In the wake of the horrific shooting in Orlando that left 50 dead, a political struggle is forming on whether to define this act as an anti-gay crime or an act of radical Islamic terrorism.
The answer, it’s quickly starting to seem, is both of these, and more. A picture is quickly starting to form of who Omar Mateen, the shooter, was. His ex-wife describes a man who was controlling and abusive. A colleague says he was always using racial and sexual slurs and “talked about killing people all the time.” Both his ex-wife and his father describe him as homophobic, with his father saying he spun into a rage at the sight of two men kissing. He was clearly fond of guns, having not one, but two concealed carry licenses. He worked at a security firm, a career that can be attractive to men with dominance and control issues. He was investigated by the FBI in 2013 for making threats to a coworker.
There is a common theme here: Toxic masculinity.
Every time feminists talk about toxic masculinity, there is a chorus of whiny dudes who will immediately assume—or pretend to assume—that feminists are condemning all masculinity, even though the modifier “toxic” inherently suggests that there are forms of masculinity that are not toxic.
So, to be excruciatingly clear, toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control. It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world.
For obvious political reasons, conservatives are hustling as fast as they can to make this about “radical Islam,” which is to say they are trying to imply that there’s something inherent to Islam and not Christianity that causes such violence. This, of course, is hoary nonsense, as there is a long and ignoble history of Christian-identified men, caught up in the cult of toxic masculinity, sowing discord and causing violence in our country: The gun-toting militiamen that caused a showdown in Oregon, the self-appointed border patrol called the Minutemen that recently made news again as their founder was convicted of child molestation, men who attack abortion clinics and providers.
Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. This insecurity is perhaps the most stalwart defining feature of toxic masculinity.
The examples are endless: Donald Trump flipping out when someone teases him about his small fingers. (Or about anything, really.) The ludicrously long and shaggy beards on “Duck Dynasty,” meant to stave off any association with the dreaded feminine with a thicket of hair. The emergence of the term “cuckservative,” flung around by hardline right wingers to suggest that insufficient racism is somwho emasculating. Conservatives absolutely melting down about an Obamacare ad that suggested that, gasp, sometimes men wear pajamas.