The Language of Apologetic Politics
Toxic Masculinity And Microaggressions
Recently, I realize that those who are the most privileged are the beneficiaries of more political correctness than I would like to give them, which has caused me to reevaluate how I feel about sensitivity. Undoubtedly, I am a big fan of political correctness. Behaving in an offensive manner is never a good idea, so I think we should all be careful about what we say and how we act. For a while, I was a big proponent of the notion that this type of sensitivity should only be reserved for marginalized people who really need political correctness. In other words, I did not believe that I should worry about hurting the feelings of white men. However, my instinct is to phrase my political correctness preferences without mentioning white men, even if their presence is still felt in the undertones. Instead, I would say that I have no intention of being nice to people with a history of serious hate, especially if they were making no active effort to rectify that history.
Every time I mentioned things like toxic masculinity and microaggressions, I was definitively criticizing white men, but I rarely specifically called them out because I did not want to be offensive. After all, there are white men who have proven themselves to be good allies and I do not want to attack these men. Ironically, these men are almost always okay with checking their own privilege and taking the criticism targeted directly at them as an opportunity to improve. Anyone who went on the defensive when called out eventually turned out to be a substandard ally. The white men who held themselves accountable never got annoyed, insecure, defensive, or angry when someone like me called them out. They were already singling themselves out, accepting responsibility for their conscious or implicit bias, so they knew that they could learn by listening to the criticism.
Essentially, the men I was actively trying to avoid offending were not the men who ever felt offended. They did not feel as though they needed to be on the receiving end of any sort of sensitivity or politeness. Meanwhile, those that needed to be called out were the ones who insisted that they were not deserving of any sort of condemnation, touting sayings like “not all men”. It made me wonder if I should stop differentiating between masculinity and toxic masculinity.
In my experience, it is definitely possible to be masculine without being toxic. My friends and I have become fond of the phrase “wholesome masculinity”. The most wholesome men would have no problem with me generalizing masculinity, treating it like something that is inherently problematic, even though it may not be problematic if society were a little bit different. They would take no issue with me if I failed to specify when I was talking about wholesome masculinity and when I was talking about toxic masculinity. However, I wanted to be accurate. I wanted to be politically correct. I wanted to ensure that I was only targeting those that deserved targeting. Therefore, I put thought into careful phrasing and terminology in order to protect the egos of men whose masculinities ended up being undoubtedly toxic. This caution was ineffective because, in order to actually combat the patriarchy, I would need to confront certain types of men. I would need to convince them that they do not get a pass in trying to undo the years of socialization that has caused them to view women as objects. They may not have ever consciously objectified a woman, but they will always be part of the problem if they are not trying to fix it. By distinguishing between toxic masculinity and wholesome masculinity, I would give nonviolent men the notion that they were allowed to distance themselves from the problem just because they were not as bad as the violent men were.
In a similar vein, I wondered if I should stop differentiating between microaggressions and actual aggressions. Microaggressions are seen as small examples of bias that people of color face on a daily basis. Individual microaggressions may not be enough to be considered racism. However, when microaggressions occur repeatedly, it is easy to see that these small possibly racist acts are not isolated incidences. It is difficult to pinpoint which perpetrators are racists, which simply have unconscious bias, and which treat every person with complete equality. However, racism is undoubtedly at play much of time. It is just initially difficult to spot this racism, which is why I sometimes preferred not to refer to these acts as actual aggressions. Instead, most agree that they are microaggressions.
There is always the chance that these acts are not acts of hate or bias, but some of them are and they need to be called out. Unfortunately, we use language that probably fails in this task. The white people who already hold themselves accountable would not be offended if I called all white people racist. However, the white people who are somewhat racist would definitely be offended. By saying that something is just a microaggression, some white people may feel as though they are exempt from trying to correct their implicit biases. They may believe that their behaviors are the microaggressions that are just misinterpreted as hate. However, they need to recognize that people who face hate and microaggressions need white people to make an active effort to create a positive environment for people of color whenever possible.
Basically, social political rhetoric can almost be used as a test to see who among the white male community is a good ally and who is not. The allies will support political correctness, but they do not mind if they are the targets of small lapses in sensitivity because they know that they can still improve themselves. Meanwhile, everyone else is probably against political correctness, but they still insist that they be the recipients of a certain degree of sensitivity, even though they are the ones that need it least. The paradoxes posed by the terminology that I use has made me wonder if I should alter the way I speak. On the one hand, I want to reward those who have stood behind me by excluding them from my attacks against toxic masculinity and microaggressions. On the other hand, I want to ensure that nobody believes that they are excused from making an active effort at reaching a world of equality.
Fighting prejudice should not get you a reward. It is common sense and you should not need a seal of approval for it. Still, a lack of reward might alienate some people. It is a sad reality that probably stemmed from entitlement and privilege, but I cannot dismiss the fact that I could avoid making enemies by choosing to stick to innocuous language. They may be substandard allies, but I would rather have a bad ally than have a vocal enemy. Therefore, I will continue to differentiate between toxic masculinity and wholesome masculinity. I will continue to differentiate between an actual aggression and a microaggression. I may not believe that I should have to make these distinctions, but the times to do not call for broad acts of foolish idealism. Some people might think they are exempt from trying to help make the world a better place, but I do not think harsher language is going to help. It will just make these people feel ostracized.