The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making

The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making

The author of The People Are Going to Rise Upon Your Shore turns his keen eye to our current crisis of masculinity using his upbringing in a rural, patriarchal home as an entry point to consider the personal and societal dangers of performative genderBased on his provocative and popular New York Times op-ed, The Man They Wanted Me to Be is both memoir and cultural analysis. Ja...

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Title:The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making
Author:Jared Yates Sexton
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The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making Reviews

  • Thomas

    An essential book for destroying the patriarchy and creating better men for us all. In

    , Jared Yates Sexton writes about his and his family's experience of toxic masculinity, the research showing toxic masculinity's negative health and relational consequences, and how toxic masculinity contributes to Trump and the rise of the alt-right. I loved how Sexton shares his personal story with us, how he started out as a soft, sensitive child and hardened after experiencing abus

    An essential book for destroying the patriarchy and creating better men for us all. In

    , Jared Yates Sexton writes about his and his family's experience of toxic masculinity, the research showing toxic masculinity's negative health and relational consequences, and how toxic masculinity contributes to Trump and the rise of the alt-right. I loved how Sexton shares his personal story with us, how he started out as a soft, sensitive child and hardened after experiencing abuse and problematic masculine role models, outside of his mother and grandfather. Through his sharing in this book, Sexton emulates how more men, especially white men, should act: confronting our trauma with self-compassion while owning up to the ways we perpetuate misogyny and other forms of oppression. I appreciated how he wrote about going to therapy and the courage it takes to seek help.

    Sexton also does a splendid job incorporating research about masculinity throughout this book. He does so in a way that adds context and builds to the narrative instead of distracting from it. He writes about how boys are socialized to repress emotions instead of anger, to devalue anything that is perceived as "feminine," and to enact aggression and violence to prove their masculinity. As exemplified by his father's story, Sexton links this socialization to how men often do not seek help for their health issues later on in life, leading to their earlier deaths compared to women. Throughout

    , Sexton also makes clear men's culpability in carrying out mass shootings and other acts of devastating violence.

    Overall, I would highly recommend this book to everyone, especially men and to those interested in masculinity and feminism. This book feels like an important addition to the iconic

    by bell hooks. Indeed, we do need more men, especially white men, owning up to our complicity in toxic masculinity and showing how we can change it for the better. I will note that I wish Sexton had touched on how hegemonic white male masculinity often traps men of color, queer men, men at the intersection of those identities and more, etc. in its lethal grasp. I also wish Sexton had qualified his idea in the last section of the book that the answer to these issues includes showing men love. While I agree with the importance of showing men love, those harmed by men (e.g., femmes, women of color) should not have to bear the burden of making men better, a point to which I think Sexton agrees. Still, a fantastic read I hope people will pick up in 2019 and beyond.

  • Jessica Sullivan

    As the mother of a baby boy being raised into a world of Donald Trumps and Brett Kavanaughs, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to raise him right, and to me that means ensuring that he rejects toxic masculinity, both for his own good and for the good of everyone in his life.

    These days we see toxic masculinity everywhere: in the abundance of mass shootings that plague our country, the rise of “incels” and the alt-right, and—most notably—in the election of our current president, “t

    As the mother of a baby boy being raised into a world of Donald Trumps and Brett Kavanaughs, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to raise him right, and to me that means ensuring that he rejects toxic masculinity, both for his own good and for the good of everyone in his life.

    These days we see toxic masculinity everywhere: in the abundance of mass shootings that plague our country, the rise of “incels” and the alt-right, and—most notably—in the election of our current president, “the personification of white American masculinity.”

    For Jared Yates Sexton, the issue is personal, growing up with a series of abusive father figures in blue collar America. In this timely book, he combines his own stories and memories with incisive cultural analysis and critique aimed at deconstructing the insidious lie of white patriarchal masculinity.

    Tasked with the insurmountable goal of living up to the traditional ideal of masculinity, men are doomed to fall short, causing them to overcompensate in harmful ways. They often suffer in silence—resistant to expressing “feminine” emotions like sadness and tenderness—and then inflict suffering on everyone around them via “acceptable” outlets such as anger and aggression.

