Dusty Attics, Men, and
Sergio Sandoval Moreno is a Paris-based Latinx drag queen (@tabistone) with a master’s degree in gender studies from L’université de Paris-VIII. Here he discusses the topic of toxic masculinity, reflecting on his own experiences being from a Colombian family in Spain and having studied the topic in academia.
MASCULINITY HAS TO CHANGE. Some may even say that the concept of it should be completely erased, whereas others may suggest that what really needs to change is our perception of what masculinity actually means. However, they all can agree that masculinity needs to at least be brought into question. Proponents of feminism and queer activism know it very well, so they are trying to change the shape of our world by grappling with this problem. No matter what, though, masculinity needs to be confronted not only for women but also for men.
A recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows the impact of hegemonic masculinity—in other words, toxic masculinity—in men’s health. The research explains that men who develop such toxic behaviors have higher risks for traffic accidents, premature death, and certain chronic illnesses as a result of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and poor diet. So, what can we do about this? Where can we find new alternative masculinities that will be able to lead us into a better future with less violent and healthier men?
I am Latino. So I can say, having growing up as a queer kid of two Colombian parents in Spain, I experienced a stereotypical machismo every single day of my life. This made me develop a critical eye toward masculinity pretty quickly. From a very young age, I started to perceive men as those who are angry, those who hurt, and those who break. As a result, I had plenty of questions about men, and some years later I found myself diving into books about feminism and queer theory.
As a student in gender studies, I used to think that research, queer activism, and even feminism would be good places to find solutions to these problems associated with toxic masculinity. I had the idea that—contrary to other humanities disciplines—the academic gender studies spaces were not dusty old attics where ideas are just silently piled up to never see the light of day. However, during the first year of my master’s program, I attended an open seminar that made me understand that I was wrong.
In November 2019, I attended a seminar called "An Intersectional Interpretation of the Masculinity Crisis." The panel was composed of different personalities, all having very interesting ideas. However, one panelist particularly stood out to me, and probably to everybody else: Victoire Tuaillon, an author and journalist whose podcast and book Les couilles sur la table focuses on discussing different aspects of masculinity from a critical feminist point of view. Her contributions to the panel undoubtedly caused a stir in the room, leading to palpable tension. Victoire Tuaillon explained both to the panel and the public that, thanks to the success of her program, multiple men had written to her expressing how listening to her podcast had made them understand their own sexist behaviors; most shockingly, some even confessed that they were guilty of being rapists. She continued to explain that the majority of these men had felt lost in terms of becoming a "different" kind of man and finding paths towards alternative forms of masculine identity. It seemed as if what she was saying was that the world has changed, and that all the tools acquired by men to navigate through the world are now by consequence obsolete. After delving into this, Tuaillon wanted to know if the academic researchers and students at the seminar were able to present her any references of books, movies, or other cultural content that could serve as examples of alternative masculinities.
"They did have very good points to make, but not a single academic or student was able to answer her simple question about where to find examples of healthy masculinities. It seemed then to me as if I had all along been in a dusty attic."
Rather than answering this, some of the lecturers, being justifiably troubled by the rape confessions, told her that she should go to the police, or make the authors of those terrible letters confess to their actual victims. Others said that she should not answer these men because she should not let them use her as their personal confessional. One of them even theorized about how the letters could be compared to rape itself as an uninvited act of "penetration." They did have very good points to make, but not a single academic or student was able to answer her simple question about where to find examples of healthy masculinities. It seemed then to me as if I had all along been in a dusty attic. It seemed as if those I had thought were able to find the necessary solutions to toxic masculinity were actually not in the place to do so. However, if this is the case, where can these solutions be found? Academic spaces can maybe give us clues on how to repair the broken compass of masculinity, but perhaps it is not able to provide concrete answers. It simply is not their goal; it has never been their goal. Actually, that goal of finding ways to repair the compass should belong to no other group than men themselves.
A constantly shifting world where forms of feminism and queer activism are managing to create great changes for good is desperately asking for platforms and spaces to create new identities. Yet, it is not the gender academics or feminist activists who will provide the solutions to this problem. Men need to create their own new devices to adapt to our new world and places where men are able to invent new ways of living, regardless of their background, identity, or sexuality. In some ways, they need to start from scratch in creating spaces to reconcile with themselves, where masculinity does not have a singular definition. And in order to do this, they themselves need the room to make it up.