some are saying, was aware of Russia’s involvement and his campaign’s Russian ties because how could he not be?)
The all-too-real reality show of male bravado that was 2016 has been nothing if not a wake-up call.
Take a look:
An addendum to the above video is the recent clip of Trump at one of his Hunger Games-style Victory Tour stops where he stops for a moment to talk about being named TIME’s “Person of the Year,” 2016. Instead of being honored by the title, he takes time to deconstruct the title of “Person,” saying that it should be called “MAN of the Year,” implying that “person” is not only too politically correct for him, but that women are not, in fact, people. This is an attack on women. Trump’s claim that the title should be “Man of the Year” completely excludes women from the conversation. In Trump’s world, a woman can’t be “Person of the Year” because that title belongs to men only, and as such should be changed to reflect that. This is an epic show of hypermasculinity, where Trump believes his very manhood is affected by being called anything less than “Man.” Hypermasculinity aptly describes Trump in every sense: his overly exaggerated bravado, his emphasis on his constant “winning” and physical strength, his defense of his penis size, the aggression (see: violence) he exhibited and supported at his rallies, and the focus of his hypersexual love life by stating he can grab women by their genitalia because he’s a celebrity, or that if his daughter Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he’d “perhaps be dating her.” This is hypermasculinity.
This is not just offensive or absurd. It’s scary.
It’s so important to viewers, media consumers, American citizens, to watch, digest, and unpack Trump’s words. After all, he will be the President of United States come January, and as past leaders of the free world have learned, words do matter.
We are living in uncertain times, to put it mildly. What messages did the 2016 presidential election send to young people all over the country? That hatred, white supremacy, and masculinity will always win over fairness, truth, and equality. We’re already seeing an increase in hate crimes spurred by Trump’s dangerous rhetoric. Make no mistake: All of this is dangerous. So how do we recover? Jennifer Siebel Newsom writes:
Whether it’s bullying others, demeaning or degrading women, or placing value on money and power above all else, these ideas and expectations are dangerous and need to be addressed at the dinner table, in our local communities, and on the national stage.
It starts with education. Education begins with awareness. It continues through conversation, which often involves a level of unpleasantness and discomfort, but is necessary for personal growth. As we become more educated, those around us follow suit, and the process continues.
The first part is acknowledging that media has impacted our lives irreparably.
The second part is realizing that the media exacerbates social norms, feeds off drama and controversy, and too often exemplifies the very toxicity we need to fight against when it comes to gender construction and other important social issues, like race.
Then, those of us who benefit from privileges (white, straight, males) that others don’t have need to recognize those privileges, understand what that means, learn to listen and not get offended (as so many do), and try to figure out what can be done to help change the sexist, racist, homophobic narratives and rhetoric in the US. If people continue to exist inside their privileged bubbles, where the only problems that exist are problems personal, then universal progress will come to a halt, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump.
To put it into context: According the Pew Research Center, Trump voters were mostly uneducated white males living in rural areas. Many of those supporters might say, “we did NOT vote for him because we agree with his sexism or racism. We voted for him because we wanted change on X-Y-Z (like his stance on taxes or police or foreign relations), and that has nothing to do with women, or the LGBTQ community, or other races. I am not sexist or homophobic or racist or islamophobic.” What this means is two-fold:
- That they did NOT vote for the man who says all Mexicans are rapists, implies that police lives are in jeopardy because POC run amok without purpose, who says that it’s perfectly acceptable to grab women by their genitalia, regardless of consent, or who choose a running mate who has the most anti-LGBTQ platform in history; they voted for the man because they liked his stance on taxes.
- Because of the above rationale, those voters had the ability, ease, and willingness to overlook Donald Trump’s overt sexism, subtle support of people who are homophobic, and dangerously obvious racism. Why? At its heart, only one answer exists: Because, essentially, it doesn’t effect them personally.
This is the very definition privilege.
As a man, if you can set aside Trump’s derogatory comments about, and treatment of, women, because you’re not a woman and “you’ve said similar things,” that’s male privilege. As for the women who can vote for Trump, despite his actions, rape accusations, and steadfast determination to overturn Roe V. Wade, well, they’re unfortunate victims of the patriarchy that engrained in them that they’re not worth enough to go against the system (and they often hide behind religion, another male construct governed by male deities and dignitaries, where women are often referred to and treated as “less than,” stemming all the way back to the story of Adam and Eve; Eve, the woman, is often cited as the one to blame for unleashing evil onto the world.)
As a straight person, if you can examine the Trump-Pence platform on LGBTQ+ equality and listen to what the President-elect and VP-elect have had to say about the supporting the dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ laws, more commonly referred to as “religious freedom” laws, and read up on Pence’s defunding HIV/AIDs vaccines and lobbying for conversation therapy programs, and can set that aside because “the campaign is not about that,” then that’s straight privilege, a privilege that LGBTQ+ don’t have.
As a white man or women, if you voted for Trump, a man endorsed by the KKK, has called people of color “thugs,” referred to them as objects/property, led the racist birther movement against President Obama, labelled Black Lives Matter as an attack against American values (as exemplified by the Tomi Lahren’s of the world), and told black voters “what do you have to lose” by voting for him, called all Muslims murderers and wants to start a Muslim registry, attacked a Gold Star Muslim American family, and called Mexicans rapists, and that doesn’t bother you or influence your opinion of him as a person, that’s white privilege, something that people of color simply don’t have.
And not being aware of this is toxic.
When you can separate the man, Trump, from his words and actions because they don’t reflect on you personally, that’s privilege that others don’t have.
We have to work together to deny this toxic white masculine constructs and norms. We need to look beyond the media for our education. We need to think outside of ourselves, and look to those who need our help the most. It’s time to drop the hyper-masculine bravado, and get real.
We can’t let hate and division win. The future depends on it.
Look within yourself. Become aware.
Raise your expectations. Don’t accept anything less than the truth.
Be the person you wish to see.