The notion of toxic masculinity is gaining more prominence these days and I think it often gets misconstrued as some sort of attack on men. I used to see it this way, but I feel like I can help bridge the gap that might exist for those who are still opposed to the existence of the term.
The first point I wish to touch on is that we first have to stop solely associating the concept of masculinity with men because any individual can exhibit masculine behavior or traits even if it is more common among men for biological reasons. However, the reason this point is so important is because it allows us to realize that toxic masculinity can be practiced by anyone, although it is predominantly a male issue.
The second point I want to touch on now is that we need to understand the actual meanings and definitions of both masculinity and toxic masculinity to be able to differentiate the two. Masculinity – which can have a varying meaning depending on culture – is typically seen as the quality or condition of being masculine, entailing qualities such as leadership skills, courage, competitiveness, protectiveness, and strength. Therefore, having listed those qualities, I think it’s safe to say we can all agree that they are most certainly not reserved for men and that we can see women exhibiting them every day.
Now for toxic masculinity, it is characterized by the enforcement of rigid gender roles but also involves the “need to aggressively compete and dominate others,” according to Parent, Gobble, & Rochlen. Additional examples of this could also be bullying or degrading others for not behaving a certain way. Put quite frankly, to engage in toxic masculinity is to choose to be an arrogant jerk, if I were to say it in a polite way.
For those who might say or question that this is some sort of movement to make the “men of society” softer and weaker, let’s quit with that dated, aged, and ignorant argument. Any individual can possess masculine traits without the need to tear down, humiliate, and degrade those around them.
Furthermore, there is some major irony in the byproduct of toxic masculinity and its effects on men. Two points that resonate with me that I specifically want to touch on are the harm it causes to men’s lives and overall health, and, finally, that the actual foundation of toxic masculinity contradicts itself.
Studies have shown that men specifically become so affected by toxically masculine beliefs that a large population of men refuse to seek medical help because it is perceived as weak. In addition to this, a large portion of health issues men have are often caused by things that were labeled as manly, such as excessive drinking, smoking, or sexual intercourse, according to Kirby & Kirby. What I mean by toxic masculinity’s foundation contradicting itself is that it is entirely based around “being the boss, dominance, and control.” Yet, so many individuals do the opposite of that by submitting to these values and not being the boss of themselves and acting how they wish to.
Finally, a way I like to look at toxic masculinity is as if it were a medical term. Having specific terms for specific conditions or injuries allows us to treat them appropriately, so why would it be any different with human behavior? If we simply continue to label toxically masculine behavior as someone being a bully or malicious, we cannot identify the root of the problem because they simply fall into the category of undesirable behavior. However, since we do have the term to label the behavior, we can diagnose that it is abuse and enforcement of those values and traits. This also allows us to preserve genuine good masculinity by realizing that it isn’t a problem.
In conclusion, I hope this can help inform one of the importance of having the appropriate vocabulary to label and deal with certain issues, but also that it sheds some light on the topic of toxic masculinity as well.