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Giving Up Toxic Masculinity To Build Real Resistance

By William C. Anderson, Race, Class and Immigration Contributing Editor

There is a love that should be more prevalent. In our communities overrun with toxic masculinity, a deep, radical love for women and all gender non-conforming people is especially important right now. The horror of white malevolence has personified itself in the realization of a Trump presidency. This is intricately linked to dangerous definitions of manhood that will only make these times worse. It’s imperative that the men who create this constant disarray realize that they’re going to be making life that much harder during these difficult times ahead.

While many are contemplating what resistance will look like over the years ahead, there’s one major effort that shouldn’t be overlooked:  men need to stop beating, raping, and killing women. Any resistance to fascism will be undermined by the terror that men wreak against women in our respective communities. The overwhelming violence of toxic masculinity defines itself at the expense of women daily. It’s street harassment; it’s domestic violence; it’s everywhere. Though often overlooked, women have been the formative leaders of so much of the work that’s gotten our movements to where they are today. Without women, our movements are absolutely nothing, and we must travail to overcome the trite manhoods that destroy women.

Unless men who inflict violence against women seek to bring about their own destruction, they must work against their own misogyny. Without doing the work of halting the everyday violence that takes place everywhere there is no genuine resistance. The fight is not just against us, it’s also inside of us. The evidence of this epidemic is pervasive to say the least. Women are consistently punished for living among men and oftentimes punished again for surviving or rejecting the abuse.

This is especially relevant right now as Marissa Alexander is finally released from the custody of the state that punished her for surviving her then-husband’s abuse. The New York Times recently reported, “Ms. Alexander, 36, spent almost a half-dozen years either locked in prison or confined to her house after she was convicted of aggravated assault charges in 2012 for firing a warning shot at her husband, who she said had abused her. According to her account in court documents, he had threatened her nine days after she gave birth to their daughter.” The prosecution of this incident was only months after Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman in another part of Florida. The case became a rallying point for activists fighting against domestic violence as well as for women everywhere. Sadly, for Black women in particular there should never have been a need to juggle two causes, two stressors, and two inhumanities at the same time. All too often, women are forced to fight for their own humanity whilst defending the humanity of men.

bresha meadows illustration with words "#FreeBresha" along the bottom border
Illustration by Molly Crabapple

Though 2012 was years ago, this struggle continues. In 2016, a Black girl from Ohio, 15-year-old Bresha Meadows (14 at the time) was charged with shooting and killing her father who had been abusive towards her mother for nearly two decades. While the state attempts to piece together Bresha’s fate, her mother laments that her daughter is now confined for trying to defend her. The situation stems from domestic violence and no child should have to face this on top of the current state of this world. No young person anywhere should have to go through what Bresha is going through and have their childhood stripped from them because they fear for their life. And these attacks against women and girls are much bigger than just threats.

Tiarah Poyau, Mary Spears, and Kasandra Perkins were just some of the Black women murdered last year for simply rejecting men’s advances. Women are not obligated to give men sex or attention—that should go without saying—but the asinine brutality of misogyny drives some men to the most vile extremes. This doesn’t go two ways. There is no epidemic of women murdering, beating, or raping men because they feel entitled to do so. The problem lies solely in the fractured realms of manhood, this farcical cancer that is completely based on a violence that we have inherited.

With that being said, attacks on the trans community must also be stopped. The first trans murder victim this year was a Black transwoman named Mesha Caldwell. The Advocate reported, “She had been shot several times. Police have not made statements about a motive, but friends believe she may have been killed for being transgender.” Just last year, Islan Nettles’ killer said something similar as he confessed to killing her in Harlem:

“While Ms. Nettles was still in a coma, Mr. Dixon turned himself in to the police. In written and videotaped statements, he told detectives that he had started flirting with Ms. Nettles, unaware she was transgender, after meeting her and her two friends on the street. He said he became enraged and attacked her when his friends began mocking him for trying to pick up a transgender woman. “I just didn’t want to be fooled,” he said in a videotaped statement.”

Mr. Dixon and all the men like him are seemingly unaware it is us who have been fooled. It is the men like this who inflict violence to prove something to themselves. While the terror of misogyny and transphobia work hand-in-hand to repress the existence of those outside of what we have been taught is manliness, we become soldiers for a destructive pointless cause. This all happens in concert with the regular terror of white supremacy, as if that isn’t enough on its own. In short, men are making things worse all the time. It should be enough just for us all to have to fight to exist as people in an often terrible world, but the recklessness of chauvinism within our communities asserts itself by regularly attacking people like the contaminate it is.

During times of political upheaval, war, and conflict it’s known that men commit more violence against women. Sexual violence is used as a weapon of war and women bear the brunt of this. Often entailed in the diasporic stories of refugee, immigrant or migrant journeys are acts of sexual violence. If that wasn’t something being left behind, it’s something that can occur while leaving. In places around the world women are increasingly trafficked, disappeared, and brutalized whenever conflict increases. One of the tragedies in this is it’s founded on something completely baseless.

The definitions we have inherited of masculinity are not compatible with love. These understandings we have of what makes a man, be it body parts, violence, or sexual orientation are completely fabricated. Real love looks like men giving up toxic masculinity and questioning what’s been handed down to us.

Give up the violence of hypocritically thinking you’re above someone else based on your gender, genitalia, or sexual attraction. You cannot oppress women while decrying bigotry and fascistic oppression at the same time. We have to fight against the harms of dangerous masculinities as well as the people seeking to do us harm. There is no love without acceptance and there will be no victory without peace. The key to realizing this is the understanding that our lack of real love impedes any and all real progress we would hope to achieve.


  1. Pingback: Giving up toxic masculinity to build real resistance | feministfilter

  2. Jacob Bolton

    Great article. Reminds me of bell hooks’ “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity & Love” Check that out if you are interested in further reading of how men and women are damaged by a flawed cultural institution of masculinity.

  3. Teresa Stevens, K82

    Thank you for this. But it makes me sad. And tired. I learned this stuff decades ago. The men who need to hear this message will never see it. And it’s not as if this is something new. It infects us, men and women alike. Alongside racism, it’s the rot at the center of our culture. Women and all things “feminine,” all “lesser beings,” are Other. Religions justify it. Our institutions codify it. Class distinctions divide and weaken us in arguments about whose oppression is most urgent.

    The only thing that keeps me going–and I mean the only thing–is knowing that transformational change can and does happen. On an individual level, those core changes, “changes of heart,” the paradigm shifts, the epiphanies, happen instantaneously. And they add up.

    How do we get to THAT?