Ying and Yang

We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong here.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

The other day I was driving in the car with my kids when my 2-year-old son, who’s favorite show these days is the British cartoon Peppa Pig, started doing a great imitation of Daddy Pig snoring.

My 6-year-old daughter laughed and then asked, “When we get a daddy will he always be falling asleep, snoring and messing up the map reading like Daddy Pig?”

Which made me want to snort with laughter like Mommy Pig does.

It seems like toxic masculinity is a term we bandy about these days. It reminds me of when I was a kid in the 70’s and Bobby Riggs and Billie-Jean King played their Battle of the Sexes and male chauvinism was such a hot topic.

But years ago I read something from University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson that made me think that this topic is deeply seeded in humans. In his book 12 Rules for Life, he talked about selection of male partners.

Woman are choosy maters (unlike female chimps, their closest animal counterparts). Most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. It is for this reason that we all have twice as many female ancestors as male (imagine that all the women who have ever lived have averaged one child. Now imagine that half the men who ever lived have fathered two children, if they had any, while the other half fathered none).

I thought that was a stunning statistic of the big picture view that only 50% of men, averaged over all time, have fathered children. But then it’s the next part of the passage that gave a hint about toxic masculinity:

It is Woman as Nature who looks at half of all men and says, “No!” For the men, that’s a direct encounter with chaos, and it occurs every time they are turned down for a date. Human female choosiness is also why we are very different from the common ancestor we shared with our chimpanzee cousins, while the latter are very much the same. Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are.

I know Dr. Peterson is a controversial character. But taking this argument at face value, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a leap to believe that women have sought out men who are certain, successful, strong and seemingly invulnerable. And so perhaps women can help to change that nature too, or at least I’d like to think we can help:

By raising sons who are free to grapple with their emotions.

By being a safe place for our brothers and friends to talk about the pressures they feel.

By helping out with map reading.

By letting our daughters know that it’s great to choose men who let their non-aggressive flags fly.

By listening and supporting everyone who says this is hard.

Maybe when I have a partner in life again, he’ll fall asleep and snore. But like Daddy Pig, he’ll be able to laugh about it because he knows we don’t expect him to be perfect, just true.

What do you think? Can women help with toxic masculinity? Is it too much of a buzz word to have much meaning? Is it okay to quote someone like Dr. Peterson even if I don’t agree with how he’s been politicized?

(featured photo from Pexels)

22 thoughts on “Ying and Yang

  1. How Dr. Peterson has been politicized? Didn’t he do that himself, big time?! For me he’s an example of toxic, arrogant masculinity at its finest. Interesting how it can be less obvious when they’re smart and credentialed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An interesting comment, Jane. I have to say other than reading part of his book a few years ago (which I found to be long-winded and belabored), I’ve only been peripherally aware of Jordan Peterson’s trajectory. I don’t know if it’s an American thing or just the media I watch but he hasn’t shown up on my radar.

      But I was interested by the little nugget I included here and wanted to discuss it. In trying to figure out who and what he’s done, was treading lightly because it wasn’t obvious who on the Internet was credible. I’m glad you chimed in – I trust your take that he’s done it to himself and could be a good example of toxic masculinity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think he has taken full advantage of his notoriety at U of T(oronto) several years ago when he fought the university decision that people (eg students) were to be called by their preferred gender pronoun as a matter of respect. He went on a very public “freedom of free speech” campaign. This would undoubtedly have gone down better (less badly) in the US than in Canada. His opinions, including in the book you quote, have always courted controversy, but that’s fine, and I’m sure he enjoyed that. He went on leave and developed a public presence through YouTube, etc. after this episode. I’d say he’s a self-confident self-promoter.

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      2. Interesting. Sounds like he’s working from the premise that bad attention is still attention. Thanks for giving me perspective on this, Jane!

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  2. I do agree that women can do something about toxic masculinity by encouraging their sons and the men in their lives to be soft and vulnerable and willing to show emotions.

