We hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity. I do. And I don’t find [that] putting those two words together … because women can be pretty f—ing toxic… It’s toxic people. We have our good angles and we have our bad ones. I think the labels are less helpful than what we’re trying to get to, which is a communication, direct, between human beings. We’re all on the boat together. We’ve got to make it work. – Meryl Streep, 2019
It is a rare occasion when I agree with anything one of our cultural elite opines, but apparently donkeys sometimes do indeed fly. Credit where credit is due, Ms. Streep was spot on. I wrote the essay below several months ago but decided to hold on to it until Father’s Day. It is a celebration of maleness and was inspired by the current (not to mention toxic…) trend of denigrating masculinity and of humiliating men. It seems ridiculous to have to even articulate it, but the world needs men. Women need men. I hope that we will soon reject the hateful ignorance articulated in the phrase, toxic masculinity. If we insist on continuing down this destructive path, we do so at our own and our civilization’s peril.
Recently my husband and I visited a plumbing store of the type located in the industrial backwaters of large metropolitan areas. The kind where the shelves are dusty and disorganized, and the guys behind the counter do a slight double take when a woman walks through the door. We were seeking a replacement sprayer/faucet for our kitchen sink. The flow of water had become irritatingly anemic and we assumed the faucet had simply lived out its life expectancy. We’d had a hell of a time finding a replacement at the big box stores and we hoped that this specialty retailer would be able to help us locate a new one.
After Kel explained the problem, I watched with a mixture of amusement and affection as three men very seriously mulled over the poorly performing sprayer. I kept quiet as they frowned and squinted at the offending object. They passed it amongst themselves, turning it over, pressing the button that controlled the sprayer, poking at the fine mesh on one side and the plastic connector on the other. Finally, one of them suggested pulling the thing apart and two of the men sunk hands deep into pockets to locate multi-tools while the third man pulled open a drawer to locate a suitable implement. One was promptly produced and low and behold, the sprayer came apart and inside it was filled with a sandy sediment that was preventing the water from coming out at optimum pressure. Nodding with satisfaction, the man who’d done the dissecting passed the sprayer head around again so all could observe the offending material. There were murmurs of understanding, more nodding, and then speculation turned to how that crud had gotten into the sprayer in the first place. It was suggested and then agreed upon that the sediment must have been dredged up and flushed into the city water pipes during recent road repairs because (I was told), it was exactly the texture of sand used in this type of work. After further discussion, one of the men took the sprayer – now in two pieces – over to a sink and flushed it clean. Then he grabbed a can of compressed air and gently spritzed the parts. He suggested we soak the pieces in vinegar overnight and predicted the sprayer would be as good as new and he was right. It was.
For me this story typifies that singularly masculine attitude towards mechanical and tangible issues. In general, men are not talkers. They are problem-solvers. I’ve seen it countless times: my dad and my brothers elbow deep inside the workings of a recalcitrant engine; my husband maneuvering an over-large piece of furniture through a too-slim doorway, or climbing up into the dim, dusty, cramped and spider-filled attic to investigate the source of a leak.
With few exceptions, it is men doing our tough, dirty, and thankless work. It is men on the oil rigs and in the coal mines. It is men constructing our homes and buildings and stringing our electric wires. They change our blown tires on dark, rainy roadsides and snake our clogged toilets on a Sunday morning. Men are the ones who investigate strange noises at 2:00 a.m.; the ones who plow snowy streets in monster-sized vehicles and labor in scorching sun to repair our highways. They are the ones who return maimed both mentally and physically from our wars, if they return at all. What has been deemed toxic in our “enlightened” 21st Century is chivalry and bravery to me (and others). These thankless labors are how men earn the livings that support their families. This is how they show love for us.
Men are not, of course perfect. No human is. Men and women are by design, different. We view the world differently, we manage our emotions differently, we problem-solve differently. We complement each other and it can be a beautiful and astounding thing when these opposites bond. I don’t want men to be more like women, nor the reverse. Men deserve and need to be supported, encouraged, and appreciated for the unique qualities they bring.
I am grateful for these strong, capable, resourceful, exemplary men who have touched my life: my husband, my dad, and my two brothers.