It has been alarming to witness the ban or severe limitations of abortion in several States, as well as the extreme legal consequences being laid out for women, if they are to seek abortions. What has been equally disturbing, is watching men in my life be totally quiet in response to this ban, actively defend or justify it, or go as far as attacking anyone who suggests men should actually take on (more) moral, ethical, and legal responsibility for contraception, and unwanted pregnancies.
Watching male identified people behave like this has me further believe that most men are unwilling to truly, earnestly face their male privilege.
For example, I see men who claim to be feminists, continue to justify putting women’s bodies at risk repeatedly, by whining about wearing condoms when faced with having to put one on. As clearly, in that moment, their pleasure is more important than a woman being protected from STDs (the person being penetrated has a MUCH higher risk of contracting an STD), pregnancy, and a possible miscarriage, or the experience and after-effects of abortion. Not to mention, a woman could DIE from abortion, miscarriage, pregnancy, and childbirth. So in essence, a man is willing to assume this possible risk, in these situations where he could potentially impregnate a woman. Do not get me started on the fact that we still haven’t figured out how to test men for HPV (or our system hasn’t prioritized learning to test for it in men…), where many strains of this virus are extremely common AND cause cervical cancer in women. Again, death for women seems like a risk men are willing to take.
And, sadly, women are taught to value their well-being less than a man’s pleasure, so will willingly place themselves in these positions with the man they are attracted to and/or love, for the sake of pleasing him and (possibly) sharing “love”. Plus, condoms are uncomfortable, so many of us women can readily justify harming ourselves for the added pleasure and positive consequence of not denying the men we feel attraction to and/or love. But, this article is not about sexism and patriarchy’s effect on women and their desires, sexuality, and relational exchanges when in the bedroom. Forgive me for digressing.
Back to the main topic.
I believe that many men will likely not face their privilege (and thus avoid taking any real action to protect and defend women’s bodies, pleasure, and lives) unless it is presented to them in terms of how they are also being harmed by benefiting from this male-bodied privilege. This makes sense, as when a person benefits from privilege, they often feel they are relinquishing their identity, dignity and power to admit their existence automatically harms others in the system, that they perhaps haven’t earned the way they have it “easy”, and thus somehow their suffering seems pathetic, unimportant, or meaningless. Being White, able-bodied, middle class, cis-ish, straight-passing, and American, I understand, as I have to also face my resistance to seeing, and doing something about, my own privilege, on a daily basis.
The term “toxic masculinity” is one I love to bring up, because it encourages men to first connect to how being a man, and often cis-gendered / male identified, in our system, isn’t actually working out so well for them. It then encourages men to perhaps have an emotional investment in taking action to help end oppression for everyone affected by sexism, heterosexism, patriarchy, and misogyny.
So, you may ask, “How is toxic masculinity involved in this abortion abolition, craze?”
Let me start with describing toxic masculine sexuality.
Through toxic masculinity, men are not empowered to take control of protecting their bodies, their loved ones, and their own and their loved one’s futures, from the possibility of contracting or spreading STDs, as well as dealing with unwanted pregnancy.
A man may claim he loves a woman dearly and would protect her in every other context, yet still, throughout their relationship, apply strong pressure to have unprotected sex. Many of these men essentially throw a tantrum when “their woman” attempt to get them to wear a condom, or even ejaculate outside of her body. Then, with an unwanted pregnancy, if this woman decides to get an abortion, they may judge her harshly. Or alternately, if the woman chooses to keep the baby, they may defiantly claim he won’t be a part of the child’s life, because he wasn’t that “in to” the woman anyway, or that he simply didn’t want a child in the first place. If she lives through the pregnancy and childbirth, the woman will have a child for life, that a man co-created, and yet he is somehow able to disconnect from any responsibility to care for a being he created?! He now has to live with knowing he created a child (or several) he is not involved with, or adequately helping to care for. Imagine living with that?! That is the epitome of disempowerment to have no will or capacity to care for a woman who is the mother of your children, while also neglecting the children you created.
