Toxic Masculinity : The Problem of Brosatru

As a certain world-travelling pagan writer recently pointed out, using the phrase "toxic masculinity" can be troublesome. By using the phrase, is a speaker implying that all masculinity is toxic, or only certain types? Since I've dropped the label into both the title and will be using it throughout this post, let me define it as coherently as I can so there can be no future quibbling about what, exactly, I am speaking about.

Toxic masculinity, for the purposes of this post, is defined twofold:
(1) The behaviors, attitudes, and speech by which people of any gender or none attack (either verbally or physically) others who do not conform to a set or sets of behavior, appearance, and attitude that have been defined by certain cultures as inherently "masculine" or "male."
(2) The behaviors, attitudes, and speech by which people of any gender or none argue or imply "male" as the superior gender, and/or interact with "female" in objectifying or dehumanizing terminology.

Basically, this.

Toxic masculinity in this context can be found throughout society and across multiple religions, but I want to focus (as usual) on what forms it takes in Heathenry and how these assumptions can be challenged. The popular term to describe this subset is "Brosatru", a neologism from "Bro" + Asatru.

Jumping back briefly to the AFA podcast I wrote about in my last post, there were comments made by the podcaster that stepped beyond the weight shaming I pointed out and into full blown toxic masculinity (weight shaming has deep roots in toxic masculinity as well):
"I don't mind taking on a girl that's a little bit too big. I can work with that. I help her learn that her body is her temple. I can work her down to a reasonable size, provided she's willing to go there. She'll be a lot prettier. It's more of a joy to fight off guys trying to fight for your girl than it is having a woman you're ashamed of." (09:05)
This is a textbook example of toxic masculinity. He isn't encouraging a self-motivated behavior change in a significant other (which is perfectly fine), but speaking about "taking on a girl", "work[ing] with that," and "work her down to a reasonable size." Is this a person he's discussing or a piece of woodworking? This is not even that terrible idea of complementarianism, where women and men are divvied up into categories of labor and actions that are acceptable and not. This statement is unabashedly dehumanizing another person and treating her as a trophy to be carved, polished, and fought over.

And it's not just weight shaming for overweight individuals that's the problem. The large, masculine, muscular ideal must be the standard against which all others are judged. When I dared speak up a couple months ago about an issue unrelated to appearance (it was an old kerfuffle over comparing Heathenry to First Nations, which I addressed here), someone felt the burning desire to slather toxic masculinity all over a poorly written ad hominem rant:

I ain't even mad, just disappointed. :shrug:

These two are the obvious examples: they are billboard signs on the side of the Heathen Highway, sticking up where everyone not currently fiddling with the radio can see them. Some recognize them for what they are, and others applaud them for reinforcing the status quo.

The roots of the problem lie hiding at the base of these billboards, among the hollowed out warehouses and broken concrete of a tradition that doesn't even belong in Heathenry. As cultures began emerging from the Dark Ages of Europe, having devoured every last semblance of paganism they couldn't eradicate, they were already well on their way to a tightly controlled gendered separation of worlds. As I pointed out previously, the reason for division of labor among the Germanic people was out of a necessity, but outliers were allowed without too much questioning, because the issue was about the affect it would have on the kin and the individual's ability to provide for the kindred, not inherent to their gender.

Today that's not the case, with specialized labor so ridiculously stratified. Yet the masculine ideal is still clung to so tenaciously that there are those who will use dehumanizing and occasionally violent rhetoric to police those who dare step outside the boundaries set by a Christian overculture across several hundred years. Couple that with the increasing romanticisation of "Viking" as the Nietzschean Übermensch in the last few decades, and the root of this toxic policing becomes quite clear.

I like the show too, but come on.

Some try to cash in on this image. Others reinforce it at any cost, because they are now so invested that to recognize the rot at the heart of toxic masculinity would be to pull the rug out from under themselves. That rot is the fact that modernity, specialization, and scientific progress have completely eliminated the need for peak physical fitness, of either sex, outside of a very specific collective of active soldiers.

So what are we left with? Male physical prowess has now become another product, another commodity, another item to be sold. And boy howdy does it sell! We're told by every media, every day, that we need it. A slim figure used to be the indication of poverty, and excess (including weight) was something reserved for the rich and powerful, something to aspire to. Is achieving a healthy body in today's world a noble goal, aimed at a long and productive life for yourself and your family? Of course! Do we need to be able to bounce quarters off our abs, or juggle salt shakers with our pecs? Not so much.

One of the greatest parodies of "Bro Culture", before "Bro" really existed.

Like any good toxic worldview, it encourages not only evangelizing (see the ad hominem and "cash in" links above), but policing of anything perceived as a threat to the worldview. The easiest way to spot a "Brosatru" is if they try to win points in a debate by stating that the opponent will, for certain, either end up in Helheim in disgrace (not historically accurate) or will be barred from Valhalla (like that's not up to the Valkyries, as opposed to Internet Keyboard Vikings). The "Us vs Them" that this worldview perpetuates harms those within just as much as those without, but masks it with hollow reassurances that by eating right, doing the right "training", etc. they too can reap the "rewards."

So what drives this desperate, white-knuckle grip on "heathen masculinity"? Even more Christian baggage, of course. Thanks to the fact that the bulk of the mythology that Heathens have access to come through the filter of over a century of Christianity and were (for the vast majority, if not all, of texts) written down by Christian authors, there's a lot to unpack that doesn't always happen when examining complicated things like the afterlife. At the end of the day, there's really no difference between a Christian screaming that only those who pray the specific prayer can get into Heaven and a Brosatru all-caps-ing a rant about how those who are not "strong enough" will never enter Valhalla. It's the same binary choice, but with a different password.

The accurate historical interpretation of the afterlife is exceedingly complex and multifaceted, with some evidence that some may have believed a single "soul" analogous to the monotheist concepts, or there may be as many as nine "parts" of the spirit, all of which react differently when the person they inhabit shuffles off the mortal coil.

Looking back at the romanticisation of the Viking as Übermensch, it's easy to see how a "Valhalla or Helheim" motif can emerge as a weak and thin veneer over a recycled monotheist worldview. This creates not only an impossible goal for followers to chase ("Get manly enough and Odin will take you to Valhalla to fight with manly men like men, etc. etc."), but those pushing this narrative become Gatekeepers, passing judgement on who they think is worthy. Meanwhile no one questions why this is all still based in wrong-headed and outdated concepts of masculinity, because just like any other exclusive club, leadership and tradition are not to be questioned.

As another blogger put it quite eloquently a couple years ago, "You're not going to Valhalla, so knock it off." Gods know I understand the desire to belong to a like-minded group, and I understand the endorphin rush from physical exercise. What I can't understand is why someone who ostensibly wants to emulate the pre-Christian Norse, (a people who celebrated intelligence and wisdom just as much, if not occasionally more so, than physical appearance and prowess) would willingly swallow sad and dehumanizing rhetoric without question like fanatical followers in some post-apocalyptic dystopia, then vomit it back up again and call it "truth."

We'll be here when you're ready to ask real questions, Bro.


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