Benign Masculinity: A Celebration of Men
Kel's Hands

My husband’s beautiful hands.

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.

Dirty Work Gloves

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.

Kel's Hands

Dirty Work Gloves

9 thoughts on “Benign Masculinity: A Celebration of Men

  1. Ashley

    “Toxic Masculinity” is meant to describe the ideals that we as a culture indoctrinate men into, not actual men. It’s called toxic because it harms the boys and men it touches and then their performance of this leaned masculinity hurts those around them. Men tend to be “doers” rather than “talkers” because our culture has told them to stop showing and feeling emotion starting in childhood. Men do most of the thankless jobs you mention because we have told them they need to be strong and silent and to bear the brunt of our collective struggle. Men have done all this, but does that make it fair or right? Does it make it good for them? Men should have more options, and that’s what people complaining about toxic masculinity want. We want a full range of options for men and women, we want boys to be able to cry when something hurts, to experience the closeness of loving relationships with friends, to be allowed to explore and express their inner worlds. Men shouldn’t have to do all the dirty work in our society- if you love men you want more for them than a culture of masculinity that limits them and breaks them and robs them of true free will.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Hi Ashley,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I wondered if my post would generate any comments. Frankly I’m happy to learn at least one person is reading my blog these days!

      With a topic like this there are, of course, endless avenues to explore (my original essay was much longer),but many of them led way beyond the scope of a simple blog post. While we agree that culture has a major influence on male behavior, we disagree on the nature of that influence. If I correctly interpret your comment, you see this culture as the indoctrination of men into hyper-masculine roles that deny them the more subtle and traditionally feminine thoughts/feelings/actions. I look at the same landscape (Scott Adams would say we are watching different movies) and see instead a slow and steady assault on what is good and positive about being a traditional male.

      In general, men choose to work with things, women with people. I general, men take more risks while women choose safer options. These traits are baked in. And they make sense when looking at the different yet equally important roles played by males and females since we humans rose up on our hind legs to walk across the savannah.

      Please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating that men and women should be bound by traditional roles. I myself, through a combination of choice and circumstance, took a less than traditional path and I can honestly say that my life is a good one. I have no regrets. I am saying that biology has the starring role in the different ways men and women make choices, behave, think, and act. I do not believe that biological traits honed and developed over the eons (along with the hard-won knowledge of our forebears) can be reversed over a span of mere decades. IN GENERAL, I believe that discouraging men and women from their biological imperatives has resulted in some very unfulfilled, angry and lost human beings – many of whom have no idea why they are unhappy.

      Looking back over my 50+ years I can remember when men were the primary breadwinners and heads of their households. Over time, men went from this important and respected role to one of lovable doofus, to useless appendage, to vilified and discarded. That is the “culture” I see. Hollywood and Madison Avenue tell men they are pudgy idiots who can barely function without a much-savvier woman directing them; universities tell men they need not apply because they don’t meet the intersectionality profile du jour; the justice system and court of public opinion tell men to #believeallwomen; and feminists tell men that because they don’t possess female genitalia that their opinions and beliefs don’t matter (yet somehow the reverse is not applicable). If I were a man, I’d be feeling pretty awful about myself.

      I don’t expect to convince you. There are many reasons why the gulf between our beliefs probably cannot be bridged. However, I appreciate that you read my post and shared your perspective. Diversity of thought is a wonderful thing and vital to our civilization. And – it cannot be a bad thing for all of us to explore why we believe what we do and how those beliefs might positively or negatively affect others.

    2. Carolyn Blakeney

      Ashley, yes, and your observation could go a long way towards addressing the indoctrination of women in our culture as well. As a general rule in my generation (I am 61 now) and in generations before, women have been taught to stand placidly by while the menfolk fixed things, did the dirty jobs, worked out the problems, etc. I have chosen to live as a single person so therefore I do many of those jobs in my household, and I am sorry I was not encouraged to learn how to do more of those jobs while I was growing up, as my brothers were. Let us thank the Goddess for the World Wide Web- it has been my lifeboat.

  2. Joan Trautwein

    I wish that your essay was more visible to a larger audience. I’m hoping that there are more women who appreciate the men in their lives as well as those they come in contact with everyday. I too come from a family of two brothers, and a dad that were and are upstanding citizens in their communities. God graced me with two sons and I’m so proud of the men that they’ve become. My search for vegan recipes that I can make for my son who follows an almost totally raw vegan diet, and comes over to have dinner once a week, led me to your essay. Making new recipes that are not only healthy but taste good too, are very satisfying to me. My husband of 51+ years even likes some of them. I bake fresh bread to go along with our dinners. Keep appreciating the men you love and as I’m sure you know, it is returned, or will be returned one-hundred fold.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Joan, thank you so much for the kind and supportive words. Mine is a small voice, but this is an issue that has troubled me for a long time and I felt I had to pipe in. Bless you and the good men in your life! BTW, have you explored Some very good and simple recipes (lots of raw) there.

  3. MiniBooger

    Thank you for posting your thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree. To keep it simple, one should never put down another in order to raise themselves up. I believe they call that oppression.

    I have always been attracted to masculine men. Men that can repair things, fill the role of protector and balance the relationship. As a confident woman, I don’t need to compete with men or prove that I am better than they are, nor do I want to be responsible for doing everything. We all have our skills and roles both within society and within a relationship. Without those skills and roles, both break down.

    Of course there are men that veer in directions they shouldn’t. Having worked in the corporate world for 27 years, I had a few unsavory experiences. I handled them and moved on. I never ran to HR, I didn’t ruin anyone’s career and I didn’t start a ‘movement’ against all men. But on the flip side, I also worked with a lot of backstabbing women. So to categorize men as ‘toxic’ without also recognizing the failings on your own side of the fence is to be dishonest at best, vindictive at worst. It’s certainly not a sign of strength nor a position of respect.


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