    Yates connects the dots in ways that make perfect sense but that I hadn’t before been able to articulate, linking toxic masculinity with everything from capitalism to military/hero worship to men’s health.

    He shows how even the most self-aware men (such as himself) can get caught up in the web of toxic masculinity, bound by traditional social constructs and antiquated ideals that are hard to overcome. And, on the other hand, how even the most toxically masculine men (such as his father) can come out on the other side.

  • David Wineberg

    The Man They Wanted Me To Be is a cathartic look at Jared’s Sexton’s life to date (He’s 38). It is a stinging condemnation of working-class white males and their attitudes. They control, berate and beat their wives and children, hate anything that doesn’t smack of white male supremacy, and are self-contained frustration bombs, ready to explode at any time.

    Sexton was a chubby, asthmatic and emotional child, which infuriated a series of men – his father and s

    The Man They Wanted Me To Be is a cathartic look at Jared’s Sexton’s life to date (He’s 38). It is a stinging condemnation of working-class white males and their attitudes. They control, berate and beat their wives and children, hate anything that doesn’t smack of white male supremacy, and are self-contained frustration bombs, ready to explode at any time.

    Sexton was a chubby, asthmatic and emotional child, which infuriated a series of men – his father and several stepfathers. He was given the ultimate crushing insult: he was “no better than a girl.” His mother bounced from one abusive relationship to another, totally unable to hook up with a reasonable man. Sexton grew up into a poor, alcoholic, frustrated and self-loathing beast of a teen and young adult. In this, he simply followed his role models.

    Sexton’s thesis is that the working-class white American male is in an impossible situation. Carrying the burden of being superior, the sole breadwinner and the hardest worker, he can show no emotion or even understanding of anyone else. He is there to be served. He has no time, patience or tolerance for variance in his vision of the perfect society. That society, the American Dream, does not exist for him, making it difficult for him to rationalize his life. Every nibble at his dreamworld – blacks getting educations, women getting equal pay, children going to university, immigrants taking the worst jobs available – all make him dig in and fight. He is open and welcoming to conspiracy theories backing his views of the world. And inevitably, he has come to see Donald Trump as his savior. Sexton says “America is a bastion of patriarchal pitfalls, and consistently reinforces toxic concepts.”

    This is called performative masculinity, and in a patriarchal society, these males must be “on” at all times. To miss that goal is to show weakness. It totally prevents any kind of intimacy, with men or even their own wives. In Sexton’s eastern Indiana in the 1980s and 90s, there was nothing else to emulate, it seems. The schoolyard reinforced it. The girls reinforced it. Sports reinforced it. It involved a lot of swearing, racism, sexism, misogyny, posing, slouching and attitude.

    It is also actually toxic. In all of the research Sexton conducted for the book, he found men are sicker, die earlier and are lonely and miserable in their self-enforced, controlling solitude. Sexton himself slept with a loaded rifle, ready to use it on himself at any time.

    The book is really about three things: Sexton’s life, the insufferable existence of men, and the rise of the alt-right to take advantage of and reinforce it. It is both a confession and a plea for readers to open their eyes. Things are the way they are in America for good reason. And more posturing isn’t going to fix it. If you can see that in the book, it is well worthwhile.

    It’s tempting to conclude that white working-class American males are the most gullible, weak and insecure examples of Homo sapiens there can be. They constantly fear for their position of superiority. They are afraid of everyone from their politicians to anyone of a different color, to their own wives and children. They fall for every idiot story that floats past.

    But of course, that’s not true. It is rather, true of people in general. Why are we puzzled that young men can be radicalized into joining ISIS by looking at websites, when mass murderer Dylan Roof self-radicalized the exact same way, except it was White Supremacy instead of ISIS? Why is Make America Great Again a genuine threat to the very existence of the USA? Sexton shows how it can be, through toxic masculinity. It leads to the breakdown of self-respect, of respect for others, of the family and ultimately of the nation, as the frustration of the isolated white male becomes the front burner issue.

