A professor from Dickinson College argues in the Wall Street Journal this week that “conversion therapy” isn’t the cure for “toxic masculinity.”
Dickinson College Professor Crispin Sartwell opened his column by explaining that certain expressions of gender and sexuality have been labeled “pathological” at different points throughout history. Because of this, it’s far from unusual that in the present day, certain expressions of masculinity are under assault.
It’s traditional to regard other people’s gender and sexuality as pathological. Mostly male medical professionals once diagnosed “female problems,” including hysteria, fainting spells and chronic irrationality. Doctors and psychiatrists considered homosexuality an illness, and for decades it was listed as such in the diagnostic manual of the American Psychological Association. Some still try to treat homosexuality as a curable condition. Gender nonconformists have been relentlessly pathologized, stereotyped, and even criminalized wherever they wandered into public view.
Sartwell highlighted that the relatively new concept of “toxic masculinity” has been used as a scapegoat for social issues like school shootings, wars, and sexual harassment. Some, according to Sartwell, have even blamed the election of Donald Trump on “toxic masculinity.”
Sartwell included a quote from comedian Michael Ian Black, who suggested that “toxic masculinity” is destroying American men and boys. “Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others,” Black wrote. “They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.”
Breitbart News reported in March 2017 that a university in Canada was hosting a “toxic masculinity” confessional booth where male students were asked to come and repent. Somewhat akin to the practice of confession with the Catholic faith, the confessional allowed male students the opportunity to confess instances in which they acted with too much aggression or violence. In October 2017, Breitbart News reported that men were eschewing traditional therapy in favor of classes that would teach them about healthy methods of gender expression.
The current goal of many “progressive” activists and educators is to deprogram young men. They want to remove the notion of typical male gender expression from their students head. But Sartwell points out that the notion of “toxic masculinity” is based on a broad stereotype of traditional male gender expression. It’s entirely unclear, according to Sartwell, what role gender stereotypes play in influencing the behavior of men who act out.
These interventions use a hyper-general idea about a whole population—call it a stereotype—as an explanation for specific phenomena. It isn’t much more insightful than blaming mass shootings on “society” or “social media.” Seldom can anyone explain how masculinity specifically affected the shooters or put them in motion. Unless they can make that connection directly, the critics of masculinity haven’t explained anything. And I would caution against sheer stereotyping or bigotry as a plausible style of inference. Taking a few problematic people and tainting whole groups as inherently flawed, inferior or pathological—it’s never ended well.
You can read the entirety of his column here.