Yesterday morning, I opened up Twitter to be confronted with Susan Demas, Editor in Chief of Michigan Advance talking about the bravery of one her youngest reporters.
This reporter was following up on a disturbing story reported in the Detroit MetroTimes about a Facebook group that contained violent, racist language directed at elected minorities in Michigan and the US. This story broke last week.
As reported, a Michigan State Senator, Peter Lucido was a member of the Facebook group, although let it be said that he did not personally post any violent messages. And we all know that we can’t be held responsible for what other people say online.
But what we say ourselves—especially in person–is another story.
So the Michigan Advance reporter was following up on the Detroit MetroTimes article, looking for a comment (or more likely a denial). Instead, she got a full-frontal sexist attack in front of high school boys who will likely repeat the type of behavior and language modeled by their State Senator.
The story was picked up by one of the two largest newspapers in Michigan, The Detroit Free Press, as well.
What did the other large, more conservative, newspaper, The Detroit News, print? His tepid and forced apology:
A grown man who holds public office in as large and populous a state as Michigan should not have to be told that this kind of language is demeaning, sexist, and simply an unacceptable way to treat another person, a woman, a professional, and a report. And it’s doubly damning because he modeled this behavior in front of impressionable kids.
As for that high school he was touting, they have had their problems as well.
This is institutional toxic masculinity. It goes beyond just showing disrespect and disdain toward women. It instills competition between men/boys that is grounded in their physicality and their sexuality. This is the type of behavior that leads to boys running contests to score sexual partners. In high school. When they could easily impregnate multiple girls. And ruin lives. Many lives, all in the name of winning.
Sports are one part of life, not all of life. Competition can be healthy or unhealthy. Demonizing many aspects of what makes boys/men human leads to all sorts of social problems that we as a collective society end up paying for in many ways: alcohol and drug abuse, violence, poor health, crime, and financial problems. Yes, men feel sad. Yes, men feel helpless. Yes, men feel shame.
And that’s ok. It makes you human, not less of a man.
All humans experience shame. Famed social researcher Brene Brown has conducted years of research into the phenomenon of shame in men and women. According to Brown, shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” And if we’re unworthy of connection, then we can’t connect with anyone.
Melanie Hamlett, in Harper’s Bazaar, writes: “Shame, Brené Brown found in her years of research, is the single biggest cause of toxic masculinity. Whereas women experience shame when they fail to meet unrealistic, conflicting expectations, men become consumed with shame for showing signs of weakness.”
And when men don’t know how to deal with their own shame, they have trouble seeking help as well.
The persistent idea that seeking therapy is a form of weakness has produced a generation of men suffering from symptoms like anger, irritability, and aggressiveness, because not only are they less likely than women to pursue mental health help, but once they do, they have a hard time expressing their emotions. (This is so common there’s even a technical term for it: “normative male alexithymia.”)Melanie Hamlett, “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden“
So there is shame which leads to less connection which leads to more behavior to try to alleviate shame and make connections—even tenuous or spurious ones. Connection through anger is one of those types of weak connections. Connection through hatred of others is another.
Lucido tried to connect with the boys from his former high school by making a joke at the expense of the reporter. Because he didn’t know how to speak to girls after leaving high school. Because he was excited.
No, he did it to alleviate his own shame. He attempted to forge a connection through the use of sexist and misogynistic language and behavior. Through the exclusion of this young reporter from the respect that she deserves as a reporter and professional.
This type of toxic masculinity will poison us all if we let it.
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