LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Woke brands and toxic masculinity: A measured response


The image of “traditional masculinity” as the drive to be stoic in the face of your opposition, to dominate your competition and aggressively pursue your personal success, despite what some suggest, is not innate to humanity, nor necessary to the survival and health of our society. 

Someone’s idea of traditional masculinity is just that-- their idea, though it often reflects larger social norms and material realities. 

If you told a 15th century Irish or German peasant that what makes a man is their dominance and competitiveness, they would have likely said, “Dominance over what? My wheat? I make everything I need, who am I competing with?” What “traditional masculinity” do they express? Stoicism certainly, and perhaps aggression. But competition and dominance, except over his wife and children, would not have been a part of the lived experience of most men in these societies. 

The ideal of masculinity in 19th century Georgia would have been the genteel and gracious slave owner. Dominance and competitiveness could be ascribed to him, but aggression (toward whites) would be unbecoming of a Southern gentleman. The point is ideas of masculinity change across time, place, race, and class

That “traditional” idea of masculinity is market mentality, applying the logic and values of modern business to gender, and enshrining them as natural, good and universal to humanity. It is shaped by the relatively recent phenomena of living in a society in which you have to compete with others in various marketplaces to survive, as well as determine and express your value as a person.

I completely understand why this ideology is so ubiquitous, and I have sympathy for people who fall into it. For in our society, if you are not aggressively dominating and out-competing others, you harm your ability to survive. We can’t all just find some land, make a log cabin, weave our own clothes, and leave the rat race behind. 

If you don’t beat others to the university, to the job, to the house, to the Tweet, you lessen your value as a person. You or your family might even starve. This leads men to say, “Why should I let someone tell me to be less competitive? Are you going to get me a job for being sensitive and docile?”

The famous Gillete ad behind the current gender debate also is a result of a market logic, not because some board of directors hate men or love feminism. Companies become “woke” because they determine through research that being woke is marketable. They do this to gain attention and profit from it, which they do

Gillette, Coke, Pepsi, or any other corporation, does not exist to solve police brutality, sexism, or any other progressive issue. If they did, Gillette would not charge women more for razors, Coke would not have funded death squads in Colombia to terrorize and assassinate native workers in the 1990s, and Pepsi would not have developed an App to help skeevy guys pick up married women and “military chicks.” 

Corporations that something you like, whether woke or anti-woke, are not your friends.

The gender ideology that comes with market mentality IS toxic. It is toxic toward women, children, other men, our society and our planet. This is not an attack on men or the concept of masculinity. 

Domination and aggression can be seen by some as masculine OR feminine (just ask the Tchambuli people of Papua New Guinea). Others can see altruism and humility as masculine. 

There are major issues with the ways we teach young children how to be men or women. Crimes of violence and exploitation committed mostly by men have been and are being justified because of our ideas of innate masculinity and its "necessity" for family and society. We all suffer from that as a nation and species.

 We should teach all people and provide what they need to become well-rounded, confident, empathetic, dignified, self-actualized human beings, not try to cram them into some rigid, hegemonic concept of gender.

For anyone else interested in learning more about this stuff, check out hbomberguy’s Woke Brands video on YouTube.

- Benjamin Thomason, St. Claire Shores graduate student