Not My Monkeys, Not My Circus: Why I’m Over Trying to Fix Toxic Masculinity
By Allie Kruk
Over the weekend, a man unzipped his pants and (completely unprompted) showed me his penis. In a public setting. Because I asked him how his night was going.
This incident was not the most unusual or noteworthy thing I’ve witnessed in my adult life.
Was it a violation of social convention? Sure.
I’d even go so far as to say it was an abuse of power rooted in the assumption that women are one-dimensional objects of (cis male) sexual fantasy rather than actual human beings.
Nevertheless, I see a lot of toxic masculine bullshit. So this particular example of toxic masculine bullshit wouldn’t have captured my interest had it not been for this man’s response to being escorted out of the establishment. Because in general, you need to keep your penis inside your pants if you’re a customer at a bar in Philadelphia. Or else security will ask you to leave.
At least that’s what I’ve gathered from my limited research on the topic. But then again, I am a woman. Which means my knowledge about the world could be influenced by any number of unrelated factors - my menstrual cycle, the lip gloss on sale at CVS this week, or the litany of Real Housewives-related issues I assume are happening at this very moment.
Trust at your own risk, people.
Anyway, instead of apologizing and taking accountability for his actions or even just walking away quietly (both of which would have been reasonable responses to a completely unreasonable situation), this man pulled me aside and explained that he did not, in fact, “whip out his dick.” Rather, he asserted that his dick “fell” out of his pants (through no fault of his own), similar to how coins fall out of one’s pockets on occasion.
Let me repeat that.
Just minutes before, I witnessed this man unzip his pants and literally remove his penis from said pants. At a bar. Completely unprompted. Then, this man made the conscious decision to take up even more of my time by explaining that what I had just witnessed was not in fact what had actually happened.
Rather, he soberly and steadfastly maintained that his dick fell out of his pants similar to a coin falling out of one’s pocket.
Now, I don’t have a penis myself. But based on the...everything I know about existing in this world, penises do not generally expose themselves without some intentional act on the part of the person attached to the penis in question.
That’s just not how penises have functioned in every interaction I’ve had with them up to and including my interaction with this particular penis on this particular evening.
Or maybe I’m wrong and penises began spontaneously falling out of people’s pants over the weekend because Mercury was in retrograde/aliens poisoned the water supply/Louis CK gained the power of mind control. Who’s to say, really?
I share this story because: 1) on a personal level, I needed to process the sheer absurdity of this situation and 2) on a more widely relevant level, I don’t think this particular penis-flaunting man (let’s call him “Chad” - he seemed like a Chad) is an aberration.
“Chad’s” willingness to make me a non-consenting object in his sexual fantasy and explain away what I had witnessed (through appeals to utter nonsense) is par for the patriarchal course.
You might be thinking to yourself that Chad is an “extreme” case (and therefore, this story is not relevant to you upstanding cis male citizens who haven’t - yet - decided to whip out your penis without the consent of those around you).
And sure, the degree of toxic masculinity may have been “extreme” in terms of its blatancy. But what does “extreme” even mean in the context of a system that insists on nothing less than the complete dehumanization of women and nonbinary folks?
Chad’s behavior falls completely within the spectrum of objectification/gaslighting/invalidation that men subject women to every single day. There isn’t anything especially “extreme” about it other than the openness with which Chad exerted his patriarchal privilege on this particular day.
My encounter with Chad was #yesallmen personified.
All men have and will continue to be Chad. Maybe not all of you will claim your penis spontaneously “falls” out of your pants. Maybe not all of you will expose your penis to a non-consenting stranger. But you will all enact the very dysfunctional logic at the crux of Chad’s behavior.
It’s my hope that the men reading this will now take stock of how they’ve been Chad-like in their dealings with women and nonbinary folks. For instance, the times they dismissed a non-male person’s lived experience, knowledge, perspective, expertise, and values or the times when they have conceived of a woman as a means towards a (hetero) sexual end without regard for her fundamental humanity.
But honestly, after the litany of male absurdity/violence I’ve witnessed and dealt with over the past 25 years (Chad is really just the tip of the toxic masculine iceberg), I’m not holding my breath waiting for your great feminist epiphany. I will run out of oxygen and fainting clearly wasn’t on my to-do list for today.
I do not say this because I am a man-hating feminazi bitch who hates all men and thinks they’re trash - quite the opposite. I actually love men, which is why I continue to insist that they become less terrible and less dehumanized by patriarchal power-hoarding. (Because FYI, when you reduce women - or anyone for that matter - to one-dimensional objects, you lose some of your humanity in the process)
Nevertheless, in the moments following Chad’s bizarre “explanation” for his penile exposure, I had my own great feminist epiphany: I realized I can’t fix you all.
Sure, I can point out the ways in which you (men) fall short of the tenets of equity and justice you claim to hold dear. I can hope you take responsibility for the violence you sustain through your complicity in a system of power that values your comfort above and beyond my safety/human rights.
But at the end of the day, hope is really all I can do (and sustaining that hope is really an exercise in survival for me - not necessarily for your benefit).
Because it is not my job to dismantle a system of inequality that you all (men) created and from which you benefit whether intentionally or not.
Instead, my new attitude towards patriarchal dysfunction has become “not my monkeys, not my (motherfucking) circus.”
Because the circus you all (men) created is basically a steaming tent fire filled with elephant stampedes; chimpanzees run amok; and a huge vat of stale popcorn that everyone ignores because there isn’t a woman nearby to point out that this popcorn has been sitting out so long it’s probably grown mold.
Point is, I can’t fix your toxic masculine mess even if I wanted to.
And there is something truly liberating in that realization.
Because when I’ve thought about “fixing” sexism in the past, I’ve felt like I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out how to convince men to be better people.
But now in this post-Chad era, I’ve come to realize that patriarchal injustice is not mine to resolve. As a woman living in this sexist society, I did not create this gendered system of violence. I do not sustain it. I am not its toxic masculine lifeblood - no woman is.
I can’t convince you (men) to acknowledge my personhood or the validity of my knowledge/experience/humanity. I can’t spend time assuring you (read: coddling you) so that you don’t recede into your masculine fragility instead of doing the actual work of feminist justice.
I can’t give you any more of that (unpaid) labor. Because women have been shouldering a disproportionate amount of societal labor for centuries. And the feminist impulse to end systemic gendered oppression need not and should not be an exercise in adding to this inequitable division of labor.
So, at least in this moment, I’m embracing the liberty that comes with relinquishing the impulse to fix that which was never my mess to begin with - and the sense of empowerment that comes from putting the burden of dismantling the patriarchy back on the men who created it in the first place.
I’m not going to try to persuade you (men) to move in the world with any degree of compassion/emotional intelligence/care for your fellow human beings. I’m not going to ask you to give up some of your privilege to make space for the often-silenced voices and needs of non-male folks. I’m not going to tie myself in knots trying to convince you of my self-worth.
I’m done chasing down these patriarchal circus monkeys. They’re violent little nuisances who bite and kick and scratch and don’t share well with others or react reasonably.
They are the products of your heedless/violent actions, so it’s on you to go collect them and their wayward circus friends.
If you need me, I’ll be in whichever tent has the wine and massage chairs.