Don McPherson”s Response to Toxic Masculinity

Don McPherson’s You Throw Like a Girl: The Blind Spot of Masculinity (2019, Akashic Books) is a reflective memoir of how one man learned to be a man and what that means for society. A former star quarterback, the author tells how he learned to talk with boys and men about how to prevent violence against women by claiming themselves as people first and men second. McPherson shows us how men are restricted by social expectations and how this restriction leads to the dehumanization of those who are not Men. Importantly, he teaches men how their ideas about their roles as protectors and warriors harm themselves, as well as those they love most.

For those who are interested in promoting self-exploration, McPherson introduces tools like “The Man Box”, which encourages the deconstruction of social messages about gender. We all internalized ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman; sometimes, these ideas get distorted, leading to imbalances in our identity and our relationships with others. Vulnerability, not generally considered a male trait, is displayed on the pages of this book with significant effect.

His idea is to be a whole person, not a one-dimensional notion of gender, and through the process of becoming whole to discover fuller, equal relationships with others. When men step down off their self-created pedestals and model equality with women, then boys and girls will be emotionally and physically safer. The correlation between power and violence is a message that women have discussed for decades. In this book, we hear from a man, trained and reinforced with male privilege, speak to men about power.

Applying the man box tool—often used as a gender box—to addiction treatment is a topic for exploration sparked while I read this book. Here is a tool for understanding identity, including an addict identity. Each of us is constructed using multiple identities, so there is a lot to explore in how an individual’s identity directs their behavior—and how identity change is part of behavior change and healing.

I would like to see McPherson go further in his social criticism. Yes, men are trained to “not be women”, but there are whole other groups out there that deserve equal treatment from men. As society grapples with gender fluidity and gender identity, how do folks who are not men or women feel safe as they struggle to define affirming identities? An identity built on not being something still ties that identity to its mirror image; identity built on approaching an idea leads to more powerful change. Casting off the old mold is only a first step. It would be interesting to continue the discussion begun in You Throw Like a Girl onto what it means to be a whole, vulnerable, emotionally aware person.

This book caught my imagination and I recommend it to coaches, teachers, parents, and those who influence the psychological development of boys and adolescents. McPherson uses his story of transformation from sports idol to social activist to highlight lessons and tools we can all use to live a better life. Maybe the most essential message of this book is the author himself—he walks the walk to learn how to live the life he models.

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