Toxic masculinity is a term that gets thrown around a lot lately. In discussions in the media it seems to come up a lot and #metoo seems to have propelled the previously fringe term into the mainstream or at least into my view. Since I’m not exactly sure what it means I thought it would be a good idea to do some research and see what it means exactly.
Want to know more about what masculinity is? Check out these articles;
- Masculine mindset
- Masculine traits and behavior
- Does masculine character exist?
- What’s the definition of masculinity?
What is toxic masculinity?
I like dictionaries. If they do what they’re supposed to, they tell you what a word means.
Since toxic masculinity is two words, dictionaries can’t tell you what they mean together but, they can tell you the separate meanings of the two words.
Masculinity: “the characteristics that are traditionally thought to be typical of or suitable for men.”
Toxic: “Very unpleasant or unacceptable” or “Causing you a lot of harm or unhappiness over a long period of time”
Putting that together you have something like: “The characteristics traditionally thought of as suitable for men that cause you a lot of harm or unhappiness over a long period of time.”
That last definition is my own creation so let’s explore a little bit more.
Since the dictionary doesn’t seem to have fully cleared up the meaning for me, lets see if we can find some other sources.
The good man project: “Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”
Well that makes things a little bit clearer but not perfectly. Let’s see if we can find some examples of what other people think are “toxic masculinity”.
What do people give as examples of toxic masculinity? These are just a couple of random examples found on Google. I’m not saying these are correct or incorrect. This is just to give an idea of what the users of the phrase think it means.
- Harvey Weinstein and his abuse of power.
- The expectation that real men are strong, and that showing emotion is incompatible with being strong.
- The idea that a real man cannot be a victim of abuse, or that talking about it is shameful.
- The expectation that Real Men are keenly interested in sex, want to have sex, and are ready to have sex most if not all times
- The idea that Real Men should be prepared to be violent, even when it is not called for.
- Liking feminine things is seen as not manly.
- The idea that violence is the answer to everything and that REAL men solve their problems through violence.
- The idea that men could never be single parents and that men shouldn’t be very interactive in their children’s learning and development and that men should always be the dominant one in the relationship or else he’s a “Cuck.”
- Man spreading. The spreading of your legs in cramped situations.
- Mansplaining. A man explaining something to a woman as if she isn’t on the same level.
These examples are just copied straight off the internet from sources that are likely to use the term “toxic masculinity” in a serious way.
Looking at the usage and examples it seems to me that toxic masculinity is a blanket term for a range of behaviors. In my view you can divide these into three different categories: 1.) Others think you’re an asshole. 2.) Illegal. 3.) Societal expectations.
The first category is the illegal stuff. Rape, violence, etc. These things are obviously bad. Not much more to say about that. In prison, rapists have to be protected from other inmates. I think that should tell you enough about what the vast majority of men think about that crime.
The second category is a little different. This is not the obviously illegal stuff. These things aren’t illegal and they most likely shouldn’t be. Many of these behaviors are those that make other people think you’re an asshole.
It’s not against the law to be an asshole. Thinking someone is an asshole or is doing something wrong doesn’t necessarily make it true. There can be plenty of reasons why someone is acting in a certain way. And there can be plenty of reasons why you interpret certain behavior as good or bad.
If someone is acting like an asshole, how do you know that’s because of his particular brand of “masculinity”? Why not his religion, mood, weather or a nearly unlimited amount of other factors?
3. Societal expectations
This category is interesting. I personally don’t recognize a lot of the expectations listed in the examples. And as far as I recognize them I would say that women expect these things from men as much as men do from men or maybe more. So in that sense it doesn’t make sense to call it “toxic masculinity” why not “toxic expectations”.
I don’t agree with how many of the examples are phrased. There is a core of truth somewhere in these examples but I can’t agree with them in their current form.
Even if I rewrote these examples to something I could recognize, I don’t think many of these expectations are good or bad. They are just the way they are because of how we evolved and have made things work for many thousands of years.
Character or behavior?
Masculinity means: “the characteristics that are traditionally thought to be typical of or suitable for men.”
Masculinity means a person’s characteristics. Behavior isn’t the same as characteristics or personality but it can be influenced by it.
The behavior you show is a result of many things. Character is one of those things. Others are: culture, situation, upbringing and probably more. You can consciously regulate your behavior to a certain degree. Your personality is much less under your control.
Nature vs. nurture
The nature vs. nurture debate is far from decided and it’s unclear how much influence each has. I think it’s safe to say that both nature and nurture have a role in shaping a person’s personality. How much influence each part has is very difficult to say at this point.
It seems that most things the users of the phrase “toxic masculinity” are complaining about are behaviors. While personality can never be an excuse for breaking the law, it sure does have an influence on behavior.
