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Attacks on masculinity have become commonplace in our culture. The term “toxic masculinity” has found a foothold in common vernacular as well as in academic, political and social discourse.

While toxicity can be a side effect or unintended consequence of any character trait, I am disturbed by the lack of virtuous masculinity in current culture. The positives of masculinity can only be present in a man with moral and emotional grounding. Without this grounding, the traits of masculinity lead to negativity such as violence as opposed to assertiveness or dominance as opposed to leadership. Rather than deemphasizing masculinity, we should be amplifying the positive emotional and moral traits of men to harness the positivity of masculinity for the betterment of our society.

In his 1943 essay, The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis famously discussed the failures of a society that raises “men without chests” (Lewis, 1943).  While often quoted Lewis’ meaning is often misunderstood.  A common notion is that Lewis is referring to a simple definition of a strong man. However, the chest Lewis is referring to is the emotional and moral center that connects the  cerebral part of man represented by the head and the visceral man represented by the stomach.  Thus, what Lewis was stating is it’s the moral and emotional aspect of man, the heart, that allows the mind to control the aggressive desires and makes a truly masculine man.

The visceral man uncontained is what makes masculinity toxic.  Men are by biology and culturally the more aggressive of the sexes.  In a male animal, this is the drive that hunts for food, protects females and offspring and fends off other male animals. In the human animal, this aggressive drive also fuels the protective instincts but also guides us to excel in all fields of endeavor and to seek to achieve despite risk.

Uncontrolled by the emotion and morality, or what Lewis called the chest, these same aggressive drives fuel violence, crime, emotional and physical abuse and lack of accountability.  These are toxic traits associated with the male sex.  But are they masculine?  Lewis would argue that masculinity comes from harnessing these traits with morality is what is truly masculine.

The Issue of rising violent crime in certain communities can be correlated with a decrease in masculine presence in the home. Per the US Census Bureau (Census Bureau 2016) the rate of children living with a mother only from 1960 to 2016 went from 8% to 23%.  In that same time period, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS 2018), total crime rate per 100,000 rose from 1,887 to 2,849.  While correlation does not equal causation, a strong argument can be made that a lack of a masculine role model in the home, to teach young boys traditionally male moral and emotional values, leads to young men without Lewis’ chests who are all visceral with no moral connection to their cerebral. The consequence of this is unchecked male aggressive drive which leads to aberrant behavior and criminal activity.

If masculine behavior is not tempered with virtue, none of the positives can be realized. Virtue and morality are what turn aggression and dominance into drive and achievement.  President Kennedy said in a speech at Cape Canaveral in 1962 “We chose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they were easy but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and others, too” (Kennedy 1962)  While the contributions of woman and aspects of femineity are not to be diminished, it is clear the virtuous application of masculinity is what drove accomplishments such as the moon landing.  Kennedy in his speech exemplified the  masculine traits of aggression and dominance harnessed as competition, with the clear subtext of the speech read against the backdrop of the cold war. Further, the masculine trait of courage which is recklessness tempered by morality, allowed us as a nation to pursue such a fraught endeavor.

Put in another way, Jordan Peterson has said “A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control."Petersen) Like Lewis, Petersen recognizes masculinity alone is not toxic.  Toxicity concerning man comes with the absence of virtue and moral and emotional clarity. For our society to thrive, we need not to deemphasize masculinity as toxic and instead defend and promote the positive masculinity, the chest, that defends and advances human culture.

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