    The key to the violence, Sexton concludes, is simple shame. Embarrassed by their own lack of humanity and success, men lash out. It is part of the contradiction that makes their lives impossible to live. It took his own father 59 years to realize it, admit it, reject it, and try to humanize himself. Just as he was getting a handle on it, he died, because part of toxic masculinity is never seeing a doctor.

    I learned this violence syndrome years ago in the story of freed slaves, deported to Liberia in the mid 1800s. Instead of using their new-found freedom to work with the native Liberians, they beat them into submission, kept them out of the better jobs and schooling, and perpetuated the generations of vicious lessons of the American South. As one ex-slave put it in an extraordinary admission: "How true it is, the greater the injury done to the injured, the greater the hatred of those who have done the injury!"

    David Wineberg

  • Sarah

    What's frustrating is the people who most need to read this, and would benefit from it, almost certainly won't.

  • Alex Kudera

    The strength of the book lies in the touching and meaningful memoir sections.

  • Tammy V

    I got the book from the library for the "Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis o OUr Own Making" (not kindle). That part was covered in the first and last chapters. The whole middle was an autobiography.

    Let me say that my review is colored by having been in a battering relationship for 17 years (17 - 34).

    I have little sympathy for mother's who keep their kids in this kind of danger. His mother's first marriage (from whence he came) and her 2nd (was their a third? I can't remember now

    I got the book from the library for the "Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis o OUr Own Making" (not kindle). That part was covered in the first and last chapters. The whole middle was an autobiography.

    Let me say that my review is colored by having been in a battering relationship for 17 years (17 - 34).

    I have little sympathy for mother's who keep their kids in this kind of danger. His mother's first marriage (from whence he came) and her 2nd (was their a third? I can't remember now because the book focused on the males not the females) were to violent men. Mine never touched the kids (that would not have been smart on his part), but when he broke my eye and my daughter didn't even ask about it, I knew I was teaching her about marriage. And my son, too. And I left (which is a process). Interesting to me is my leaving was about the same time as he was experiencing all this as a child. He is a year younger than my own son.

    He was from the midwest, I was from the east coast. I had to dig, but I did find support, including police support. Since 10 years later when I was working with triage in a southern maryland community where the police were always sure "she asked for it," I understand that part. But staying when her kid was being beat and belittled, I don't understand.

    As it is, he seems his whole life to have wanted the approval of his abusive birth dad. In the end he reconciled, initially through the author's getting blind drunk all the time and sharing that with his birth father who became interested. I would have told the SOB to go jump in a lake.

    The author mentions in passing that his own relationships couldn't hold but does not go into it.

    Hurt people hurt. This is not new information. They also can stand up and say "stop" and get off the wheel of disfunction.

    So when he says, toward the end of the book, "If your husband, father, brother cousin or firend is one of those people who either inexorably believes in traditional masucliity or struggles with it from time to time, if you feel safe doing so, carefully remind them that it's okay if they aren't always the stoic patriarch." So much wrong with that sentence. It not a woman or a child's responsibility to heal an abuser. If another male wants to take it on, so be it. But that is not clear in the sentence.

    I think I am the wrong demographic for this book because reading it as a woman in a toxic relationship I would see way too many wrong cures like how being hurt made them that way, for instance, which would just hook my co-dependent side.

    He should have made it clear that the book was for men, because it has nothing helpful to women caught in this mess. Especially the part where he says "to show them [the abusers] empathy and love, both of which serve as contradictions to the extremists' belief that they are endangered and live in a world bereft of care." Doesn't work. I know that experientially.

    Interesting to read his side of he whole thing, but don't if you are currently in a battering/abusive/co-dependent relationship with one of these "fragile" [his word] men.

  • Jose A

    I'm sympathetic to his viewpoint. But really this is mostly a memoir of the various ways the author and most of the men he knows are toxic in their masculinity. I think books like this are a little tricky, using your own personal experience as a paragon for commenting on global ills can sometimes read as being fraught with over-generalizations.

  • James

    Well...it's a slog and no mistake. I respect that the author had a very difficult upbringing and the lessons that he took from it about men were come by honestly.

    Still...I don't believe in toxic masculinity. It's just jargon to describe the effects of poverty, substance abuse, PTSD/depression, and other factors on men vs how they influence women. It's kind of silly to label any inherent trait as toxic.

