TOXIC MASCULINITY AND FRANKENSTEIN
Four years ago I moved from Hobbit land (The New Forest), to Boscombe, in Bournemouth. When I told people I was moving to Boscombe they looked worried. "You might get stabbed." "Be careful." "Boscombe is dangerous." Thankfully, I am alive and kicking. Boscombe is a friendly place. And whilst I rarely walk the streets late at night, I feel safe here. But a short walk from my house stands St. Peter's church. In it lies the body of Mary Shelley, with the heart of her dead husband (the poet Percy-Bysshe-Shelley), snatched last minute from a funeral pyre.
Mary Shelley, 200 years ago, birthed a monster- Frankenstein. Her horror story gave us a powerful image of 'Toxic Masculinity.' An 8 foot tall, hideously ugly man, patched together from bits and pieces of stolen flesh. Wherever he goes the monster is hated and feared.
He was not born a monster. No man is. But he becomes one- through every cruelty and injustice he faces. The creature is brought into the world alone and without a purpose. Lacking a purpose and without love, his strength and potential turn bad. He wants to do good- he saves a young woman from drowning, but is shot. He gathers wood for a poor family, but is chased away. People despise him wherever he goes. He yearns for friendship, community and a partner. He wants to belong and do good.
The monster doesn't stand a chance. At every turn he is rejected- he feels utterly alone. Injustice burns in his heart- he wanted to help and serve. But when this desire turns to rage, he becomes violent and dangerous. And so he leaves behind a trail of dead bodies.
When men are unable to find community, friendship and purpose, they turn bad. Most will end up turning their anger and frustration on themselves. They will lose themselves in addictions: drugs, gambling, overeating, overworking- self destructive behaviour of every kind. And Boscombe is full of these men. Men whose hatred and rage destroy their lives. But some will become outwardly violent. Their anger will spill out into domestic and public violence.
Men want to help. An engineer friend overheard a young woman talking to a boiler servicing company. My friend knew the woman was being ripped off. The woman was in tears on the phone. His urge was to help her. To speak firmly with the boiler people, and sort-out the problem. But he didn't- because too often he has been labelled an 'interfering-power-hungry-man'. This friend is helpful. And he knows what he's doing- he changed all the leaky taps in my flat, he re-glued my door frame after I had to kick it down. He's helpful, quick and reliable. He's not interested in having power over women, or people- I've known him for years- he's genuinely kind and helpful. But often his helpfulness has been misjudged- some women think he wants power-over them- that he wants to dominate. And be the dominant man. The Alpha male. The top dog. He just wants to help.
When men are prevented from following their instinct to help, the masculine in them turns toxic. Not always in a big, dramatic way- the poisoning of a man starts with doubt and fear. He doubts himself, and his place in the world. He questions his purpose. Some courageous men find a way out. They are the modern day heroes. The champions of the Masculine. Men like Plumber James Anderson, who has earned worldwide attention after he refused to charge an elderly customer for work on her boiler. A receipt for the work shows a 91-year-old woman with leukaemia would not be charged "under any circumstances". Men want to protect the weak and help those in need. The strength of the masculine is invigorated by service. Men need a purpose. Without one- we become monsters.