Toxic Masculinity

In the play Angels in America the character Roy Cohn represents a form of masculinity that society often portrays as very manly but also toxic, to hide his homosexuality by talking down on woman and having a big ego.

In Act 1, Scene 2 Roy argues with a client on the phone because he missed their court date and says “YOU THINK I’M THE ONLY GODDAMN LAWYER IN HISTORY EVER MISSED A COURT DATE?! Don’t make such a big fucking— Hold.” (Kushner 12), emphasizing how he is not treating his client with respect, yelling at him, and trying to present himself in a superior position, which can be read as very “manly”. It contributes to the stigma that still exists in society, that men need to act strong, tough, focus on material success and take a superior role in society. However, this behavior is highly toxic and just strengthens the idea of a men needing to act and present themselves in a certain way for society to accept them as “manly”. Ever other form of self-representation could be interpretated as feminine and connected to homosexuality.

The aspect of Roy having a big ego and acting on toxic masculine behavior can also be observed as the  talks down on two women in the same scene. On one hand, he calls his secretary multiple times “baby doll” (Kushner 12) which shows the little respect he has for her and, on the other hand, he talks down on Mrs. Hollins as he says “Yeah, yeah right good so how many tickets dear? Seven? For what, Cats, 42nd Street, what? No you wouldn’t like La Cage, trust me, I know. Oh for godsake” (Kushner 12). This situation shows how Roy questions Mrs. Hollins capability to make a good choice and instead makes it for her, by not validating her opinion.

Both described aspects are relevant to understand that Roy is trying to cover his homosexuality through his behavior, which he believes underline his masculinity and the associated heterosexuality. I believe that the character Roy is great example of how homosexual men are pressured to have the need to be portrayed with manly considered attributes to not be questioned in their sexuality. In addition, I assume that many closeted homosexuals fear rejection from society if they are associated with female read characteristics.

All in all, I believe that this scene shows how much work we still have to do in society by breaking up stereotypes about “feminine” and “male” behavior and how these characteristics don’t give an answer to people’s sexual orientation or identity.

3 thoughts on “Toxic Masculinity”

  1. I really like your interpretation of this part of the play. I think you’re correct to say that Roy being written as sexist and dismissive of the women in this scene is especially emblematic of his internalized homophobia. This makes me think back to Saeed Jones’s “History, According to Boy” in which he wrote about using toxic masculinity as a defense mechanism within a community that did not accept him as a queer and gender non-conforming person. I’m thinking back to the line “Other notes…hands that are not his hands slipping below the waists of the Girls during slow dances” in which “Boy” is taking note that in order to fit into society’s expectations for what it means to be masculine, it is necessary in some way to degrade women. I think both of these examples are especially telling of the ways that oppression often becomes a cycle of the oppressed becoming the oppressor as a means to protect oneself.

  2. The character of Roy Cohn is a great example of toxic masculinity. Another example that I’d like to bring in is a real-life example of the complicated relationship between femininity and masculinity. Cheri Moraga in Loving in the War Years writes about her father and specifically how he was an individual who presented more soft and feminine features and what this did to him. Moraga details how she didn’t want to become his kind of queer, “It is this queer I run from. A pain that turns us to quiet surrender…Surrender is too active a term…Resignation” (Moraga 2). Roy Cohn became an awful person who hurts those around him because of the way society views homosexuality while Moraga father became repressed.

  3. Your toxic masculinity interpretation of this particular scene in Angels of America is very interesting and reminded me of the fifth section of the poem “History, according to Boy”, by Saaed Jones. Although Jones’s father doesn’t reprehend his son openly, he swiftly looks at him unapprovingly, because Jones celebrates in a way that he is not considered masculine. This event happened during Jones’s childhood and he still remembers it, even though it was subtle. Toxic masculinity is pervasive in many ways, be it Roy Cohn’s open aggression or Jones’s father micro violence.

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