    I’m not sure about Jordan Peterson’s take on female choosiness being a human thing, though. Let’s take peafowl (I had to look that up because I wasn’t sure of the gender-neutral term). Peahens are drab. Peacocks are bright and showy, and the showiest ones get the ladies. I thought that was a fairly common pattern in nature.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What an interesting comment, Ashley. I love your example and how you’ve extended this to another species to illustrate it. It makes me think of mallard ducks who also are similar. I’d be fascinated to know whether that means the males of those species that aren’t the showiest don’t reproduce at all.

      But I agree with your comment that we can encourage men to be soft and vulnerable, whether or not Jordan Peterson is right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think I understand. People are different. Men and women tend to have different strengths. My wife has strengths and patience where I don’t and I am sure she thinks I have abilities she doesn’t. I think the differences between men and women are to fill out the whole but the weaknesses are there for a purpose also. I can count on her to give me insight where I don’t have it and she can count on me for the same. We butt heads but softly and try to work together and hold hands.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think you have a great point, David. I think this is where the term toxic masculinity has been become so much of a buzz word that it’s not really clear what it means. I think I was keying off the stereotyping of Daddy Pig from the cartoon that my daughter picked up on. And maybe because it’s also in Cars (from Disney) where there’s a male tourist car that won’t ask for directions.

      Whatever it is, I think what you describe is relationships at the best – where everyone shows up with their strengths and weaknesses and then wrestle through the differences to come up with the best outcome. I love hearing your opinion and that you chimed in to provide a male perspective on this!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I don’t know this Peterson person, but I read these quotes as someone who is directly blaming females for the traits of men and how they are presented in our society? I would ask why women, in his view, seek out the macho male as partners. Is it an inherent trait or a learned behavior? I’m not sure that I fall to the inherent genetics side but more to the conditioned response side that women have been taught that they need this sort of person in their life, even when they are quite capable to do without. So with all that said, is it a woman’s responsibility or choice to teach/guide or draw out the more in touch/less macho guys they have in their lives? I’m all for teaching by example, but I also believe the reality of overall environmental influence playing a distinct part in who and what men are or choose to be.
    **Tough subject right now Wynne, but thank you for putting it out there for discussion.

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    1. I, too, am not familiar with Jordan Peterson, but I find many many issues with what he says from what I’ve seen in the quotes you shared. For example “Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are.”
      I’m going to skip the “proclivity to say no” (really? … ) …
      We know that even at rest our brain consumes, on average, 25% of our energy even though it only constitutes, on average, 2% of our mass. For other members of the primate family, the brain consumes less than 10% of the energy. That means that we compensate for it by having less muscle and being physically much weaker.
      Our evolution process required a supporting social structure to support the growth of the brain over our first couple of years of life, when a baby is practically helpless, unlike other mammals. That is almost the opposite of what Peterson is saying?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Such a fascinating point, EW. I had to read it several times to make sure I’m understanding it and even then what I come up with is that I don’t know. I wouldn’t claim that Jordan Peterson is right – although as I said to Deb, I think his data is solid or at least he’s referencing an evolutionary psychologist.

        What I find most interesting is that the term toxic masculinity keeps coming up and I’m trying to find a way to grapple with it. Because it certainly isn’t clear (to me at least) what it means and what we should do about it. Maybe it’s like male chauvinism and women just keep making progress and force men to adapt. But if there is something I can do to raise my kids with different expectations for gender roles, I want to understand.

        Love your insight and contribution to help further the conversation and help me think it through – as always!

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    2. A great comment, Deb! Thanks for chiming in. It is a tough subject right now and I’m so curious about it – especially as a person who has chosen to go without a partner – and one that is trying to raise a delightful son.