With all that said, I have a few observations and opinions about the phrase “toxic masculinity”
If “masculinity” is a person’s traditionally male personality and traits, “toxic masculinity” is negatively judging a person’s personality and traits. Since I don’t believe people are a blank slate when born, the people that use the words toxic masculinity are at least partly judging others on the basis of immutable characteristics. In effect saying that masculine characteristics are “wrong”. It seems to me that judging someone on their immutable characteristics is wrong in itself. Immutable characteristics should not be something that’s “good” or “bad”.
Behavior not personality
Let’s give the people that use the phrase the benefit of the doubt and say they are not judging someone on their personality. They are judging the behavior. I think its common sense that you can judge behavior. That means the phrase is not entirely correct and more than a little misleading.
Why blame masculinity?
There are certain behaviors that are more commonly (but not exclusively) exhibited by men. Some are illegal for good reasons. Most men don’t engage in these acts and it seems unfair to use the same phrase for these acts as for being “an asshole”.
Since there is no strict definition of toxic masculinity it’s up to the user to use it for a certain behavior or not. This could be dangerous since there is a strong stigma attached to the phrase. Any behavior exhibited by a man that is not liked by someone else could be classified as “toxic masculinity”.
Outside of the clearly illegal acts, there is a big grey area of what is good and bad. Some people might have good reasons to act in a certain way. You’re free to believe that person is an asshole. Maybe he is. But why blame it on “masculinity” instead of on the person. That person might well be a xxxx even if their gender was different. In that case it seems that not the gender is responsible but the person.
Society, not masculinity
Many of the expectations on men are perpetrated as much or more by women as they are by men. So calling those expectations “toxic masculinity” doesn’t make sense.
Besides that, I don’t actually recognize many of those expectations listed as examples myself. Finally, I’m not convinced that having certain expectations of men is wrong. Many of these expectations are a result of our history as humans. Granted, our society looks very different from 1000 years ago. That doesn’t mean that everything left over from that period is “wrong”.
No clear opposite leads to confusion
There seems to be a lack of clarity of what is the opposite of the phrase. The group that uses the phrase never even alludes to the existence of an opposite; leading people to believe that there is only “toxic masculinity” and no other forms of masculinity. If there is no other form of masculinity, that must mean the opposite of “toxic masculinity” is “femininity”. Combine this with point 4 and you must come to the conclusion that any unwanted behavior exhibited by a man would be fixed by becoming more feminine.
I think the phrase “toxic masculinity” is too undefined and broad to agree or disagree with. I think the phrase and use of it is either deliberately unclear or just not thought out very well. The users should make clear what the opposite is. Is it; 1.) Masculinity 2.)Positive masculinity 3.)Femininity 4.)Toxic Femininity 5.)Positive femininity or maybe 6.) sanctified?
Don’t take it at face value
Are there behaviors commonly exhibited by men that could improve? I’m sure there are. I don’t want to go into which behaviors here and now. However, not everything that is labeled as “toxic masculinity” is actually bad. Not everyone may like certain behaviors it but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Remember the phrase “If you meet one asshole, it’s probably and asshole. If you everyone you meet is an asshole, you might be one.”
The current usage of the phrase and lack of alternatives make it a very divisive term. Basically condemning men for being men. By default saying men should be more like women. Especially in the current culture I strongly believe this is counterproductive, only driving a wedge between men and women. Not bringing them closer together.
Free from moral judgment
Being a man or woman is not innately good or bad. Being a certain gender should be completely devoid from moral judgment in my opinion. Since there are biological differences between the genders, they’re going to have different behaviors. Some good, some bad.
A good conversation about those things would probably help us understand each other way more than bashing each other over the head with blanket terms that divide people.
Toxic masculinity isn’t a great phrase. In my opinion people should refrain from using it since the stigma attached to the phrase is so negative while the boundaries are unclear. That means it can be arbitrarily used as an attack for something another person doesn’t like. The phrase also lumps all kinds of horrible acts together with things that are just normal masculine behavior.
Condemning people for normal things with the same words as used for the most horrible acts imaginable is just sloppy use of language and potentially dangerous. Then as a final piece of the puzzle there isn’t a good way out for the men that didn’t actually do anything wrong.
The only way out at the moment is the logical conclusion that men should become more feminine. In my opinion that’s not a healthy way out for the vast majority of men. Especially since at the moment the phrase seems to be a condemnation of everything that is even remotely masculine. That results in condemning almost all men to be “wrong”.
The phrase is divisive and doesn’t help make our society become a better place.
Do you feel like you’re not as masculine as you could be? Check out the program “Masculine Core”. It’ll help you awaken the masculine that’s waiting inside of you.
Hi there. I’m BetterDaily. I’m a man in his early thirties that likes to travel, ride motorcycles, work out and write. Usually I write about men, things related to masculinity and things men like. Teacher by day, blogger by night.