The year of 2016 sure has been volatile and terrifying for many folks. It’s safe to say that no one in the world, let alone the United States, was not affected by the throws of what many folks would call, of course, “the worst year ever!” While the validity of that statement may be more than questionable, there’s no doubt that we have seen some grave examples of just how deep seeded toxic masculinity is in so much of our society. Whether it’s one of the most toxic men in the country winning the U.S. election, sexual assault and rape cases being treated like petty crimes, sexism and transmisogyny continuing to be as prevalent as ever, or the unending antagonization of men of color’s masculinity in the defense of militaristic police officers or the “sanctity of our nation.” It’s a scary thought to wonder what will happen with the landscape of masculinity discourse in the coming year, let alone the coming decades. Below is an abridged list of the many, many things America did to masculinity in 2016.
1. Donald Trump and the U.S. Presidential Election
Quite possibly one of the biggest setbacks, if not the biggest setback, to any notion of working towards a less toxic form of masculinity in the United States is the election of Donald Trump as our next President. While electing a man to the presidency is not in and of itself a direct hit to the state of masculinity, electing Trump sets a precedent for an increase in violent actions at the hands of a sense of masculine privilege and entitlement. Not only is the President-elect a certified twitter troll who spews nonsense on the daily, he has directly denied the severity of his comments promoting sexual assault (not to mention the pending sexual assault cases he is currently facing). And it doesn’t end with that, when you consider his attack on undocumented immigrants, calling all Mexican men “rapists and killers,” representing them as “hypermasculine” men who are a danger to our nation.
That doesn’t even get into the other negative side effects of this election on masculinity, such as the general disdain of many men toward Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman, or the Bernie-bros who wanted to treat Bernie Sanders’ campaign as more of a frat house rally cry. But knowing that we—err, some of us—elected a man who talks about sexual assault, immigration, and other issues with such ignorance and disrespect, among his various other problems, it isn’t looking great for anyone who has been fighting to transform the culture of masculinity in our country.
More Radical Reads: Clenched Fist: Toxic Masculinity Always Equals Violence
2. Police Brutality
Philando Castille, Alton Sterling and Terence Crutcher are just a few of the Black men who were killed by police this year. The deaths of each of these men helped continue the protests led by Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist organizations who are dedicated to calling out law enforcement who single out Black men and other men of color. The past few years have proven to be increasingly tumultuous for people of color as police forces have become more militarized than ever before. Although the brute force with which people of color, especially men of color, have been attacked by police is in and of itself a product of toxic masculinity, there is another factor that plays into the brutality.
Police officers use men of color’s masculinity against them by claiming the victims were acting violently or that the men of color posed a threat to the officers, even if they were unarmed. While this sentiment may not be anything new on the part of police officers, we are seeing that the stereotype of hyper-masculinity creates a living myth that even an unarmed man of color is dangerous and deserves to die, and this myth permeates into the American psyche, and into the minds of jurors who are tasked with deciding the fate of the officers who pulled the trigger.
We’ve seen the product of this myth play out with the outcome of the Walter Scott case, where the officer who shot the unarmed Black man was not convicted, despite a plethora of evidence that showed that he lied about Scott attacking him, among other details surrounding the case. The case ended in a mistrial, as one juror refused to agree that the officer was guilty. Although the exact reasoning for that is anyone’s guess, to see a juror not want to bring a lying and violent officer to justice despite all the evidence against him means that the juror still thought Scott deserved to be shot. The system failed Scott twice—the first when he was murdered, and the second by not convicting his killer—and it shows one of the massive flaws in how we question and treat masculinity, especially for men of color.
3. Brock Turner Rape Trial
2016 saw more than its fair share of public discussion of rape and sexual assault cases. What started out as outrage in the Northern California area near Stanford University, the Brock Turner rape case turned into a national discussion of what does or doesn’t constitute as rape or sexual assault. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t very obvious to many, especially for men, as many of whom, including his father, came to Turner’s defense with the typical rhetoric of “she (the victim) shouldn’t have had so much to drink,” or “Brock was just trying to get lucky!”
