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Toxic Masculinity is a lot of Things—a Chronic Illness is Not One of Them
By Erynn Porter
Dear Mr. Sexton,
I’m writing to tell you that while your journey going against toxic masculinity is valid, your comparison to a chronic illness is not. I know your article was published a bit of ago, but my chronic illness makes it hard to get things done in a timely manner.
Unlike toxic masculinity.
Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one that’s getting heat for this article. Salon and Ms. Keane should be ashamed of themselves. Really? You decided “Toxic Masculinity is like ‘a Chronic Illness’— but it Doesn’t Have to be Terminal” for the title?
This is insulting on many different levels. It’s obvious no one on the editing team has experience with a chronic or terminal illness. It’s a mockery of what people with these types of illnesses have to go through on a day to day basis. Whether you meant it to or not, it also appears like you are mocking people who know they are going to die. I’d like to think this wasn’t your intention.
Is toxic masculinity bad? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you get to compare it to a chronic illness. Not only are they two very different things, but this refers to chronic illness as bad and that they are on the same level as terminal illnesses. I would hope everyone could tell the difference between the two. While having a chronic illness, in my experience, can be hard, there are also a lot of good parts. It’s just like life with a few more complicated aspects.
There is no good in toxic masculinity. It’s a social construct that’s used for oppression, not a disease. It’s not part of a minority. Even though it oppresses you as a person, it’s still partly a privilege. It’s privilege because you are male, and it gives men the idea that they can have anything they want, and most of the time our society rewards them for that attitude.
Toxic masculinity is all the people, men and women, who voted for Donald Trump because they couldn’t stand a female president, couldn’t stand all the changes that were happening in our society, and that didn’t like that they felt their position on top of the hierarchy was being threatened. It’s Trump’s comments and how our society brush them off. It’s him getting elected as president days after admitting to sexual assault on tape.
It’s a form of terrorism. It’s part of why young (mostly white) men decide to shoot up places. They either are bullied and feel like either the world isn’t treating them right, or that they are a failure as a man because they can’t fit in. I know you address this slightly, but you seem to have more empathy for the shooter than their victims. While toxic masculinity is prevalent and highly influential, those men could still make a choice. They chose to go into schools, malls, theaters, and kill all those people.
I use the word terrorism as a writer and a woman. It may seem extreme to some people, but women are afraid to reject men. Incels are shooting people, women especially, because they feel entitled to women, and when they don’t get what they want, they shoot the woman that scorned them. They blame women for their problems. One man was arrested recently for threatening to shoot every woman he saw because of rejection. It doesn’t allow men the space to deal with their emotions, so they use violence instead.
Toxic masculinity gives them the idea that they are entitled to women’s bodies. It’s raping a young girl and getting no punishment because it would ruin your life. No one cares about the victim. It’s raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, getting caught doing it, and the media referring to him as the Stanford swimmer instead of a rapist. It’s women being told all the ways they should prevent themselves from being attacked and no one telling the men to stop attacking.
Toxic masculinity gives men the idea that they need to hurt those who are different than them. Maybe make them think they were “tricked” by a trans or nonbinary person when they feel attraction and find out they aren’t the “norm” they expected.
A chronic illness is so different. First of all, there is a wider variety of chronic illnesses than forms of toxic masculinity. Chronic illness can cause roadblocks in your life that go beyond the personal. Huge medical bills, difficulty securing a job, keeping your home, being able to afford medications. I don’t see men creating fundraisers to keep their toxic masculinity in check like I do with medication fundraisers.
Society doesn’t like those with chronic illnesses or disabilities. They definitely don’t reward them for having one. Society doesn’t make things like buildings, jobs, or even doctors accessible. Society wants to put us in a box and kick us over to a dark corner. Though when they need a little inspiration porn, society will dust us off to put us on display.
Don’t make too much noise about how a building is inaccessible for wheelchair users, don’t have too much fun in life or we’ll threaten to take away your disability money, don’t think you can live a fulfilling life because we will prevent you every step of the way. These are unsaid threats that people with chronic illnesses and disabilities face every day.
Also, most chronic illnesses don’t have a “cure,” instead, it’s about adapting to new changes in lifestyle. You said it yourself, Mr. Sexton, that there is a cure for toxic masculinity. This comparison is cruel because there are people out there that will never have a cure as an option. Luckily, most people with chronic illnesses have accepted their new life. I don’t doubt though that they wouldn’t mind a cure being an option. I know I would, at least.
I will give you that to walk away from this restricting idea takes a long time and a constant vigilance. If you stretch it and squint your eyes, you could almost say that toxic masculinity is genetic, oppressed men passing it to their sons for generations, like illnesses are passed through genes. It probably changes you as a person like a chronic illness does, but they aren’t the same. Chronic illness is personal, while toxic masculinity affects everyone. Chronic illness has never caused violence to others. The only violence involved is often at the people with an illness or disability.
Honestly, I think it’s a matter of presentation. If instead you focused more on the mental health toll toxic masculinity takes on men, then yes, the mental toll is like a chronic illness. Mental health conditions are under the chronic illness umbrella.
But you didn’t do that.
I want you to know, Mr. Sexton, that I appreciate how much thought you have put into your book. You are very good about looking at both sides of this difficult to pin down idea. The empathy you have is obvious in your words.
Just, next time, find a better comparison. I won’t pretend I know what it’s like to be a man in this oppressive society and you don’t pretend like you know what having a chronic illness is like.
With True Sincerity,
A Person with an Actual Chronic Illness
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