Now that we have worked to identify what it means to be The Detoxing Man and I have shared what this has looked like within my life, I want to widen our field of vision to start looking for examples of complex and positive masculinity within our wider world. So, naturally the next step is to start by doing a short series on Masculinity within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While I could spend a very long time dissecting the ways in which the instincts of “war-to-end-all-wars” superheroes are incredibly toxic and represent the worst that male-supremacist fantasies have to offer, but I’m not going to do that. We all know that constantly shooting one another with bullets or punching with AI-informed exoskeletons is not a recipe for vulnerability and self-realization.
And yet, these are the most popular movies in the world, and if we look more closely at them, we might be able to use them to help inform our way forward, expanding the possible ways of being for modern men. In fact, it is because they are so violence-forward and present larger-than-life machismo that makes them a ripe environment for finding new ways to be kind or empathetic or introspective or any of the other 30 attributes of the Detoxing Man that we just got finished enumerating.
So, here it is, the first installment in what I’m calling Marvel Masculinity. Also, Spoilers:
GRIEVING MAN: Then it got kind of quiet. He cried during the salads.
OLDER MAN: What about you?
GRIEVING MAN: I cried just before dessert. But I’m seeing him again tomorrow. So…
STEVE: That’s great. You’ve already done the hardest part. You took a jump, didn’t know where you’d come down. And that’s it, those little brave baby steps we’ve gotta take. To try to make us feel whole again, to find a purpose… (to everyone) I went into the ice right after I met the love of my life. Woke up seventy years later and…had to keep going.
The group takes this in.
STEVE (CONT’D): The world’s been left in our hands. If we don’t do something with it…Avengers: Endgame
First, some context. Steve Rogers, Captain America, is canonically born in 1920. For him to facilitate a small group therapy session with a gay man who is talking openly about crying, he would have had to overcome a huge amount of his pre-world war notions of Traditional Male Ideology (TMI). This requires that he sees everyone he encounters in that room as fully capable of complex emotions and that it is important for each of them to share feelings and find growth within the community.
Next, Steve validates the man’s sadness and and gives a personal story of his own journey to find healing. This moment of vulnerability, short as though it was, removes the mask of superhuman strength and allows him to show others that he has lost something and continues to find strength in seeking ongoing purpose.
Finally, he provides an empathetic challenge to the community, a responsibility he feels to the other members and to the world, not because he is Captain America, but because he is enduringly human. His masculinity in that moment is not lessened because he is not punching or slinging his shield at the problem. Rather, it is strengthened because he is striving for “wholeness” and complexity in a world filled with complex emotions that demand to be felt.