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We Need to Set the Record Straight on ‘Masculinity Classes’

Tucker Carlson and Jordan Peterson are foaming at the mouths over a sinister threat to good old-fashioned boyhood: teaching kindness

Perpetually confused former bowtie model Tucker Carlson is worried about the children. Not the kids who may never see their parents again because our government separated thousands of migrant families at the border, but the kids enrolled in American schools, who are always at risk of learning something that sounds very scary to the ancient paranoiacs hooked up to Fox News like it’s an IV drip.

Specifically, Carlson doesn’t want young males to hear the words “toxic masculinity.”

So he invited Dr. Jordan B. Peterson — a man with rather gruesome gender politics himself — to appear on his show and complain about this badly overhyped threat to good old-fashioned boyhood.

For starters, it’s not like they’re talking about an established program set to roll out nationwide this fall with the blessing of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Carlson has his sweaty balls in an uproar over a single academic paper, which he definitely didn’t read, by Kathleen Elliott, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The article contends that schools, as “socializing institutions,” have “an important role to play in challenging [the] inequalities” wrought by damaging gender norms. The precepts of “men’s projects,” which offer training and activities designed to get guys examining and questioning male culture in new ways, could be effectively applied as early as kindergarten, Elliot writes.

This is a proposal. An idea.

These cretins, however, make it sound as if a squad of feminazi stormtroopers have already ambushed your son’s classroom and forcibly dressed him in a tutu.

And while it’s funny, in an excruciatingly awkward way, to watch Carlson fail in his repeated efforts to set Peterson up for one reactionary talking point or another — that gender is biologically fixed, for example — their unified front against even mentioning toxic masculinity in front of boys or adult men gives away their broader rhetorical position: Any effort to critique or change our expectations of what makes someone a man is an attack on males themselves.

“Toxic masculinity,” to them, encompasses and denigrates the “boy stuff” they see as non-feminine, like basic arithmetic and eating worms at recess. That’s how they conjure the phantom imagery of teachers bellowing “YOU’RE ALL GIRLS NOW!!” to a classroom of terrified 5-year-olds, when they know damn well these issues would be taught in step with the usual toy-sharing and empathy material.

So What Is a “Masculinity Class” Really Like?

Elliott and other advocates for early discussions of masculinity are in no way out to punish the lads for playing with trucks or pretending to be Batman or whatever behavior the talking-head misogynists are afraid will be forbidden. On the contrary, they want to promote healthy esteem and introspection.

Camp Nick, an after-school “masculinity camp” in Santa Monica with attendees as young as 8, is focused on ideals like responsibility and mutual respect.

Colleen Clemens, director of women’s and gender studies at Kutztown University, writes: “We need to stop telling the boys and the men in our lives to ‘man up’ when they dare to show emotion or pain. We need to encourage them to drop the ‘tough guise’ and let them grow up with space for tenderness.”

“If people don’t understand what people mean when talking about toxic masculinity, then maybe we haven’t done a very good job defining it,” Nick Tucker says. He’s the man who developed and leads Camp Nick, which MEL profiled last year. A failure to define the phrase is indeed one of Peterson’s gripes in the Carlson segment. “With that said,” Tucker continues, “it needs to be made perfectly clear that what many of us are doing is trying to get rid of the box (or widen it at the least) that says you’re a ‘man.’”

“What I do stemmed out of my own struggles and misbeliefs,” Tucker says. “Deep down, all I want boys to know is that emotions are okay. … It doesn’t make you less of a man. The reason I took this on is because what the box of masculinity did to me. It made me lash out. It made me escape when I needed to stand … hide when I needed to be seen.”

There Are More Ways to Be a Man Than Brute Authority

Clemens points to the Good Men Project’s favored explanation of “The Difference Between Toxic Masculinity and Being a Man” — the exact dimension that Carlson and Peterson can’t or won’t acknowledge, all the while moaning that younger children couldn’t hope to intuit such a moral guardrail. “Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression,” the essay states (putting the lie to Peterson’s claim that the term is dangerously vague or meaningless).

Combating the poison element, then, means showing boys that they are not beholden to these primal hierarchies unless they choose to be. Masculinity courses give them options for self-realization as a man beyond the typical blueprint of brute authority, and an outlet for expressing aspects of their identity they’ve been told to bottle up and bury deep within themselves. This is not “indoctrination,” nor the imposing of “ideology.” It’s just a way to let boys open up.

‘Manhood Is Not Under Attack’

Carlson is a hopeless case with airtime to fill and phony outrage to spare. Peterson, though, whose entire cause is theoretically aimed at helping men improve their lives, should understand that recognizing a need to address the worst element of received masculine models — a strain of thought that holds boys back and can ultimately turn them into sexists, abusers and rapists — is not the same as saying “masculinity is evil.”

His droning on about overall dropping crime rates cutely evades current crises of manhood like suicide, #MeToo and mass shootings, offering a refutation of a point nobody was making. Kathleen Elliott’s paper didn’t say that toxic masculinity is getting worse, or driving a spike in burglary — only that we can and ought to treat it, for the boys’ own sake. I guess Peterson believes they’re not tough enough for a little reflection.

“Manhood is not under attack,” Tucker stressed. “There are a lot of traditions that are worthwhile and don’t need fixing.” But there are measures we can take to “coexist peacefully in this society.” As for starting early, in kindergarten, he said there’s no problem, “because all we are really talking about is being kind to yourself and to others.”

And what kindergarten shouldn’t teach that?