Something that has been hinted at but not directly stated in the sex wars is the following widespread phenomena:
Toxic masculinity in women and toxic femininity in men.
Let me explain this using a Jungian framework. According to Jung, in every man there is a hidden and repressed ‘female spirit’ and in every women there is a hidden and repressed ‘masculine spirit’. Seeing and understanding this is liberating. Not doing so is to remain unconscious and polarized — to invite trouble, in other words.
One way to describe hidden toxic behavior is through the lenses of animus possession (or untrammeled anger and animosity in women) and anima possession (passive aggressive, lackluster, and herd-like behavior in men). Perhaps a dysfunctional, unconscious society looks like this: a hidden war between the anima and the animus.
My argument is that the ideological shaming of traditional and biological masculinity of late, waged by Gillette, The left-liberal media, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the APA, can be seen in this light — a massive explosion of animus possession. And that this ratchets up the hatred on both sides, creating a society of misandry on the left and misogyny on the right.
The good news is that we are becoming conscious of this. Sometimes you have to get more sick before you can get better.
To illustrate: the other night I was at a poetry show that featured a woman gleefully reading poems which included some rather graphic fantasies about killing her ex-husband. The audience applauded loudly for what seemed to me to be to be a ‘symbolic castration ceremony’. Nobody thought anything was awry—in fact, there was a definite sense of élan and enjoyment in the air. And I too appreciate catharsis in art — indeed, it is a beautiful thing if expressed purely. At the same time, it occurred to me that if someone had talked about what Heather Heying has recently called ‘toxic femininity’ there might have been a public lynching.
Male bashing is a socially acceptable sport today, just as misogyny was a favorite game back in the 1950’s. It’s amazing how the culture has changed. Back in the day almost every blues song was about the evil ‘black magic women’ who sucked the life out of a man or drove him crazy. In the 1950’s, the tough macho, the military hero, or the business executive was the model. Women, on the other hand, were either infantilized or treated as fragile flowers—they were a dangerous force to tame and control. If I had been at a poetry reading in the 1950’s, there might have been a lot of abject fantasy or just condescending talk about women.
Feminism has rightly helped destroy misogyny in the mainstream, and women have rightly demanded to be considered as persons — not just pieces of meat, sexual property, or evil seductresses. One wonders, however, why feminists today are not more focused on Saudi Arabia or other tyrannical patriarchies, where women are actually enslaved, rather than persisting in their animus and resentment against biological and traditional masculinity. Rampant animosity towards men in the west has free reign today in the same way gay bashing does in theocratic or totalitarian societies like Saudi Arabia or Russia.
Just look at the the Washington Post article entitled ‘Why can’t we hate men?’ which actively promotes misandry. And now the macho male brands like Gillette are stepping up to apologize for and ‘teach’ evil men to be nice everywhere. Well, yes masculinity is dangerous and can be pretty pathological, but it is not intrinsically so. That is the essential point. To say so is truly insane, and is an insult to good men and boys everywhere. But this insanity is the new normal.
Men, as a group, are told they have to shut up and behave. At the same time, they are encouraged to be more touchy-feely, to be more classically feminine, and express their feelings. This is mommy’s double bind in action, and is not social progress but regression. Instead what we need is strong empowered men and strong empowered women.
Why is misandry — a word which means ‘ dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men’ so prevalent among so called-progressives, and yet so invisible to them — evidenced by the fact that most people don’t even know what the word means. Every educated person these days knows what misogyny is thanks to years of feminist messaging. But has misandry replaced misogyny as the norm today in the privileged progressive classes?
We all know what toxic masculinity looks like but it’s harder to define toxic femininity. That is because it is often hidden behind what Jordan Peterson has called a ‘mask of compassion’. Toxic femininity is passive-aggressive rather than just plain aggressive-aggressive. It can be found in childish, churlish men — just as toxic masculinity can be observed in angry and intolerant women.
Ironically, the problem isn’t men, its lack of fully grown men in the culture at large (and fully grown women for that matter). Men with toxic femininity haven’t left their mother, psychologically speaking — they are neurotic and weak. They might be lacking ‘rites of passage’ rituals allowing them to integrate their positive masculinity or befriend and understand the feminine, within and without.
