• Thomas A. Wilson

Toxic Masculinity?

Updated: May 6, 2019

The nature of roosters is to fight. They’re territorial. That’s how the word roost came to be the root of the name rooster. The vigilant male birds typically find high ground, perch, and then keep a watchful eye out for predator or interloper. Trespassers beware—those spurs aren’t just for decoration!

During the Revolutionary War, British General Banastre Tarleton described American Colonel Thomas Sumter as having, “fought like a gamecock.” Another British general, Charles Cornwallis, described Sumter as being his “greatest plague.” The University of South Carolina traces its Fighting Gamecock mascot to the reputation of Sumter.

Roosters have spurs, rhinoceroses have horns, deer have antlers, elephants have tusks, wolves have fangs (I think I see a pattern here). My favorite The Far Side cartoon shows two stuffed alligators sunning on a riverbank. Strewn about are the remains of an unfortunate canoer. Relaxing after the meal, one gator says to the other, “That was incredible. No fur, claws, horns, antlers, or nothin’…just soft and pink.” Lol

The cartoon cracks me up—but it does point to an interesting question. In the arena of life, if one could bring horn, fang, or spur, why show up with just soft and pink?

Let’s shift our discussion from fauna to flora. Consider the Algarroba tree. The tree grows well in Puerto Rico—it provides mahogany-like wood, medicinal resin, and a nutritional pulp. (The pulp is an acquired taste.) It also provides game pieces for a children’s game.

The scientific name of the Algarroba tree is Hymenaea Courbaril. Courbaril is a transliteration of an indigenous word, but Hymenaea derives from the Greek god of marriage: Hymen. The characteristic twin leaves of the Algarroba tree hint at man and wife, side-by-side; hence the name. In art, Cupid is often depicted as a chubby baby with wings. Sometimes two winged babies appear—that would be Cupid and Hymen. How does the children’s ditty go? First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes so-and-so with the baby carriage! It’s the nature of things.

As a child in Puerto Rico, I was instantly captivated by the two-player game: Gallitos. Gallitos, or little roosters, is a game played with the seeds of the Algarroba tree. Players drill the hard seeds with a single hole and thread a string. One player lays his seed (gallito) on the ground. The other player, on offense, then swings his seed by the string and strikes at the seed on the ground. The objective is to shatter the opponent's seed. (I’m sure they wear safety glasses now—we didn’t in 1968.) If the striker lands a hit, he gets to go again. A miss means the players swap positions. Back and forth, until one seed succumbs. It’s a fight to the death.

And we took it seriously. Every win was tallied and added to the reputation of particularly tough seeds. My gallito has eight victories. Well, mine has twelve! This was important business when I was a nine-year-old.

Boys compete. They push, and wrestle, and jump. It’s in their masculine nature. There’s not a thing toxic about it. This proclivity produces productive, heroic, clever, faithful men. Toxicity, on the other hand, flows from bullying, cowardly, mooching, piggish mindsets.

Why don’t we call it that? Instead of using a phrase where masculinity itself is impugned, why don’t we impugn underliving behavior? Imagine the outrage if one coined a phrase like Scottish toxicity, or Ethiopian toxicity, or feminine toxicity, or gay toxicity. Painting with too wide a brush, I think, is both unkind and inaccurate. It isn’t helpful.

So, let’s teach little boys to be authentic men. Let’s give them a little feedback. (Nobody succeeds without it.) Why let them arrive at adulthood just soft and pink?

I routinely coach my sons and grandsons to higher ground. Long after my body is food for the Algarroba tree (or whatever is close by), the seeds I plant will bear fruit.

Strong moral character is more powerful than claw or fang.


Giving feedback inappropriately is just not good cricket! Cricket, the traditional bat and ball game born in England and played around the world, is built on values of fairness and sportsmanship. There’s a right way to play the game. Wondering what a sport played in the Commonwealth has to do with American Man School? The answer is simple enough. Any sport where the players stop for tea (and they do) is a useful social model because opponents give the gift of play. There’d be no sport otherwise. Honoring them, then, is in the players’ best interest.

Affirmation of the Week: Today, I behave in an honorable way, and I am eager to bestow honor on others. I behave and I bestow—experiencing peace and dignity through the conscious appreciation of both.

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