Toxic masculinity is a sad and oppressive description of what it means to be a man. Toxic masculinity essence is defined by exaggerated and negative masculine traits such as: being overly violent, unemotionally stone cold, and being hypersexually active. Toxic ideas about manhood continue to noose the necks of men as a whole. While these ideas surround masculinity; they are damaging everyone, men and women alike, and are contributing to atrocities like rape, sexual assault, abuse of any kind, and murder committed by men.
Rudy Francisco is a 36 year old American spoken word poet and poetry author. He performs his poetry, competes in poetry contests and has written three poetry books. Rudy’s poem, The Heart and The Fist is a poem that speaks on guns but the real message is not about guns. It’s about boys and men in society. It’s about how our culture is deeply conflicted about manhood, and how we can’t decide what it is or should be, or even whether we’re for or against it.
Rudy Francisco’s poem is about repurposing and transforming boys or men in a way where they can acknowledge their feelings and not feel like they are being less of a man because of it. In the spoken word poetry community, members are excited to hear others challenge themselves, societal norms, and pushing boundaries. As this poem demonstrates, you can still create magic within the confinement of a more traditional format. By “traditional format” I mean that Rudy starts his poem with a fact, a stat, an anecdote. His poem introduces a picture to the viewers mind and then he loops back around to re-contextualize that same image at the end (gun to instrument and manhood). He has a clear specific thesis that is supported by a structural arc, in which every new line or idea he presents relates back to his main idea of men steering away from this ‘manly’ notion and transforming themselves in a beautiful way like the guns did in his poem.
His poem starts by talking about Pedro Reyes, a man who turned guns to instruments. Pedro Reyes resides in Mexico and had been around dangerous drug wars and while seeing these conditions, he decided to transform the guns from something his culture saw as violently horrendous into a beautifully captivating art piece. Pedro used his talent and art to change the perspective of the people around him, “I want my work to be useful for social and psychological transformation” (Reyes, Vice Creators).
Further on in the poem Rudy starts to describes himself in a scenario as a kid where he beat up a boy for making a ‘Yo Mama Joke’ and how his family praised him for his violent act. For Rudy and other men around the world, I feel that instances like his are some of the first moments where masculinity can become synonymous with violence in their young minds. Towards the end of the poem Rudy says, “ I am learning that a man is not defined by what he can destroy” and this is a pivotal point because he is breaking down societies ‘norm’ and realizing there is more to a man than toughness. Rudy then closes with “I came across a picture of a strange violin, the caption said that it was made out of a rifle. I thought to myself, ‘someday that could be me.’” The end of his poem is a real tear-jerker because it is showing that the author seeks to be transformed and believes he can be.
The author uses guns as a symbol of power, intent, and toughness. Alluding to their killing qualities and destruction. However, he uses the transformation of the guns to instruments still as a tool of power, purpose, and beauty.
Another interesting component in Rudy Francisco’s poem is, “And isn’t that what masculinity has become: A bunch of dudes afraid of their own feelings, terrified of any emotion but anger” and this quote brings up a crucial topic circling society today: Why bottling up emotions is a central part of being a man? The ideal man in the media is the emotionally strong, buff, silent type. He’s action packed, he gets the girl, and he probably drives a truck or sports car. His only turmoil is winning challenges and being tougher than nails, which is an ‘easy’ job.
The lack of emotion shown in the media has become a traditional trademark what what masculinity should be. Because girls tend to express their feelings more openly, boys learn that sharing their feelings as well would result in being less manly. This gender difference seems psychologically obvious that it’s rarely challenged, yet there is not clear cut reason why the endurance of pain and hardship without the display of feelings is such key part of the masculine gender role.
Other components of masculinity like; competitiveness, dominance, impulsivity, and aggression have some genetic links in boys. Live Science Staff research finds that the testosterone levels of a fetus in utero may program certain behaviors in boys as they grow older. Even before birth, the fluid in the amniotic sac has been tested and had higher levels of testosterone than the majority of female fetuses (live science staff, Fetal Testosterone). This idea contributes to the different temperaments in early life, independent of socialization in the western communities. On average many studies would suggest that boys are typically and statistically more aggressive than girls.
The last component of masculinity is socialization. Furthering the “cool and chill” image is also held as a ‘manly’ standard across many cultures. To begin with, many of our most destructive societal problems such as; war, homicide, and abuse result from extreme cases of male aggression and hyper-dominance or competitiveness. While these problems are not directly related to the masculine identity, the incentive our culture has on men can do so. Discouraging men’s emotional development and expression has repercussions and Rudy Francisco speaks on transformation so that the men in society today can take a step into their very own metamorphosis.
“Crime and Gender: A Partial Explanation for Why Men Commit More Crime.” Journalist’s Resource, 14 Apr. 2017, journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/crime-gender-women-prison-heart-rate. I chose this article to use as a source because their statistics are reliable. Even though they are a commercial site, they reference studies done at University of Pennsylvania. The site also talks about the Bureau of criminal justice and has a direct link from their site to the other so that you can fact check to make sure they aren’t falsifying information.
“Fetal Testosterone May Program Boys’ behavior.” Live Science, 5 Nov. 2012,
I chose this article to use because it was created by a scientists in order to show that boy can have a predisposition for their behavior. Originally i thought that this article might be able to play devil’s advocate but after reading it, I found it was more useful to me because it couldn’t back up masculinity being completely reliant on testosterone.
Feinstein, Laura. “From Guns To Drums: Pedro Reyes Turns Weapons Of Hate Into Musical Instruments.” Creators, VICE, 12 Sept. 2013, creators.vice.com/en_us/article/8qvaag/from-guns-to-drums-pedro-reyes. I chose this article because it helped me understand the motive of Pedro Reyes and why he wanted to turn the instruments into guns. This in turn also helped me understand Rudy’s poem and the main idea. Vice interviewed Pedro directly and they are a well known journalism company that discusses controversial topics and that’s why it’s reliable.