The recent siege and violence at the Capitol Building, perpetrated by mostly men, has again created a media storm about male dominance and the tough guy stereotype. The question to consider: Is acting like a tough guy always a negative behavior? It is a fact that a mob of male outlaws acted violently and made verbal threats against government officials and were encouraged to “be strong and get tough” by certain mostly male elected political figures and their media recognized supporters. I suppose that these perpetrators think of themselves as “tough guys” and are reinforced in that perception by their compatriots who cheered from home while watching the assault of the Capitol on their tv screens. My concern is that the descriptor “tough guy” should not by itself be viewed as a negative aspect of masculinity.
The dictionary definition of tough is a good starting point – “strong enough to withstand adverse conditions” and “able to endure hardship or pain.” Other descriptors of tough include resiliency and having grit which focus on bouncing back and learning from adversity. It appears that the word tough is not associated with negative behavior. What makes a tough guy a thug is not that he is tough but how he utilizes his toughness to achieve a particular goal. Utilizing the framework of the four archetypes of masculinity the question to be asked is whether one’s warrior is acting in the light or the shadow as directed by the goals and plans of his king? A warrior using his toughness in the shadow is a violent man or bully while a warrior acting in the light is often a hero.
We often associate toughness with firefighters, soldiers in combat and high performing athletes. However, we should not fail to recognize the toughness of health care workers who have been in the front lines dealing with the pandemic. Many have worked extra shifts, been exposed to highly contagious environments and still show up for work each day. How about the toughness of wounded veterans and others with a physical disability who despite their prosthetics compete in Paralympics and go to work every day. Think of the toughness of Dr. Ugur Sahin. He co-founded BioNTech and worked day and night alongside his wife in developing a vaccine in record time utilizing research findings of their earlier work on RNA.
My point is that you don’t need a bulletproof vest, camouflage clothing and a loud mouth to be a tough guy. In fact this type of seemingly tough behavior is in the shadow of masculinity and only tarnishes the really tough guys who we admire and depend on in our everyday lives.