      I think the data he quotes is solid – it’s annotated as coming from Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychology professor from the University of New Mexico. The conclusion is up in the air for all the great points you make. I think I fell on the side of thinking that whether or not women caused it, we can certainly help raise sons who are more emotionally aware. But that’s because I’m very interested in doing so for my son. And if I can say that without taking on the mantel the woman are at fault, all the better. 🙂

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  5. So I am not a fan of Dr. Peterson but I do think it is okay to quote him and to dissect and discuss what he has to say. I think he oversteps when it comes to blaming women, victimizing men, and the powers of the nuclear family (nuclear family is a very conservative, westernized and new concept of family dynamics, what happened to it takes a village?). But some of his ideas are worthwhile and I do agree with his overall sentiment that there needs to be more addressing of the feelings that cis het white men have right now while they are feeling “persecuted/oppressed”. I put that in quotes because I don’t think they are being persecuted/oppressed as much as they are now no longer having the same privilege of avoiding consequences for their actions. Regardless, I think their feelings are very valid and that it is not fair to simply dismiss them as many do. Also dismissing their feelings is very problematic because it leads them to seek out the few who acknowledge them but also can lead them down questionable paths. I think being a complete follower of Jordan Peterson is one of those questionable paths. But I also think with critical thinking and analysis of what he has to say he does have some fair points.

    But I disagree with his interpretations on female choosiness. I am not saying it doesn’t play a role but I have a hard time accepting that it’s a major role. I think the idea that most women having the power for choosiness is questionable. If we think about money as a form of freedom and power in our lives which let’s be honest, it really is. We need to remember that women couldn’t even have their own credit card in the US until the 1970s. Marriage was a permission slip for many women to be able to gain access which doesn’t sound like choosiness to me. Also in many places, women still don’t get to pick their partners or need their husband/brother/father’s permission for even getting an education. Also there are studies (so evidence-based) that show when women gain more social and economic freedom via education and salary, that they have a much harder time finding a man that will accept that. Also, I don’t think it would be a leap either to say it’s possible many men don’t meet women’s standards because society often holds women to higher standards and its fair for us to have those same expectations of our partners.

    Anyway, circling back to your main discussion points. Yes! I totally believe we as women have role in fighting toxic masculinity. I think we should encourage it in the men around us to not feed into it and a big way to do so is not dismiss their feelings even if we don’t agree with them! Which circles back to my thoughts about Peterson ha. As women, I think it is important to check our double standards in all areas of our lives. We should make space and encourage men to do more roles typically done by “women”. I think many of us women dismiss our male counterparts as incompetent to let’s say household tasks, etc but we really should be making space and giving them time to address this. I see many women not even give them the space to figure it out. We can raise our children regardless of gender to realize that all humans fall on a large spectrum of traits and raise our children not based on their genders but their interests. And we need to educate our kids that some women are natural caregivers, some aren’t. Some men are natural caregivers, some aren’t. Why? (Sorry as a biologist I have to rant a little here). Because it really has nothing to do with your sex on the individual level. Caregiving is just a large spectrum that both sexes fall on. (Also feel free to substitute any trait in for caregiving). When it comes to the biological bases for most (if not all?) traits that we associate to be masculine or feminine, they are always a very large spectrum present in both sexes and they always overlap. The easiest way to visualize this is if you think of height. While men on average are taller than women, there are plenty of women that are taller than men. And plenty of short men as well. What does this mean? It means that when it comes down to the individual your sex don’t mean sh&t about which traits you have. What does often affect us though is the societal pressures that make traits more prevalent in one sex than the other and I don’t like how Peterson capitalizes on a numbers game to try and portray this as the natural order and it’s just way oversimplifying it. As for the buzzword toxic masculinity, I do think it still currently has a place in our vernacular. But I hope for a future where we kind of just nix feminine and masculine in general because I think it’s really just a false dichotomy.

    P.S. I think you might like the book The Trouble with Testosterone by Robert Sapolsky. It is a collection of essays that dissects behavior biology and how it’s easy for us to kind of naturally conclude black and white states like that testosterone is linked to aggression and while that isn’t completely false, it also isn’t simply always true. Sapolsky does a great job showing that biology is super messy and extra messy in the context of environment/society and basically it is never possible to really make simple statements about the cause of really anything. Also I promise it’s a fun and not a dry read!

