So l must have been lurking under a rock in 2017, that or trying to graduate from grad school, because somehow l missed a release from one of my fav bands, The Killers. Wonderful Wonderful is an album with a lot to offer, and recalling the self-referntial throwbacks of the video for “Just Another Girl” l eagerly jumped on YouTube to see what l missed.
In no time at all, l became facinated by “The Man.”
Typically when discussing toxic masculinity our focus is on the women or children hurt by the toxic male as perpetrator. But we don’t very often look at how toxic masculinity harms the man who buys into and perpetuates it. Brandon Flowers said that he wrote the song “The Man” in reflection on his regrettable arrogance as the lead singer when the band was first starting out. The video follows suit, but comes at us from a different angle than the Gillette advertisement everyone is bandying back and forth.
What the video asks us to consider is not the harm that the man is causing the others present but rather how he himself is injured by his persona of invulnerable masculinity. What seems a perfect anthem to the world’s alpha males, sung by one of their own, is subtly undermined by the reactions of others and the encroaching reality of failure.
When we talk about toxic masculinity, what makes it different than just masculinity is how it galvanizes the man as infallible and untouchable. The man who says,”Don’t try to teach me, got nothing to learn,” is a danger to others AND to himself. Invulnerability isn’t just a lapse of humanity when maintained: it’s highly toxic. While there may be a lot of glory in his vaingloriousness (as the gorgeousness of this video shows) that glory ultimately falls down because “the man” can never admit that he is in need.
“The man” doesn’t just lack empathy, he blocks himself from receiving it. Only admiration, respect, or worship will do.
Consider never being able to show or admit weakness, never being able to ask for help. If there’s anything terrible about the heights of hubris it is the way that it keeps the prideful person from ever having any relief or rest in the arms of others. We can side-step “the man” easily with an eye roll or a walk away, but he remains poisoned in own isolation.
He who is an island unto himself typically earns our scorn or dismissal, and rightly so. What the video for “The Man” solicits for this lost boy is our empathy.
And neither gender is safe from sliding into the man’s self-made trap. As women continue to shatter more glass ceilings and we find ourselves more and more seated in places of power, we have to be watchful that we don’t fall for this same lie. Superman may be an exhausted concept, but the call to be superwomen has never been more in vogue. I celebrate female superheroes as giddly as the next woman. This is why l need caution when it comes to the super the demands l make on myself.
In grad school classes where l was the only female student in the room, or even one of only 3-5 women, l felt the full weight of not failing womankind. Don’t be too aggressive, but neither be too emotional. Always prove our intelligence, forever be rebuking sexist sterotypes. It becomes all too easy to lose yourself, and these are the seeds of invulnerability that can grow into toxic femininity. Invulnerability is not a masculine quality, and while it may come I handy against the god of war or punching a Skrill in the face, we still want our heroes to have weaknesses, to need others the way we do.
Feminism we are preaching to our daughters in telling them that women can be proactive princesses and need not wait for men to save us is good. So let’s not swing the pendulum so far the other way that we begin to believe women never need saviors or that we can’t have needs. To be your own savior, constantly, to always bring your A-game, never flinch nor cower nor confuse, that is a burden neither gender should shoulder.