On January 22, 2016, Janese Jackson-Talton was at a bar in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh; a man hit on her, and she turned him down. When she left, he followed her outside and again made advances. When she told him again that she wasn’t interested, he shot and killed her. A 29 year old woman — a young mother — is dead, because she said no.
Ms. Jackson-Talton’s murder is a tragedy, made even more horrific because she is far from the first woman to be killed or injured because she rebuffed a man’s advances. A woman was spit on and slashed with a knife because she ignored a man hitting on her while waiting for the subway. A man attacked four Asian women by swinging a bag with a heavy object in it, sending them to the hospital, because he was angry at being ignored by Asian woman. A pregnant woman in Texas was stabbed in the abdomen by a man after rejecting him. The 2014 Santa Barbara mass shooting was motivated by the killer’s anger over being rejected by women. There is an entire Tumblr dedicated to the women who have been attacked and murdered for saying no to men (trigger warning).
This sort of gender-based violence isn’t new, and it isn’t unique to our culture. But as these stories demonstrate, our society has a major problem with men whose masculinity is both so toxic and so fragile that they hurt women who reject them. It is toxic, because our cultural version of masculinity accepts anger as a response to rejection, and expects men to prove that they’re “real men” by responding to threats (even imagined ones!) with violence. It is fragile, because when some men’s perception of their own masculinity is challenged — say, by a woman rejecting him — they lash out, verbally and physically. This mindset is at the root of different types of gender violence, like threatening to rape or hurt women who disagree with men on the internet. It is so omnipresent in our society that it even inspired a twitter hashtag, #MasculinitySoFragile.
Fragile and toxic masculinity is incredibly damaging to our society, leading to threats of violence, emotional abuse, and even murder. How can we change it? The first step is to challenge gender norms, which hurt both men and women. These norms include everything from expecting men to be the provider, to men being the sexual aggressors and shaming men for showing emotion. They can also include expecting women to be the caretaker, to be sexually passive and viewing women as overly emotional or irrational. It can also include degrading any expression of sexuality or gender identity that does not conform with the mainstream. Realize that gender norms hurt both men and women, and that in many ways, they assume the worst about men. As Jackson Katz so eloquently put it, ““The argument that ‘boys will be boys’ actually carries the profoundly anti-male implication that we should expect bad behavior from boys & men. The assumption is that they are somehow not capable of acting appropriately, or treating girls & women with respect.” Finally, get involved! Take the pledge to end gender violence. Advocate for change in your community through groups like FAB. Volunteer. Walk a mile in her shoes. Donate. Work to ensure that no more women have to die or be hurt from toxic and fragile masculinity.