A few weeks back, I finished watching all episodes of The Big Bang Theory (TBBT). For the third time. Now before you start doing all the fancy mathy stuff to tell me how much screen time that is, let me admit that I know. I know. While I find the show entertaining and the episodes to be just the right duration, there is a sad theme I have noticed in each season if not every episode – absent fathers in the lives of the main cast. For one character, his dad was a drunkard and died when the said character was still young. Another character had his dad abandon the family at a very young age. The father to the third character had marital problems and later got divorced. Before the divorce, he was preoccupied with work and barely had time for his family. Yet still, another cast member’s dad also had marital problems and evidently did not spend a lot of time with this character during his formative years. And for almost every character in TBBT whose dad was revealed, it was the case that the father had a broken relationship with the child or was absent. Although this made for some pretty good jokes, it is a sad state of affairs.
What do the characters of TBBT have to do with this blog? Hold that thought.
Having finished watching TBBT, I started searching for another show to fill my 23.51 minutes a day that I dedicate to watching Netflix. Lo and behold, I found one. A few minutes into the show, there is a scene in which one of the main characters is starting a new job at a law firm and is being led to a conference room for a meeting. On the way there, she is informed that there is a “toxic masculinity” work environment at that company and that she should be prepared for what she was going to find behind the doors of that conference room.
Walking in was a room full of well-dressed men on a conference call. When people on the other side of the line were speaking, these well-dressed gentlemen would mute themselves then burst into uncontrollable laughter, singing and jumping. They would shout, cuss, scream and make inappropriate jokes. Some of them would stand on the table and chairs, dance and high-five each other. It was utter chaos to say the least.
This got me thinking: is this an example of toxic masculinity? What is toxic masculinity anyway? Is it making a stupid face at someone on the other side of a phone call? Is it standing on tables and shouting loudly or carelessly cussing at another just because you can? Or perhaps it is revealing your biceps and 6 packs to show your size, strength and dominance. What is it?
Well, toxic masculinity, at least originally, refers to the misguided perception and idea that “real men” do not express feelings, gentleness or submission. It refers to a culture that applauds men for being promiscuous and for objectifying women. Therefore, in its original form, toxic masculinity puts a label on a phenomenon that needs to be abolished for the benefit of men, women and society as a whole. However, the general focus of this term seems to be broadening to encompass any behaviour or activity that could be deemed as “boyish” or “manly”, for example, roughhousing. The broadening of the meaning of this term can and does lead to the expression being misused whereby two distinct ideas of “toxic” and “masculine” are assumed to be the same thing. This has consequences.
Back to the conference room.
Was the environment in that room something that would be labelled as toxic masculinity? Well, personally I would not label the scene as entirely representing toxic masculinity granted there were aspects of it. Before moving on, let me hasten to state explicitly that the opposite or absence of toxic masculinity is not masculinity, let alone “positive masculinity.” So, if what transpired in that room was not entirely toxic masculinity and if it is definitely not “positive masculinity”, then what is it? Well, to me it was plain old childishness?
Are you still holding on to that thought from earlier? What about it? Personally, TBBT shows (in humorous ways) the need for fathers and the consequences of their absence. In all the cases I mentioned at the start of this blog, the fathers were physically and often times emotionally absent from the lives of their children. Unsurprisingly, there are numerous times in the show when the characters would claim the lack of a fatherly figure during their upbringing played a role in some negative traits or inabilities they are experiencing as adults. Put simply, the absence of their fathers shaped who they are and dare I add, for the worst.
In the other show, we see men who might be physically present with their children but have not left the childhood stage themselves. Sprinkle this with a bit of toxic masculinity and you have a problem, a disaster.
What shall we say then? Firstly, men should be encouraged to take up their rightful place in families and society. The impact that their presence (and even lack thereof) and actions have on children is immerse. Secondly, Boys should be taught to show emotion when necessary – they aren’t rocks after all. They should also be taught to control their strength, temperament and emotions. But as they grow, they need to graduate from their childhood academy and enter the university of adulthood. Having boys rid of toxic masculinity is not enough. They need to be turned into men. Therefore, as the fight against toxic masculinity rages, may the necessary discipline and training needed to turn men into boys never fade. Society needs men who are actual men and not overgrown boys.