Toxic Masculinity: A Guide

Toxic masculinity has recently come into the forefront of certain conversations ever since the Gillette commercial aired in the middle of January. It called forward men’s actions and tried to advise that they could do better when it comes to expressing emotions, dealing with aggression and their treatment of women. The commercial – amazingly – caused outrage among men in America, who felt that they were being criticized unfairly by the company and became angry about the term “toxic masculinity” in general.

This feeling may be accounted for simply due to the fact that they feel as though anything a man does is automatically written off as toxic masculinity. This is not the case. "Toxic masculinity" is a phrase reserved for actions that get in the way of men healthily expressing themselves. These actions often include using aggression to mask feelings or express a variety of other emotions, as some believe that showing certain feelings is too feminine and therefore weak.

Weakness is often associated with women and femininity is also a trait of toxic masculinity (and you can check the thesaurus if you think I’m making this up). From this point of view, women are also typically seen as objects. They objectify women but feel that women’s dress determines her treatment, which in extreme cases may lead to sexual assault and, in the case of the current leader of our country, they might brag about doing so.

It’s important to understand that “toxic masculinity” is not the same as being masculine or just simply being a man. It is a specific set of expressed traits and characteristics that are extremely unhealthy to both the man and those around him. Toxic masculinity encapsulates using physical violence to reinforce dominance, enforcing strict, stereotypical gender roles, restricting emotions that are allowable to express, limiting their emotional range to primarily aggression and anger, wanting to establish themselves as “alpha male,” devaluing women, and displaying homophobia (because by liking the same sex, these men have given up their stereotypical masculinity).

There are negative health effects when it comes to living this way, which include depression, stress, body image problems, substance abuse, and poor social functioning, and often, the men who suffer from these issues are not going to seek the psychological help that they may need and discuss their health with physicians and loved ones alike.

Because this is a very public issue, celebrities like Terry Crews have been speaking out against it. The super-buff, stereotypically “masculine” looking actor came into the spotlight when he became an advocate for the #MeToo Movement, coming forward with his own story of sexual assault in Hollywood. Now, he preaches about the dangers of toxic masculinity – how some men feel they can show dominance over anyone who is smaller, weaker, or, in this case, less powerful than themselves. He also speaks on how he is often looked down on as a man who is also an artist and a flutist, and the men who look down on him miss out on things that may really enjoy because of a persona and beliefs that they are so stubborn on keeping. A food (yes, I have had men get offended at work when I even say the word “salad”), instrument, hobby, or color may be too girly, and that attitude keeps toxic masculinity alive.

The next time someone believes that simply being a man is what makes people throw around this term, or the next time you hear someone using this phrase as a synonym for simply being masculine, be sure to explain that it’s actually an over-aggressive, alpha male, domination-driven attitude being displayed, which hurts not only the people around them but themselves.