Imagine the howls of social justice outrage if a major university’s Men’s Studies Department (if that were even a thing) created a program for women to re-examine and deconstruct their toxic femininity, or if a White Studies Department (bear with me here) launched a program for blacks to rethink and dismantle their toxic blackness, or if the campus straight community hosted an event for LGBTs to reject their toxic sexuality, and so on. The architects of such offensive programs would be tarred and feathered.
A culturally acceptable version of these scenarios, however, is precisely what is beginning to spread on campuses across the country now. The Duke Men’s Project, launched this month and hosted by the Duke University Women’s Center, offers a nine-week program for “male-identified” students to address such “toxic” masculine issues as male privilege, patriarchy, the language of dominance, rape culture, pornography, and machismo.
One member of the Men’s Project leadership team said the goal is to create a safe space for male students in which to “critique and analyze their own masculinity and toxic masculinities to create healthier ones.” Another member of the leadership team said the program would help men “proactively deconstruct our masculinity.”
The Duke program is patterned after a similar one at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill – co-sponsored and supported by the Carolina Women's Center – in which participants are asked to consider how masculinity plays a harmful influence in their lives. The goal of that program is “to shift the culture of masculinity toward more non-violent norms,” suggesting that violence is the norm among men.
On the other side of the country, at Claremont College last week, a group called 5Cs Thrive hosted a “Masculinity + Mental Health” event. “Masculinity can be extremely toxic to our mental health, both to the people who are pressured to perform it and the people who are inevitably influenced by it,” say the workshop’s organizers, stating outright that masculinity is some sort of mental illness.