    The switch from talking about sociology to politics also tried my patie

    Well...it's a slog and no mistake. I respect that the author had a very difficult upbringing and the lessons that he took from it about men were come by honestly.

    Still...I don't believe in toxic masculinity. It's just jargon to describe the effects of poverty, substance abuse, PTSD/depression, and other factors on men vs how they influence women. It's kind of silly to label any inherent trait as toxic.

    The switch from talking about sociology to politics also tried my patience. Again, poverty and a lack of education, not masculinity. In my opinion.

    Overall, there's much better, much more even-handed writing on gender out there without the scapegoating...which probably came from the author's undeniably traumatic childhood.

    Nevertheless. I'd recommend Thomas Page McBee's work over this guy's any day.

  • ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    Or, for fuck's sake. People need to get a grip. There is no such thing as toxic masculinity, toxic femininity, toxic heterosexuality or toxic homosexuality or toxic asexuality or any other toxic sex feature.

    Nothing of this kind is inherently toxic. It's what people sometimes do with all of it that is toxic. Nothing that some behavioural, cognitive or some other therapy can't address.

    People should just stop inventing weird shit and stop shifting blame to patriarchal and/or matriarchal figures.

    Or, for fuck's sake. People need to get a grip. There is no such thing as toxic masculinity, toxic femininity, toxic heterosexuality or toxic homosexuality or toxic asexuality or any other toxic sex feature.

    Nothing of this kind is inherently toxic. It's what people sometimes do with all of it that is toxic. Nothing that some behavioural, cognitive or some other therapy can't address.

    People should just stop inventing weird shit and stop shifting blame to patriarchal and/or matriarchal figures. If someone has issues with their dad, mom, president, kid, neighbor or anyone else, they should go to a psychologist and resolve this issue not invent new social constructs.

    Society may have some or other reasonable or unreasonable expectations from people according to their gender and pretty much everything. But calling masculinity or femininity toxic is a misnomer. It's not gender that's at fault. It's society and its weird ideas that we see in films, ads, everywhere. It's also our desire to conform to things that are expected from us. Often, we don't know how to be true to ourselves, what we exactly want and how to get there. And that's the real big problem. One that needs to be addressed.

    What to do about it? Anarchy would help a fucking lot. Kidding.

    People should just screw their brains on straight and stop adhering to weird customs.

    You don't want women to be expected to wear high heels, full war paint and every other shit to work? Stop expecting that from them if you are of any sex and don't do it if you are a woman.

    You don't want men to be strong and silent types, become more open yourself if you identify male and stop expecting macho-ism from others if you are of any sex.

    Not going to finish this drivel. Badly researched, mislabeled and with root cause of real issues replaced with imaginary stuff. Yeah, I know, it's a bio. Well, shoot me, I don't like it when people take their personal issues and try to make them into something else.

    For example, I work with a bunch of men who are, well, uneasy about working with a female. And it shows. Just like that. Nothing bad or nasty or whatever but they are being weird like not calling me in for meetings, not allowing me to participate on calls with them and whenever I would invite myself to any of their meetings that I have business being at, they would shuffle and then mumble something along the lines of 'oh no you're not invited bye'. They communicate on their own and I on my own. It's weird, sets bad communication patterns and, as one can imagine, is not improving our efficiency. But then again, fuck it, I'm saving my time not listening in to their ramblings and they meet an awful lot of time most of which I'm pretty sure is wasted, since you don't really meet for 2 hours straight and then have zero to show for it.

    I'm not gonna blame their masculinity about it. I'd rather point out that this situation is like that due to their inferior brains (as individuals not as men), slightly less than perfect education, lack of professional adequacy and considerably less than stellar communication skills. Masculinity of theirs, I couldn't care less about it, I'm not interested in this bunch sexually. They could be alien bugs from Alpha Centauri rings and have no sexes whatsoever and still come equipped with those nice thick skulls.

  • Nathan

    I recommend women buy this book and then quietly place it upon the desk of any man or men in their life, no matter how she might believe that man is immured or not in toxic masculinity. And then serenade him with Born This Way ::

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