One of the more egregious reactions to this case was the judge himself, who played down the severity of the situation by claiming that every man (or kid, in his words) at 17, 18, 19 makes mistakes, as if getting drunk and sexually assaulting a woman who is passed out is just a simple “mistake.” The judge would give Turner a “slap on the wrist” sentence of 6 months in jail—3 months with “good behavior”—because he felt that this truly was a “mistake” and he shouldn’t have jail ruin his life. While California did go on to pass legislation that requires a minimum sentence for sexual assault and rape cases, the fact that Turner got off more than easy is a depressingly tragic, yet unfortunately expected, outcome in a society that is failing to protect victims of sexual assault and prevent it from ever happening.
More Radical Reads: Raising A Son In a World of Toxic Masculinity
4. Martin Shkreli is Still in the News (Along with Other “Villains”)
Martin Shkreli, the one and only “pharmadouche” who made headlines last year for increasing the price of a drug used in AIDS treatment by more than 5000%, continued to make headlines in late 2015 and throughout 2016. First, there was the saga of the Wu Tang Clan album, where he paid $2 million to have the only copy of the record and exclusive rights to hear the music (coming back to relevance recently when he played bits of the album while livestreaming). Then there was the moment where he said someone could donate money to a late colleague’s son to punch Shkreli in the face, which doesn’t come at much of a surprise when you consider all of the times he’s talked about being able to take anyone on physically. And more recently, Shkreli downplayed the achievement of a group of high school students who recreated the active ingredient in the very drug Shkreli increased the price of, saying that he will never take an “L,” especially from high schoolers.
While the attention Martin Shkreli has continued to receive is much more than he should (even in this very article), the fact that Shkreli is relevant at all is a testament to the way our society will laud over trolls, or demonize them to the point of infamy. So much attention and anger is focused on “villainous” men that they become a part of our constant social conscience rather than letting them fall into obscurity as they deserve.
The same can be said for other “villains,” such as George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin and has since become a voice for the 2nd amendment and anti-black crowds. Not to mention the praise we give the champions of toxic masculinity when they seem to have “changed their ways,” with Glenn Beck and his support for Hillary Clinton in the election and the way many liberals applauded him as a prime example. What Shkreli, Zimmerman, and Beck all show is that no matter what we do, those who subscribe to the toxic aspects of masculinity will find ways to get publicity, even if it means they “gave those aspects up” to be seen as a somewhat decent human being.
5. Transphobia and Sexism in Legislature
2016 has been the year of ridiculous legislation, much of which has attacked women, trans folks, and nonbinary folks specifically. Earlier in the year, North Carolina passed a law, HB2, which became known as the “bathroom bill.” HB2, among other things, primarily made it so that people would legally have to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates. This bill was designed specifically to force trans and nonbinary folks to use the “correct” bathroom based on their birth-assigned gender, but what it does is force them into inherently unsafe situations. In a nation where trans and nonbinary folks are constantly being attacked, verbally or physically, forcing them to use bathrooms that don’t align with their gender identities makes it increasingly likely that they will be harassed.
More recently, the state of Texas passed a law, set to take effect on December 19, where people who have abortions must cremate or bury their aborted fetus. While the legislation is supposedly meant to hinder the use of fetal tissue for unlawful research, the law shows an obvious lack of respect for women’s and other pregnant people’s rights over their bodies and their unborn children. What HB2 and the fetal burial law have done is further support the idea that the “norms” of gender are more important than trying to help trans and nonbinary folks have a sense of safety in one of the most essential facilities of our society, as well as the rights that women and other folks who can get pregnant over their bodies.
Even further into the spiral of legislative morality and bodily autonomy is the fact that the majority of the people who make these decision are men whose “morality” comes from a place of preserving patriarchy and, by extension, toxic masculinity out of fear of losing power in our society that has for centuries lauded cis men.
The last 12 months have been incredibly difficult to get through, especially when you consider the various ways in which masculinity, more specifically toxic masculinity, has been bolstered and defended.
No matter how much more toxic our society’s notion of masculinity continues to get, we have to continue to find ways to critique and dismantle it.
Trends like #masculinitysofragile, or talking about masculinity and mental health, or finding ways for cis men to be more emotionally vulnerable without the threat of a violent outburst, or promoting the basics of radical self love and calling on others to help eradicate body terrorism are an important part of the fight to destroy the overbearing and violent patriarchy that has dominated our society since its inception.