McNellis Talks Value of Masculinity, Divisiveness of ‘Toxic Masculinity’

Rev. Paul McNellis, S.J., said that masculinity is not something to be apologized for. 

“You should never apologize for being a man, no matter how many woke commissars … tell you that you should,” McNellis said. “I’ve actually seen so-called men who are proud of being ashamed. To apologize merely for being a man shows a lack of self-respect, and dishonors your own father and his father.”

McNellis, who teaches in the Boston College philosophy department, spoke to students in an event titled “How Toxic is Masculinity?” on Thursday night.

He began by defining ‘masculinity’ as a whole and emphasizing the importance of the topic. 

“Toxic masculinity—the term itself seems to have become toxic, which is so partisan, divisive, and triggering that many seem to use the term masculine only ironically,” McNellis said.

This phenomenon strikes McNellis as unfortunate for two reasons. 

“First, on the University campus, we should be able to discuss important topics,” McNellis said. “Second, personally, I can’t imagine a conversation more interesting or important than one on the meaning of men and women, masculine and feminine.”

McNellis spoke about the history of masculinity, noting the shift and lack of responsibility of men during the sexual revolution of the ’60s. According to McNellis, women earned freedom from men with the radical changes in contraception, gender roles, and education. This, he said, was largely successful, but did not achieve its main goal. 

“If the revolution was supposed to grant us new freedoms that would make us happy, why are we so unhappy?” he said. 

McNellis answered his question by discussing the ‘absent father,’ which he believes is the most pressing epidemic on the rise and has incited the idea of toxic masculinity. Without fathers, he said, boys have fewer role models to follow to become good men. 

“The good father is also the richest example because all the virtues are needed—temperance, justice, courage, generosity, compassion, wisdom, mercy, magnanimity, faith, hope, and love,” McNellis said.

McNellis then gave an example of a WWII letter between a father and son that he believes represents what a good father is. 

“He tells his son what kind of man he hopes he will become and what he must do to become that kind of man,” he said. “He speaks of honor, duty, fairness, [and] never becoming a quitter.” 

McNellis then opened the floor to questions, where he was asked by several participants if the absent mother was just as impactful on the upbringing of men. 

The mother had equal value in her child’s upbringing, McNellis said, but to do it alone—without providing a son with a male role model—is extremely harmful.

“And I know I’ve worked in countries like Cambodia, where men were wiped out, almost a generation,” McNellis said. “The only ones raising the kids in many cases, especially in rural areas [are the mothers]. And yes, they can do it but probably not all alone.”

Attendees also asked questions regarding non-binary individuals and potential toxic femininity, as well as how these virtues applied for men.

“No, the list of virtues I gave doesn’t change,” McNellis said. “Courage, compassion, justice, motivation, compassion, love—those are still good virtues—why wouldn’t they be?” 

McNellis said that a father is the most important role in a man’s life and that the term toxic masculinity is not beneficial for finding a solution for this issue. 

“There is a real problem with boys not becoming men,” McNellis said. “However, the term toxic masculinity does not help us identify the problem because its fundamental understanding of what it means to be a man is flawed.” 

Featured Image by Leo Wang / Heights Staff

November 14, 2021