    P.P.S. Sorry for the really long comment but I couldn’t help but have lots to think about from your post today! You brought up some very interesting topics.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love, love, love this comment, Caitlyn! You have added so much to my thinking and have so many great points here. Thank you for the book recommendation – I will check that out.

      One thing that strikes me about your historical perspective about women (you have so many good points!) is that if choosiness were the issue (a big IF but just going along with Peterson’s point), it would have to be male choosiness being that it was males choosing partners for their daughters/sisters for most of history and that males wanted the most aggressive or successful traits.

      Which leads to my next point which is that while I want to believe there is something I can do as a mom to combat toxic masculinity, it is men that I often see propagating it. Like telling my 2-year-old son that boys don’t cry. Which isn’t even poorly intended – just how they were raised.

      But you also make great points about the oversimplification of biology. And I need to know more to be able to even engage with you on the subject. I love your vision where we don’t generalize based on gender at all – but based on the traits that emerge. Beautiful comment – thanks for weighing in!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! This is certainly a hot topic! I think a lot of men are still struggling to find their way through the mixed messages they receive, not only from women but from the movies and media. I saw that with my second husband who was 19 years older than me, and of the “old” generation, as well as in my 15-year-old grandson. In their “new” roles they need to feel validated and not made fun of.

    I believe that when we ourselves have learned to be comfortable in our own skin, we encourage others to be also. When we’re unsure of where we stand, we tend to become more judgemental. I don’t like to paint swathes of people with a single brush, for each person is very different even if they stand in a crowd.

    No doubt there’s still a lot of work which needs to be done!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you called it, Tamara — it is a hot topic! And when you mention that men are getting mixed messages from movies and media, it strikes home with me. I bet they are and it must be so interesting to think of that in regards to your grandson as well as your second husband.

      I love the generosity of your statement to not paint people with a single brush. Right – so true! And yes, when we are more comfortable in our own skin, we can encourage others as well. That gives me hope that if I do my work, I can continue to genuinely guide my little ones to be their authentic selves, regardless of gender!

      So much truth in this comment. Thanks for adding this to the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You’ve touched on a hot button on a Monday, Wynne! 😆

    I personally find many of Jordan Peterson’s opinions problematic, especially as they pertain to gender identity and the trans community. With that said, I do find him very smart, articulate and presents and holds himself in a debate very well. And I think that’s part of the reason why his detractors find him annoying!

    As much of a “buzz word” I find toxic masculinity is, I do agree that as a society – and thinking about this as a parent – we can do more to raise emotionally intelligent and supportive boys, that we can encourage and challenge traditional gender norms and it all goes towards a long way in bridging this divide between men and women, and everything in between.

    Lots to think about and to unpack, Wynne! Might need more coffee. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I sure did touch a hot button, didn’t I? Hoo, boy! As I said to Jane, I only have a passing knowledge of Jordan Peterson – I read part of his book, found it a little long-winded but this one point stood out to me. He doesn’t show up too much on American media (or not that I’ve seen) but I’ve heard allusions to controversy surrounding him. I looked him up before I posted this and saw that he has troubling opinions about gender identity.

      With that said, I think you are exactly right about raising emotionally intelligent and supportive boys. At least that’s what I was trying to get to here – how can I take action as a parent to counter what is clearly a hot topic? But you are right – that’s a lot to think about and unpack and maybe I need to revisit it.

      But I love having you weigh in with your opinion and experience! Thanks, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think hot button topics, when discussed respectfully and thoughtfully as you always approach anything you write about, can be productive and stimulating! 😊 So I think it’s great you brought it up!

        We all need to get outside of our comfort zones and echo chambers sometimes – myself included. So thank you for this coffee outing today!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I like what you say about getting outside of our comfort zones and echo chambers. Ab. You are generous and so thoughtful in your ability to respond. I’m so grateful for your calm and open-hearted approach to discussions! So grateful!

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