I am once again reminded how merely using labels to express a point of view or compilation of attributes inhibits dialogue and understanding. While the labels -liberal, progressive, conservative – have distorted and abridged political discussion similarly toxic masculinity and misogyny name calling have distorted and abridged dialogue about gender issues.
I have previously attempted to highlight the misuse of misogyny by going to its literal definition which is a hatred of women. Too often, a boorish or insensitive remark to a women results in some guy being called a misogynist. The misapplication of the label forestalls an exploration of the misbehavior and puts the alleged offender in the same basket as sexual predator. The accused will react defensively and a analysis of what behavior caused someone’s distress will often be ignored.
Toxic masculinity describes an extreme form of patriarchy which places men as superior beings entitled to a position of power over women. The Harvey Weinstein’s of the world are clearly participants in the practice of toxic masculinity. However, using toxic masculinity too liberally puts men on the defensive and impedes meaningful dialogue.
A recent article in a New Jersey newspaper highlights the problem with these labels. The Princeton University all male a capella singing group was vilified in the campus newspaper for the way they performed the song “Kiss The Girl.” Apparently in previous performances of the song a female member of the audience was invited onto the stage and given the choice to give a peck on the cheek or lips to a male member of the audience. The Princeton newspaper columnist stated that the practice promotes toxic masculinity. In addition, the article further labeled the message of the song as misogynistic. In order to further her perspective the columnist ignored the fact that a woman could easily refuse to participate and that this song routine has been going on for years with no blowback until she wrote her column. There is no question that misogyny and toxic masculinity exists and examples of these behaviors and attitudes should be exposed and confronted. The problem is that the liberal and extreme uses of these labels inhibits a rational discussion about acceptable societal norms around gender issues. A revisionist examination of song lyrics highlighting formerly acceptable but now viewed as sexist stereotyping adds little value to understanding changing gender roles. In fact, it makes the issue of studying song lyrics for examples of misogynistic references as comical and diverts us from the dialogue needed to explore the gender narrative,