Men also need to understand and befriend their anima and tame their aggression to a certain extent, so that they can function socially in the world. Conversely, a women might have to develop masculine qualities of assertiveness and disagreeableness to learn not be taken advantage of. But this doesn’t mean that traditional masculinity and traditional femininity should be done away with. Most women don’t want a man who isn’t a little bit dangerous, obviously. And most men don’t want a ball-breaking woman, most of the time — unless they are perversely looking to be told what to do by mommy.
Today many women these days — and their counterpart sensitive male feminists — feel the need to express their unrestrained aggression towards all men and boys. And, seemingly, they cannot distinguish between the rapist and the boisterous, flirtatious male. Meanwhile the Manhattan elite are trying to create a sexual police state, where everyone is perfectly safe from dangerous men. But while these ‘wokesters’ rage against men, this feeds the fires of right wing commentators, who ratchet up the misogyny and continue to blame all their woes on women.
In any case, neither the right wing nor the left wing has understood the anima or the animus. Right wing people want to ‘put women in their place’ — to control and tame the feminine — as if such a thing were possible; the liberal left are busy putting men in their place, or making men apologize collectively, just for being men. Just look at Matt Damon, victim of the Maoist #metoo kangaroo court, who publicly apologised for saying that there is a difference between flirtation and rape. He may have had to in order to save his career, but it did feel like cowardice.
The left-liberal media is gleeful and blatant about crude expressions of misandry but shocked and horrified if one suggests that a women can be something other than princesses — which is, ironically, putting women back on the pedestal and infantilizing them — betraying the original gains of feminism. This is too bad, since there is no reason why feminism has to be ‘anti-male’ in nature, and I would argue that a healthy feminism also has to embrace and love good men.
Misandry has free rain in the current liberal media — perhaps that is because it hasn’t been consciously seen or named — and because the word has no credo. The concept of misandry doesn’t even exist in common language. It would seem that only men, by virtue of their terrible phallus, can oppress others. Right wingers, on the other hand, have always been a bit oppressed by the ‘femme fatale’ and have a tendency toward misogyny.
To summarize: the extreme right is misogynous by nature and the extreme left is misandrist.
A middle way
The liberal media has allowed a certain toxic masculinity to express itself through women, mirroring the actual toxic masculinity that has surfaced recently in pathological men like Harvey Weinstein. Perhaps this dark hidden rage needs to come out. However, this looks very different than women’s full empowerment, even if it may be a necessary stage to liberation. In the end, if a woman wants to be whole she needs to befriend her hidden masculine side rather than project her hatred outwards to ‘all men’. Obviously this is not to deny the fact that some women are innocent victims of pathological men, and that such men need to be made accountable.
Both men and women have their own particular shadow side. In terms of women, real castration was common in the mother cults of the ancient world; today it may have been restored in virtual form. Manhattan news and ad agencies, feminist performance poets, and movie stars still practice virtual castration, especially when they try to shut men up. This attitude needs to be seen and felt.
A positive matriarchy does need to be restored. Sisterhood and women’s solidarity is a beautiful thing, if it is not centered exclusively around animosity towards men and grievance, that is. A positive feminism, in my humble opinion, should be centered around responsibility, not blind rage; affirmation and nurturing of the feminine, not misandry and animus possession.
To understand the fact that toxic masculinity and toxic femininity (terms which I’d happily do away with or ‘the anima and animus run amok’, potentially exists in both men and women, would help us to become more responsible for our sex and conscious of our behavior.
The point of this essay is to try to balance the conversation, to find a middle way. After all, men and women are profoundly complementary and codependent. In the heart of most men is a woman, the yin in the yang; and in the heart of most women is a man — the yang in the yin. In every love relationship, gay and strait alike, there is dynamic of polarity: a game of strength and surrender, force and receptivity, the phallus and the matrix — these are the dynamics of eros.
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Thanks Stephen Lewis for the edits