By Christina Barbieri
Dr. Colleen Lutz Clemens, a professor at KU and director of Women’s and Gender studies, has taken fire recently over a tweet she posted about toxic masculinity. The tweet read, “Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT. Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT. Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT.” The tweet was written after the Texas church shooting, well before the media released information about the perpetrator in question beating his wife and children.
This tweet received many favorites and retweets from Twitter users, one tweeter being Chuck Wendig, a well-known writer for his Star Wars collection. Once Wendig retweeted this post, the tweet gained more attention and news reporters caught wind of it. The morning after Dr. Clemens’ tweet, she received a phone call from a woman asking to interview her briefly, and Clemens, being the educator she is, accepted. Weeks of online harassment ensued, including death threats and hate mail; Clemens’ credibility as a professor in higher education was questioned.
Toxic masculinity is not meant to be a target of masculinity itself, but it is a term used to describe what men may feel when society tells them they must not be weak or show their emotions. This is what is toxic, not masculinity itself. It is toxic when fathers, mothers, coaches, teachers, uncles and aunts tell young boys they must be strong. Clemens’ tweet blamed this shooting, along with many other mass shootings, on toxic masculinity because the men committing these murders may have had mental illnesses. Although they may feel that society considers seeking help as a weakness, these men push their pain and suffering onto others instead of asking for emotional support.
As news of the tweet spread throughout different media outlets, KU’s campus also became aware of the backlash of Clemens’ tweet. Many students and professors have been talking about the situation, seeming to agree and understand where Clemens was coming from when she made her claim. As the educated students wrapped their heads around toxic masculinity, they witnessed the lack of understanding from left wing media and internet trolls.
Hate mail poured in and threats continued when Dr. Clemens was asked to speak with Tucker Carlson. Clemens felt uneasy about speaking with Carlson due to the threats she was already receiving and ultimately declined. Carlson went on to do the segment, but had another woman, Cathy Areu, speak on the topic. What shocked KU’s community the most was the fact that people who didn’t care to learn about toxic masculinity believed Cathy was Colleen Clemens—when clearly, it read on Fox news the woman’s name was Cathy, not Colleen.
Although this was a terrifying time for Clemens, her family, her colleagues and her students, she stood by her tweet and defended herself accordingly. This was a test of dexterity for Clemens and with the support of KU’s English department and many others across campus, she continues her dedicated work of informing younger generations of societal issues and the importance of higher education.