KEVIN LEININGER: If real men are now obsolete, don’t be surprised by rise of ‘toxic masculinity’

Did Cristhian Rivera allegedly kill Mollie Tibetts because of our "boys will be boys" culture? (AP photo)
Kevin Leininger

President Donald Trump wasted no time in linking illegal immigration to the recent murder of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, and if his exploitation of the tragedy was unseemly it was at least factual: Mexican national Cristhian Bahena Rivera would have been in no position to kill the 20-year-old as she jogged had he not been allowed to live and work in this country illegally.

Where race and gender are concerned, however, such inconvenient truths must inevitably bend to the politically correct psychoses of the moment. So it was in this case, and the insinuation that Trump was somehow a hypocrite for lamenting that Tibbetts had been “forever separated from her family” while separating the families of illegal immigrants at the border was not even the most ludicrous example.

That dubious distinction belonged to Symone Sanders, CNN political analyst and spokeswoman for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Tibbetts’ murder, she insisted, “isn’t about border security. This is about toxic masculinity. Mollie Tibbetts lost her life because a man couldn’t take her saying ‘No.’ ”

For the blissfully unenlightened, “toxic masculinity” (according to something called the Good Men Project) “is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything and emotions are a weakness, where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured.”

Or, as Kutztown University Women’s Studies (of course!) Professor Colleen Clemens put it, “If we think about gender as distinct from sex, as the way someone feels as opposed to something that is biological, we can no longer excuse negative behaviors . . . with the line, ‘Boys will be boys.’ ”

Ironically, there is little real difference between those who would link a tolerance of rape and masculinity and those — including the president — who have suggested some immigrant cultures share the same trait. The only difference is that one position is considered scholarly and avant garde; the other is dismissed as racist.

But the progressive desire to obliterate obvious gender differences creates problems that go far beyond making gender-neutral toilets a constitutional right. One of Sunday’s readings at church was from Ephesians, in which St. Paul urges wives to submit to their husbands but also instructs husbands to “love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.”

To modern ears, such gender-specific but lovingly symbiotic roles seem old-fashioned at best; sexist or even repressive at worst. But when such traditional notions are erased, something else must fill the vacuum. No one should be shocked when the eradication of traditional cultural norms and expectations results in anti-social behavior or the perversion of the language.

Like toxic masculinity, “cisgendered” has entered the progressive lexicon, presumably to reflect society’s fluid understanding of sex and gender. The word is intended to distinguish transgender people from those whose gender identity matches their genitalia but has, predictably, spawned hurt feelings anyway.

“Being called ‘cisgendered’ . . . imposes an identity on me. Don’t tell me that I am somehow normatively gendered for my body when my life experience has led me through periods of deep confusion about my gender identity and living as gender queer,” J. Nelson Aviance writes for the Huffington Post. “You are telling me, ‘check your privilege,’ a phrase that has been weaponized and become popular to use in ways that are adolescent and regressive to discourse.”

He’s right about that last part, at least. We should be able to talk about the need for secure borders without making it a racial issue, just as we should be able to condemn the murder of a young woman as an act of cruelty, selfishness and evil without dragging masculinity into it. Labeling other people and lumping them into opposing tribes may make it easier to impugn their motives, but does nothing to encourage dialogue or solutions.

A real man — a “gentleman,” in simpler times — owes it to himself and society to behave in a certain way. “Ladies” have been safer as a result. We don’t talk that way anymore, and it’s a shame so many smart people refuse to see the connection.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355