Toxic Masculinity: What it is and Why it Needs to be Addressed

 

The term “toxic masculinity” has been growing both in popularity and in controversy. I, like many others no doubt, have seen it discussed on Facebook and in various social media posts recently. In particular, I have seen people complain that the term is waging some sort of “war on men”. Based on some of the content of the conversations I’ve witnessed, however, it seems that a lot of people misunderstand the meaning of the term. Toxic masculinity is more than just “men being men” and, if not addressed, it will continue to have harmful effects on both women and men.

 

What Toxic Masculinity Is

The definition of toxic masculinity can be worded in many ways, but the way blogger Harris O’Malley describes it, as “a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression”, suits the purpose here. Toxic masculinity is built out of expectations of brutality, aggression, and hypersexuality. A man’s strength and sexual activity are used to measure his manhood. The latter is evident in the use of modern-day insults, such as “beta”, “cuck”, and “white knight”, that target a man’s sexual relations. In addition to this, traits that are viewed as feminine, such as showing emotion, are considered weaknesses. When insults that refer to women and to their body parts are levied at men, they imply that he has no manhood and that, by being womanly, he is inferior.

 

How It Hurts Women

Because a man’s hypersexuality is used as a measure of his manhood, women are often sought after as sexual conquests that bolster a man’s reputation. The dehumanization of women often occurs because of men who are afraid of looking or feeling “weak”. Women are assaulted, harassed, and ultimately viewed as trophies.

What adds to this is that such views of women are normalized by society and often even encouraged. The Steubenville case, Brock Turner, and, most recently, Brett Kavanaugh are all examples of when disgusting behavior is viewed as permissible because “boys will be boys.” It’s so prevalent, in fact, that it has come to be expected. Women are often warned about how to avoid getting raped, but such is rarely the case for men when it comes to committing such acts. Former Detroit Lions linebacker Deandre Levy says, in his article encouraging men to take a stand against sexual assault, “My understanding is that most women have heard the talk about how to avoid becoming a victim, but growing up, I was never involved in a conversation about what consent is. I was never even flat-out told not to rape or sexually assault anyone.” Because such behavior is normalized, few people really question it that much and a culture that capitalizes on the subordination and dehumanization of women is allowed to thrive.

 

How It Hurts Men

While toxic masculinity is very damaging to women, it also deeply hurts men as well. Because masculinity is often viewed as appearing “strong” and stoic, men are discouraged from expressing emotions and, consequently, from asking for help when it’s needed. Men experiencing depression, alcoholism, and other mental disorders are more likely to be left untreated as a result. Additionally, the encouragement of violence and aggression can create relationship problems and rage disorders in men, which are often left untreated as well. Such psychological problems are detrimental to a person’s wellbeing and can lead to more severe illnesses and even suicide in some cases.

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Attempts to address the problem of toxic masculinity have been denounced in multiple ways, such as “trying to convince men to grow lady parts,” as Fox News journalist Todd Starnes wrote on the attempts of some universities to create dialogue on the issue by teaching courses and having conferences. Such denouncements are shortsighted and fail to recognize that addressing toxic masculinity does not mean opposing anyone. A culture centered on toxic masculinity is detrimental to men as well as women and such problems need to be addressed for the wellbeing of all people, regardless of gender.