There has been a lot of backlash to the term “toxic masculinity” because it implies all masculinity is toxic. And you don’t need to be a genius to realise this is an oversimplified conclusion to a complex sociological problem.
However, putting the phrase’s wording aside, the staggering rates of suicide and domestic violence make it clear that the “positive” and “negative” aspects of masculinity need to be distilled, and—difficult as that may be—that’s exactly what Phil Barker attempts to do in his latest work: The Revolution Of Man.
Of course there is a grey area; expectations can cultivate diverse attitudes across individuals. For instance: the trope that “men are tough” could lead one boy to develop mental resilience, another to become an insensitive jerk and yet another—if he can’t live up to it—to feelings of angst, depression or even suicide. So the context in which masculine narratives are delivered, as well as their nuance, clearly matters.
Likewise: a bit of banter between mates is ok, but bullying is not. But much as we would like there to be one, there is not always an obvious place to draw the line. Human interaction is not that clear cut. In light of this, it is too simplistic to say that “all masculinity is toxic.” However, given the rampant toxic behaviours like sexual assault, bullying and homophobia that still exist within our society, it is clear men’s attitudes and masculine culture needs to change—for the sake of everyone.
As Phil Barker writes: “There’s no downside to a world in which men avoid the behaviour dictated by the Man Box (his term for toxic masculinity) and policed by other men. Women win. They won’t get bashed, raped and murdered as much. Our children win. We can become unshakeable rocks on which they can build the foundations of their lives. Men win. We’ll stop killing ourselves. We’ll experience the life-saving happiness of wonderful relationships and love in our lives.”
The question is, “How?”
Well, building on more than 25 years of journalism experience, Barker—former editor of NW and Woman’s Day magazines, and contributor at Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay—has made an attempt at answering that very question, unpacking the myth of the ‘Man Box’ and Australian masculinity in his latest book: The Revolution Of Man.
Peter FitzSimons, bestselling author of Kokoda says: “This book is the conversation we need to have-with each other, our sons and fathers,” while Steve Biddulph, a psychologist and bestselling author of Manhood calls it, “‘A terrific read-gutsy, plain-speaking and personal, addressing almost every aspect of Australian men’s lives today.”
“This book will greatly help the growing avalanche of masculine change.”
Tracey Spicer, journalist and bestselling author, adds: ‘Phil Barker skewers toxic masculinity and provides a manifesto for modern manhood,” she says. “This well-researched, engaging and thought-provoking book explains why positive masculinity is good for men, women and children. We need more male allies like Phil to create a safer future for the post #MeToo generation.”
While this may come across as an attack on masculinity: it’s actually an opportunity to use it—to fight against the negative expectations that hold us back, and the toxic attitudes (and behaviours) they can lead to.
As Phil Barker knows only too well (having spent years investigating suicide, domestic violence, pornography and misogyny—alongside the essential bonds of male friendship, fatherhood and men’s relationships with women), men are as sick and tired of being forced into a performance of masculinity that is “suffocating, limiting and damaging,” as women are of dealing with the fallout.