Will Smith's actions are a clear example of our society's problem with toxic masculinity and we must do something about it.
When one thinks about the Academy Awards, the word "unpredictable" isn't usually what comes to mind. "Dignified," yes. "Fashionable," definitely. "Lengthy," maybe. But words like "unpredictable" are typically associated with the antics shown at the MTV Video Music Awards. Or, at least, what the VMAs used to be before MTV was steamrolled over by the now-dominant music video platform known as YouTube.
YouTube and other social media platforms had a field day when the Academy Awards aired on Sunday March 27. At first, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Celebrities filled the red carpet. It seemed pretty standard, except for some moments which felt like this ceremony was differing from previous ones. For starters, Timothée Chalamet went shirtless in a stunning Louis Vuitton ensemble. Then, Jamie Dornan kissed Andrew Garfield on the cheek, causing gay hearts everywhere to flutter.
The changes between Oscars past and present were a positive, welcome progression so far. What would ensue during the actual show, however, was another story entirely.
Chris Rock was on stage presenting the award for Best Documentary. During his monologue, Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's baldness, the result of the autoimmune disorder, alopecia. He likened it to G.I. Jane. Will Smith, her husband, laughed at first. Then, when he noticed his wife wasn't too pleased with the joke, shame and guilt consumed him. Smith decided to take it out on Rock, and clumsily attempt to assert his dominance in the process, by walking on stage and slapping him across the face.
Let's be clear: this wasn't a punch. Anyone who is calling it a punch is being way too kind to Will Smith. They're probably stroking his ego out of fear he'll do the same thing to them. It was nothing more than a weak, pathetic slap. After sitting down, Smith yelled at Rock, "keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth!" This wasn't heard during the American broadcast, which censored the exchange.
It wasn't just an unpredictable moment not expected at the Oscars. It was a clear example of society's chokehold on men and their emotions. It was a visual representation of the old-fashioned idea that the only acceptable way for men to express their anger is through physical violence. And it made a very clear statement: we still haven't grown out of this old-fashioned idea.
Chris Rock's joke was insensitive. He shouldn't have made it, especially since Jada herself didn't seem to be in on it. However, the fact that Smith felt like the only course of action he could take involved hitting someone speaks to a societal problem we must rid ourselves of.
A real man would have pulled Rock aside privately during a commercial break and told him the joke wasn't cool. A real man would've been brave enough to have that conversation. A real man wouldn't assume his wife wouldn't be satisfied unless he resorted to assault. Because a real woman would be embarrassed if her husband did such a thing.
When you see Jamie Dornan hugging and kissing Andrew Garfield on the red carpet, this isn't just an example of two men comfortable with their sexuality. These are two men who have evolved past society's rigid and close-minded expectations of them. They're in touch with their emotions and aren't afraid to express them. But, more importantly, when they do express them, it's done in a healthy way.
What Will Smith did is the epitome of toxic masculinity. Clarification: that phrase doesn't mean masculinity is toxic in general. It refers to ways in which masculinity is taken to a toxic place. Andrew Garfield and Jamie Dornan don't lose an ounce of their masculinity when they show physical affection towards one another. However, after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, he came across incredibly weak. He acted like an insecure, unhinged child in the middle of a temper tantrum.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that women don't find this sexy.
There are a lot of people speculating whether or not this was planned. It certainly didn't look that way. However, even if it were planned, it doesn't soften the blow. It still holds the perspective that this is an acceptable way for a man to defend his wife. It still sends the message that this is the only way men should express emotion.
Smith ended up winning Best Actor for his performance in "King Richard," something many are now saying he could lose as a result of the incident. He did apologize during his acceptance speech, so I'm going to guess the Academy will accept it and move on. Chris Rock has said he will not press charges. This will most likely be nothing more than a "here today, gone tomorrow" kind of story. Chances are nobody will even remember it by the week's end.
To say that's unfair would be an understatement.
If the average Joe punched a colleague at a work event, he would be fired on the spot and escorted out at the very least. In extreme cases, he would be arrested and taken to jail. Will Smith wasn't just allowed to stay inside the building, but he was allowed to receive and accept an award. The Academy did nothing, except to tweet an empty sentence saying they don't condone violence. This is the kind of privilege allotted to those within a certain social class. In this case, wealthy celebrities who live within a bubble, blind to how things operate in the real world.
Our society needs to encourage men to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. Giving Will Smith a pass for this incident is just allowing toxic masculinity to persist even further. We must call for male vulnerability to be more common and accepted. We must normalize men exchanging words instead of fists, or in Will Smith's case, hands.
Will Smith didn't act in defense of anyone, not even himself. Chris Rock didn't throw any punches (or slaps) and he should be commended for taking the high road. Smith acted out in an uncharacteristic manner and should be punished accordingly. The Academy should either make him return his Oscar, ban him from future ceremonies, or both. This kind of behavior shouldn't be normalized and people should be held accountable.
Men need to know that it's okay to cry. It's okay to get angry. It's okay to talk to your friends and open up about your feelings. You don't have to suffer in silence. You don't have to see physical violence as the only outlet. Being vulnerable doesn't take away your strength. If anything, owning your weakness is what makes you even stronger.