Machoism and Masculinity: Dispatches from the Vacuum Cleaner

I’ve grown up in a world where machoism has been confused with masculinity.

You probably know what I mean. Machoism is being a “real” man. It’s the belief that “real” men don’t cry or express any emotion at all…except anger. It’s taking care of yourself and your loved ones without ever asking for help…because “real” men never need help. Machoism is the realm of seemingly benign matters of “man cards” and “man caves” but it’s also the gateway to the more serious “boys will be boys” mentality that is increasingly identified as “toxic masculinity” in our culture.

As I see it, equating machoism with masculinity is a huge problem — because true masculinity really isn’t any of these things. And yet, a quick Google search uncovers article after article listing the harmful effects of toxic masculinity — or, in some cases, even masculinity itself! — when the real target is machoism. Machoism is not masculinity.

The irony is that I was thinking about all of this tonight while I was vacuuming the house. We have company coming over this weekend so tonight was the only night we had to get the house in order. I don’t even know why, but I started thinking about whether or not it was considered “masculine” to be vacuuming the house. Of course, this is ridiculous. But like I said, I’ve grown up in a world where masculinity was often equated with machoism. So I pondered this for a while as I cleaned the house.

I found myself thinking of my own father, a strong, masculine figure who died of cancer in his mid-40s in 1987. I was only 10 when he died, so I don’t have a huge storehouse of memories of my Dad — and I find myself questioning the validity of some of these memories as I age and get further removed from the events of his life. But I have strong memories of my Dad helping out in the kitchen, picking up around the house, preparing food, running to the grocery store. I never once thought of my father as anything but masculine, although some of these things would have surely been considered decidedly “unmacho” by his peers.

There’s nothing toxic about true masculinity. Machoism? That’s a different story. And hopefully my sons are growing up in a world that’s getting just a bit better at distinguishing between the two.

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