The Ableism of Western Masculinity

When I, and others, read definitions of what it means to be “masculine” in the western world, we get words like: active, aggressive, ambitious, analytical, assertive, athletic, authoritative, blunt, certain, competitive, decisive, dominant, forceful, independent, individualistic, physical, protective, self-reliant, self-sufficient, strong and tough.

Some of these meanings of masculinity are perfectly okay—being active, ambitious, analytical and certain, for example, can be positive traits in many circumstances.

Other traits are, in my humble opinion, traits that contribute to gender inequality and so many sexual assaults against mostly women—being aggressive, authoritative, dominant, and forceful come to mind. The topic of how some ideas of western masculinity contribute to gender inequality and sexual violence may very well be the subject for a future post, but I won’t cover this in my current one.

And then there are other “masculine” traits such as: active, athletic, independent, physical, self-reliant, self-sufficient, strong, and tough. These traits are ableist, or discriminating in favor of able-bodied people, at least to some extent, because men who have disabilities are then viewed as completely unable to fit these traits of what it apparently means to be a “true man” or “manly enough.”

Consider the following:

  1. If you are a blind person, you don’t fit into some people’s ideas what it means to be masculine. The definition of masculinity includes independence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency, yet you need to depend on other people, animals or things to guide you.
  2. If you are deaf person, you don’t fit into what some think it means to be masculine. You need to depend on sign language from others or closed caption coming from a machine, so you therefore don’t have the independence, self-reliance, or self-sufficiency associated with masculinity.
  3. If you need a cane to get around (let alone if you’re in a wheelchair), you don’t fit into our society’s idea of what it means to be masculine. Regardless of what your level of activity is (and I know my share of people who are on a cane or in a wheelchair AND are actually quite athletic), you are often viewed as inactive, unathletic, dependent on others and weak if you use a cane or are in a wheelchair.

The bottom line is that if you are a man with some form of disability, that person likely does not fit the definition of masculinity. In fact, because masculinity is ableist, the very ideas associated with modern western masculinity completely exclude men with disabilities the “manliness club.”

So when I hear someone talk about “toxic masculinity,” I agree—masculinity is toxic. The ableism of masculinity makes masculinity inherently toxic.

Note: I want to thank the blog Me, Myself and Disability for bringing this issue to my attention. When I first discovered that blog, I read a post about the author’s own experiences with the ableism of masculinity. If you want to get a more personal perspective on the ableism of western masculinity, I highly recommend that you read his post on the issue.