On the difference between Tonic Masculinity and Toxic Masculinity
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One look at Andrew Tate’s website, “Hustler’s University,” removed all doubt from my mind that he is the single worst example of masculinity on the internet.
I’m not that interested in the argument over whether he’s a rapist or a human trafficker or whether he was set up by “The Matrix.” For what it’s worth, I think he’s probably guilty of what he’s accused of (and then some), but a Romanian court will decide that, and for the purposes of determining whether he’s both a terrible person and fundamentally unmanly, a smoking gun in the form of his prosecution and imprisonment for sex crimes would be viscerally satisfying but is ultimately unnecessary.
This is because people tell you who they are, and Tate tells the viewer in every single video he posts that he’s socially parasitic and generally antisocial. While I dislike both the ubiquity or the persistent misapplication of the term “toxic masculinity,” it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t apply to Tate.
But Tate is a blip. He’s a boil on the ass of society and a historical footnote; nothing more.
There is a two-word definition of the word leadership to which I subscribe: “Follow me!”
Historically, a mark of good leadership in armies has always been that leaders make sure their men eat first. Good leaders do not expect their men to perform tasks they themselves have not done or are unwilling to do. They mentor younger men. They teach them to perform tasks correctly and conscientiously, and they backstop them with regards to senior leadership, protecting their mentees from administrative overreach, because they care about their mentees’ success in the long-term as well as their capacity to do their jobs in the here and now.
Leadership is Tonic Masculinity.
Caring about men in your community, making sure they don’t spiral into depression, or addiction, or just loneliness, is also Tonic Masculinity. You check in on your friends. (Some guys who have been super good about that in my life lately are, , , , , and . Life is a team sport, and those guys put their hearts into the game.)
A little about me: I am a charming bastard in person. This was not always the case; I taught myself how to be charismatic systematically, by reading about charismatic people and learning the physicality of charisma (make no mistake, charisma is not ephemeral or mysterious—it's expressed physically) because I was socially clueless as a kid. It’s not complicated, although learning how to do it is more difficult and requires more effort than it might seem. In fact, charm, which is the willful exercise of charisma, can be summed up in one sentence:
Charm is the process of correctly assessing how you are perceived by others and then intentionally emphasizing the parts of your affect and presentation that people obviously like.
What I’ve found lately is that, while it’s a tool in the toolbox, charm isn’t the one I thought it was. When I was young and dumb(er), I thought it was a kind of all-purpose gizmo that could be applied to any situation, a magic Leatherman that could stand in for any of the other tools.
In fact, it’s this:
And you don’t use it the way I once thought you did. You don’t apply it directly to problems, you apply it to all your other tools.
Tonic Masculinity is using the right tool for the job, and the tools that I’ve found work best for the job of being a man, the real tools in the toolbox of masculinity (which is surprisingly heavy), are a combination of doing your duty and treating others with the respect they’re due. Those are the tools good men reach for most frequently, and they require a certain amount of practice and elbow grease to ingrain the habit of applying them.
What charm does to one’s marketable skills, and one’s track record of being good to others, is make those skills and that track record (both of which require that you put in sustained effort, be it the effort to overcome the temptation to be an asshole when it’d make your friends laugh or the effort to show up even when you don’t want to) more valuable, to you and to others.
It keeps your other social tools (for example, your capacity for empathy, or your work ethic) clean and functional, and it reduces the amount of elbow grease you need to expend to use them to advance your cause. That is the value of charm.
The Andrew Tates of the world have the proportions of charm and elbow grease required to do the job exactly backwards. They use attitude instead of empathy, they cut corners with regards to work ethic, and worst of all, they encourage others to do the same.
I’ll close with a comic from the redoubtable Kelly Turnbull, who is both my favorite webcomic artist and a woman who clearly has deep affection for Manly Guys Doing Manly Things (and whose work everyone should read).
To be clear, I’m not saying “eh, there are worse primers on Tonic Masculinity than her webcomic,” I’m saying that her webcomic is an incredible primer on how to be a good man. It’s wise and true and hilarious.
There's a lot of overlap between this analysis, and Megha Varma's recent discussion of trad/trans cardboard femininity. Tate strikes me as the male equivalent of the latter - all flash, all the superficial signifiers of a manly man amongst men, but a howling void of emptiness within.
Great post! And what you said about "charm" is the best thing I've ever seen written about it: "you don't apply it directly to problems, you apply it to all your other tools." Absolutely spot on!