Citing examples of toxic masculinity in contemporary society and schools, Emma Staffaroni, Instructor in English, walked her audience through different types of masculinity and gender stereotypes in her presentation, “From Co-Ed to All-Gender: Toxic Masculinity, and Changing Our Imaginations,” on April 11 in Kemper Auditorium.
Staffaroni’s talk is a continuation of the 2018-2019 Madison Smith Presentation Series sponsored by the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. The series is named after Madison Smith, Class of 1873, who was born into slavery and moved north after his emancipation.
Attendee Bruna Cincura ’20 found Staffaroni’s approach to the origins and effects of toxic masculinity compelling.
Cincura said, “Ms. Staffaroni did a great job of highlighting the detriments of toxic masculinity, not only to women, but also to men. Most of the times, when we talk about toxic masculinity, most people just assess it as an upfront criticism, but [Staffaroni] chose to look at it in a way, where she tried to understand why, not criticize it.”
According to Staffaroni, the patriarchal values of society often lead to a lack of self-identity in men, who measure their worth by their work and income instead. In her talk, Staffaroni introduced the effects that such tendencies have on working class men.
“Toxic masculinity is a type that upholds patriarchal social structure in its expression. Patriarchal culture teaches boys and men that their inner lives do not matter, and their emotions make them lesser and inferior. As a result, we have a crisis of self-worth in people who identify as boys and men,” said Staffaroni in her talk.
She continued, “This is particularly the case for men who are taught to derive their entire identity from the work they do. For poor and working class men, that means menial or degrading work may further exacerbate this problem of self-worth, ingraining deep self-hatred that can be expressed or taken out on the world.”
Staffaroni noted that this materialism is problematic for middle and upper class men, as they gradually begin to neglect social skills.
“As the income of the job becomes synonymous with themselves, men might focus on the acquisition of resources, or ‘clout’, through the very narrow skills their jobs demand, often causing them to neglect the myriad [of] social and relational skills in tasks of life. Men learn that interrogating their interiority, emotions, and fears are feminine, and therefore not for them,” said Staffaroni.According to Staffaroni, a lack of emotional expression is not an innately masculine trait. She found that although adolescent boys are fully capable of being emotionally intimate with other boys, such relationships disappear as they grow older.
Staffaroni said, “Researchers have found that the well-being of boys and men are tied up with their ability to have emotional relationships, particularly with others who identify as men. Due to strong cultural narratives about being gay or being a girl, adolescents are mourning the loss of their close boy friends. They may have ‘bros’ or a clique of boys, but no one that they trust with their deepest secrets with whom they feel truly safe.” [a]
Staffaroni believes that rather than toxic masculinity, Andover should promote feminist masculinity, which develops a world against toxic masculinity and the thoughts of patriarchal men.
“[Feminist masculinity] cultivates a respect for what is deemed as feminine, such as the right to be flexible and intuitive. It cultivates a refusal to destroy this will to love, especially loving other men in all different kinds of ways. It is cultivating a rejection of their only identity being as the strong one. It is also cultivating an understanding of privilege and power,” said Staffaroni.
Staffaroni finds that, in order for Andover to become an all-gender school, the community must reassess proper uses of gendered spaces and make changes if necessary.
Staffaroni said, “We have gendered spaces on campus by policy, and then also by practice or custom. However, it becomes a problem to those who do not feel safe in gendered spaces… A question that we ought to be asking of those spaces is whether they are used as opportunities to cultivate emotional intimacy, or whether they governed by beliefs in the otherness of different groups.”
Staffaroni continued, “As long as school is institutionally reinscribing gender as a binary with distinct cultures and normalizing sexual differences, rather than embracing diversity of gendered life, we will continue to struggle within an outdated co-ed model, instead of a vision of gender-relations that sees all of us as valuable.”