It doesn't quite fit the narrative of this column, but as my eyes and ears come across this hot phrase of the day, "toxic masculinity," I can't help but think of the Spongebob Squarepants episode where the always cranky Squidward tells quirky, always-wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve Spongebob that he's "not normal." It's a criticism that the perpetually impressionable Spongebob takes to heart, so he devotes himself fully to becoming as normal as is absolutely possible to earn the approval of Squidward and all of Bikini Bottom, the sea-floor city they call home.
Slowly but unmistakably, Spongebob is transformed. His voice becomes monotone. No more laughing, no more crying, no more shrieking that Spongebob is known for. Just a bland greeting of, "Hi, how are ya?" delivered to everyone he meets. Soon, his actual squareness starts to fade, replaced by a more smooth and rounded body. His holes - he's a sponge, after all - begin to fill in until they are no longer observable. When his transformation to what he sees as "normal" is complete, Spongebob is all rounded and hopelessly plain and ordinary. While observing with approval early on, Squidward soon realizes that this new safe, average, blended-in Spongebob is far more aggravating than the loud, jovial, boisterous Spongebob that he was critical of, so he tells Spongebob he wants the old Spongebob back. In a blink, Spongebob becomes his former abnormal self, which we all know is actually, pretty normal.
It seems like there's also an opportunity here to use the phrase "cutting off our nose in spite of our face," although I'm not going to pretend I know precisely what those words mean. Some kind of an overreaction, maybe?
We have all this diversity among us, whether it involves different skin colors, different cultures, different creeds...you name it. And the best person inside each of us would like to not just tolerate or accept all of those differences that people bring to the table, but embrace them. Welcome them, absolutely, and then respect them. And yet, there's an opposing force in this tug-of-war, if you will. We want to make sure that no one acts abnormal, if by being abnormal you risk offending someone, anyone. We're so careful these days, wary of the paranoid among the masses who are lying in wait, waiting to be "triggered" yet again so they can go off. They're capable of taking a screenshot in an instant, so even if you say something that might be deemed insensitive and you immediately have second thoughts and you delete it or otherwise pull it back, it's already too late. Your thought has been "captured," it's being shared far and wide, and the shaming begins.
The United States of America has long been known as the "melting pot," but what does that really mean? What's the implication? That all these different, unique people possessing all these amazing differences get tossed in together, stirred up, and transformed into a gray mush that is able to peacefully coexist on some level because no one dares be their true self? And, yet, at the same time, we're supposed to celebrate what makes each of us who we are? What gives?
Toxic masculinity? How about just calling it what it really is? Ignorance. Close-mindedness. Constant fear. It has always been there. They, these toxic males and their over-cooked masculinity, have always been there. It's just that now, with the Most Toxic Male-in-Chief running the show, they feel like they've been given a green light to let their flag of toxicity fly.
Don’t be a “Richard.” Maybe that’s the easiest guidepost to keep in mind. No offense to anyone named “Richard,” mind you, but if you listen to some commentators on the radio or TV, they know they can’t say the shorter, nickname version of Richard on the air, so when they’re referring to someone who might be displaying traits that these days might fit under the toxic masculinity umbrella, they say he’s acting like a “Richard.”
Also, no offense to anyone who prefers to go by “Dick,” either.
Trying to abide by the timeless, always appropriate Golden Rule simply might to be too much to ask from some guys. To keep that perfect rule at the forefront of your mind 24/7, before you do or say anything, well, that’s a steep climb. But, don’t be a Richard? Most dudes should be able to handle that.