Aziz Ansari, Donald Trump, Quentin Tarantino: Are these men guilty of 'toxic masculinity'?

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This article was originally published on Yahoo.

When the unfortunate details of a hookup between Aziz Ansari and a young woman were made public on a millennial feminist website recently, said young woman called it “the worst night of my life.” The story provoked controversy, deeper conversation about #MeToo, and a reaction from New York Times writer Bari Weiss, who argued that while Ansari’s behavior was “aggressive and selfish and obnoxious,” the woman’s complaints were overblown. “There is a useful term for what this woman experienced,” Weiss wrote. “It’s called ‘bad sex.’”

But even the idea of “bad sex” is complicated, meaning quite different things to men and women. In a recent commentary about the Ansari situation, writer Lili Loofbourow pointed out that for men, it has to do with not having an orgasm. “But when most women talk about ‘bad sex,’” she observed, “they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain.” 

Reading about this encounter and its parsing, I flashed to the many others regaling us in this time of growing impatience — like the 2015 assault behind a Dumpster by the Stanford swimmer on a fellow student, or the behavior bragged about in the infamous Access Hollywood interview by then-reality TV star Donald Trump. Both of these stories, like the Ansari example, were one-sided, wounding, pathetic, and, in the swimmer’s case, at least, criminal.

I cannot stop thinking about the men in these stories, wondering what they were thinking. The usual explanations spring to mind: They are all men besotted with alcohol, power, and entitlement. They are narcissistically self-absorbed, perhaps sociopathic, lacking empathy and an ability to feel connected to someone else. Still, these explanations raise the question: What are they consciously thinking?

The book American Hookupextrapolated from interviews and surveys with college students across the country by author and sociologist Lisa Wade, provides some insight. Through her research, she realized that the contemporary mandate for meaningless sex overcomes other human impulses, including connection or emotional intimacy. In fact, nearly 70 percent of both males and females regret hooking up after the fact — and yet most, despite these aversive conditions, are unable to opt out in the first place to avoid the regrets. And Wade concludes that while casual sex is often sad for both males and females, it is a particularly unsavory brand of masculinity — one she characterizes as “toxic” — that defines this aspect of college dating.

“Hookup culture,” she writes, “strongly masculinized, demands carelessness, rewards callousness, and punishes kindness.”

Even though new generations of women can express their voices and their personal agency as never before, social interactions — dating relationships, college culture, classroom discussions — are still dominated by the same cultural norms men have contended with for generations. Social scientists call these norms “masculinity.”

What’s important and hopeful, though, is that these norms are historic, unconscious, and largely beyond the reach of any particular male or female. They are passed along in families and schools, on playgrounds and through media, in ways that are so taken for granted that we speak of the process as “hidden.” And though just about every male internalizes these norms to some extent, extreme versions arise only when a man has lost himself.

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