Donald Trump presents in high relief the result of one way of being masculine. Jared Yates Sexton in the NY Times points out the high psychological and physical costs of this model of masculinity:
Growing up in a factory family in small-town Indiana, I led an uncertain life with only a few constants: fear of losing it all, frustration with a world out of our control and the ever-present need to “be a man,” a phrase that always carried with it an air of responsibility and torment. To be a man was to maintain the appearance of toughness, to never let on that you were weak or in pain.
It was a command I heard repeatedly at home and around town, handed down by my stepfather and role models. My stepdad was fond of saying, “Boys don’t cry — crying’s for women.” One of my high school football coaches gave injured players this choice: “You a football player or are you a little girl?”
Donald J. Trump, especially the Donald J. Trump we heard last week on tape, is nothing new to me. His macho-isms, his penchant for dividing the world into losers and winners, his lack of empathy for anyone but himself — it all reminds me of home, and the sense I had, even as a boy, of a system of privilege that has ailed this country since its beginnings, but now seems to be, and sees itself, fading away.
Taking refuge in traditional masculinity is a coping mechanism that works only so much as it deadens a man and his emotions. In its most pure state, masculinity is a hardening shell meant to protect men from the disappointments and travails of life, a self-delusion that preserves them from feeling overwhelmed by the odds against them.
Mr. Trump was not lying in this week’s presidential debate when he called his offensive conversation “locker room talk.” I heard similar chatter among my teammates as they laced up their cleats and donned their pads for a big game. Young men brag about sexual conquests, demean those who have denied them and dehumanize their opponents, real and imagined. Fear precipitates this chatter — a fear of pain, a fear of mortality, a fear of rejection and, most of all, a fear of inadequacy.
They’re the fears of a child, and most men outgrow them. But for various reasons, not all do. Their masculinity, already a coping mechanism, becomes toxic.
I’ve heard men attack the character of women in the same tone that an uncle of mine once used to call for the nuclear annihilation of the entire Middle East and the murder of every last Arab man, woman and child. I’ve heard men utter un-American things, things that directly contradict our country’s highest ideals, and then excuse it all with one of Mr. Trump’s pet phrases: “We live in the real world.”
But the real world — complicated foreign policy questions, confusing social change, economic dislocation — is precisely what toxic masculinity is trying to avoid. It’s bigger than any one person, which makes it a threat to men who cling to the belief that they alone control their fate.
Though such masculinity might temporarily shelter men from the pressures of their daily lives, inevitably it robs them of their lives: Disturbing trends show that men, especially the white men who make up a majority of Mr. Trump’s base, are suffering greatly for their posturing.
From 2009 to 2014, while mortality rates fell for all other Americans ranging from ages 22 to 56, they rose for middle-aged whites, with most of the fatalities coming from what experts are calling “despair deaths,” including drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease and suicide, all consequences of unhealthy coping mechanisms. More and more men are also suffering and dying from heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the disease that claimed my father, a man who was so proud and so concerned with upholding his masculinity that he refused to see a doctor for decades, until it was too late. . .
See also this article in the Washington Post about the growing number of men who are not employed and not looking for work. From the article:
. . . Princeton professor Alan Krueger, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor and former chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, has taken a look at the same data — but he came away with a different conclusion.
What stood out to him is that a lot of these men say they are in considerable pain.
In a recently released draft of his paper, which he will present at a Federal Reserve conference in Boston on Friday, Krueger finds that 44 percent of male, prime-age labor force dropouts say they took pain medication the day prior — which is more than twice the rate reported by employed men. . .