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Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: How Toxic Masculinity Produces Sexual Assault

Poison Tree, Poison Fruit

In the legal world, there exists a doctrine called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Used as a rule to exclude ill-gotten evidence, the metaphor claims if the source- or the “tree”- of evidence is tainted, then anything gained- the “fruit”- is tainted as well. This image of a decrepit rotting tree, high atop a hill, with its suspicious looking fruit hanging within arm’s reach, also serves as a wonderful metaphor for toxic masculinity.

The Toxic Masculinitree bares numerous fruit. Racism, domestic violence, general violence, homophobia, transphobia, and sexual assault all hang as products of the negative attitudes adopted to protect the male ego. And if these byproducts are the fruit, then dominion is the sunlight allowing them to grow on the vine. After all, it is the need for control that pushes the ego into negative areas. Racism is the thought that one race is superior to others. Domestic violence is the dominion of a spouse or partner using physical, emotional, or economic weapons. And sexual assault is the control over a person using sexual activity.

While you probably do not need me to define things such as rape, sodomy, or sexual abuse, it is important to look at these acts to see where dominion turns sex into a crime. Though part of the reason I studied law was to escape the mathematics requirement of other majors, the sexual assault equations are easy to grasp:

Sexual Activity + Consent = Positive Sexual Encounter

Sexual Activity - Consent= Sexual Assault

And it is the second equation where dominion meets its nasty cousin: entitlement.

The Soil

If dominion is the sunlight that allows the Toxic Masculinitree to grow, then entitlement is the soil, rich in nutrients, that strengthens the roots. It is that initial thought that as men, we are somehow owed something due to our penis, that makes way for the use of dominion to claim our target. When dominion and entitlement combine, the fruit of sexual assault blossoms on the Toxic Masculinitree. And once harvested, this fruit leads to the sex crimes we hear about, both on amplified mediums such as the evening news and in hushed tones from those close to us.

For an example of entitlement and dominion at work, take look at the Incel Community. The Southern Poverty Law Center currently describes the Incel Community as “part of the online male supremist ecosystem.” It is listed alongside other hate groups dining on the fruit of the poisonous tree such as the Ku Klux Klan, Neo Nazis, and Neo Confederates.

The Incel community hasn’t always been as nefarious as they are today. The earliest online use of the term “Involuntary Celibate” can be traced back to the year 1993 and a Canadian woman identified by her first name only, Alana. Curious why she, as an undergraduate at Carleton University, had never had sex or even a boyfriend, Alana created an all text website called “Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project.” The website’s purpose was meant to be a supportive and inclusive community for men and women who, like Alana, were lonely and unlucky at love. And that is exactly what her Incel group was: a friendly community of lonely hearts, connecting to one another and providing each other support as they navigated through the romantic jungle. A few years after founding her website, Alana would start discovering her bisexuality, begin dating both men and women, and ultimately move away from the site, turning it over to a “man she didn’t know.” Years later, Alana would be horrified at what her supportive community had become.

Today, Incel communities exist all throughout the internet. Gone is the supportive community and in its place is a cesspool of misogyny, sexism, and men who feel owed a sexual relationships. Instead of taking personal responsibility for their romantic situation and seeking betterment, the modern day Incel is fueled by entitlement which leads them to blame women for not succumbing to their physical desires . The modern Incel views women as objects and openly expresses anger for his lack of sexual control over them. In many cases, Incels will openly fantasize abut committing acts of sexual violence against women, even calling for their rape as a means to obtain some perverse form justice against these women who have the audacity to not want to have sex with them. The combination of entitlement and dominion (in this case, the lack of) are the elements that keep the roots of toxic masculinity strong in this once supportive online community.

Planters of the Seed, Pruners of the Branch

While understanding Toxic Masculinitree photosynthesis is important, it is also crucial to know how these trees get planted in the first place. Typically, a culture of toxic masculinity is generational. In fraternities and sports teams, it is culture that is passed down from generation to generation, rarely questioned and largely accepted. Baylor University found the public spotlight on their football program in 2017 when a woman sued the university,