I understand that this is where other forms of oppression intersect with the experience of sexuality. Men who experience other overlapping forms of oppression as a part of life, are harmed even more by the scripts of toxic masculinity, and have less resources and power to change or filter the effects of these scripts in their own lives. I genuinely have compassion for how difficult it must be to be a black man, where the primary scripts available for you in how to be a man, are likely rift with trauma and toxic masculinity, and even if you have the desire to set things “right”, you may not have the money, accessibility, or resources to alter these scripts in your self, pay child support, or even be a present father.
Having said this, I am not intending to wag a finger at any man, even in the midst of what I have written so far, but merely pointing out how incredibly painful and disempowering it is, on many levels to be a medium for toxic masculinity.
Having named the piece around intersecting oppressions men face, I want to look more specifically at how it is, with the influence of toxic masculinity, that men are ok with not taking control of their health, future, and life enough, to avoid taking these risks?
In the context of sex, many men have learned not to take care of themselves or others. Men receive the message from very early on that to “be a man”, they must be seductive, goal-focused, and impulsive in their sexuality, to gain pleasure, status and worth (a.k.a. power) through essentially convincing a woman to have (unprotected) sex, and often times valuing his (fantasy and societally -based) pace and enjoyment over hers. He is supposed to return to his friend group with stories of how he asserted ultimate power and control, by curating and leading the entire sexual experience, while not once asking himself if he truly even wanted the sexual experience in the first place. According to toxic masculinity, a man is a sex machine, who clearly should follow the script of going “all out”, and attaining the greatest pleasure, power, and status for himself that he can get, which often leaves out protecting oneself, assessing current and future risk, dealing with honest desires and feelings, negotiating pace, and forming proper consent.
And, for those men who are very deeply wounded, and have learned that they must dominate and control women, they may even harass, coerce, molest, and then rape a woman, in order to gain their power (and worth) as a man.
Sadly, because women are the viewed as the ones who are inherently caring and nurturing, through the toxic masculinity script, men expect them to do all the caring, and thus, men become emotionally and relationally stunted in this context, and don’t learn they actually have the capacity to care more, and it is sexy (and healthy) to care for themselves and another too.
Additionally, through toxic masculinity, men are mentally stunted in this realm of sexuality. At the extreme, men learn they are slaves to believing they are truly at the whims of their sexual desires and erections, and have come to believe they cannot exercise good judgment when faced with a chance to climax into another person’s body. That, to think ahead and responsibly about STDs or pregnancy makes them weak or unattractive, as having reservations about sex, and also possessing critical thinking abilities, are simply something for women to have.
This then extends to men in positions of political, legislative power.
To take it a step further, this lack of mentalization, emotionality and empathy around self and other care/protection, promoted through toxic masculinity, leads to male politicians happily making decisions about abortion, without even considering the damage this decision also has upon their fellow men, or upon they themselves. Not to mention, they are clearly not well-practiced in considering the subjectivity and person-hood of women, as they have been taught that in regard to sexuality, to be “a man”, they shouldn’t do this.
I will not get into how religion plays a part in reinforcing the training men get with toxic masculinity, as this is for another article, and I don’t want to get into a pro-life/pro-choice debate here in the comments. But, let’s just say, in the climate of toxic masculinity, men are encouraged to value clear, black and white, religious ideology and morality, as a priority over the lived consequences to themselves for unprotected sex, and the actual women their decisions effect, because they have already been primed to do so. Toxic masculinity offers a script in how to be a manly man that completely dehumanizes the sexual experience, and prioritizes objectification of all parties, over the actual lived experiences and subjectivity of both people.
How sad it is that a man has learned to value abstractions and fantasy about his partner, and his and her power, pleasure, and the interaction, as a way to maintain masculinity, over his lived experience, and especially the lived experience and subjectivity of those he supposedly loves? And this leads to absurd laws governing women’s bodies, that even mandate death or jail time, related to sexual acts they have with men.
So, for all you men out there reading this article, I really hope you are considering how deeply painful and damaging toxic masculinity is for the way you relate to being a sexual partner. I also hope you are able to begin to recognize how much this abortion ban will directly or indirectly cause you harm, as a consequence of toxic masculinity, and the ways you have learned to navigate your sexuality.
Perhaps you may take (more) action against these abortion bans and their legal consequences?
Please face your privilege through dismantling the way toxic masculinity has influenced your sexuality.
We women really need you to do this. Right now. Not later. NOW.