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Why Will Smith’s Actions Are An Example of Toxic Masculinity

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

For years, I have never paid mind to award shows and what transpires from them. I may read an article directly pertaining to certain milestones where people of color have won certain awards for the first time, but I don’t spare a second glance whenever I hear of the figurative “shade” that takes place between celebrities. What really caught my attention this time around, however, was hearing what happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards

In case you haven’t heard of “the slap that was heard around the world,”  Chris Rock was struck across the face by Will Smith after jokingly referring to his wife, Jada Smith, as G.I. Jane. While the joke is seen in poor taste given that Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia, Will Smith’s reaction aligned with the characteristics of what is commonly known as “toxic masculinity.”

Before delving further, however, it is important to define what the term is and how it manifests in today’s society. Toxic masculinity is a term used to describe the way men are pressured to act “manly” to an extreme extent, with the main components broken down into three categories; toughness, anti femininity, and power. For example, men may reject “traditionally feminine” tasks, suppress negative emotions, or opt to seek out ways to appear “tougher” in order to gain respect. This is problematic in the sense that it rejects the idea of healthily expressing emotions and consequently uses violence as “the answer” to certain problems. 

It is great that Will Smith listened and understood that his wife was negatively impacted by Chris Rock’s joke. Hair is a characteristic that impacts a person’s identity, and certain conditions like alopecia truly alter how one views their image. Furthermore, we have no idea just how much it impacts the way Jada Pinkett Smith sees herself. Smith faltered, however, when he opted to address his wife’s feelings in a heavily populated environment and used violence to prove a point. He could have defended his wife through a variety of different methods of communication, whether it be online or in the moment from his seat. Instead, his actions resulted in an investigation and a laundry list of potential consequences for future career opportunities. 

The news that has circulated from this incident provokes a dangerous narrative when it comes to the way certain conflicts could be addressed in the future. While some may learn from this and opt to communicate in a way that defuses tension, others could follow in Smith’s footsteps and physically assault someone in the process. With the way the criminal justice system operates, it is likely that the consequences can be larger and detrimental to someone’s entire life. This is why it is so important to continue discussing effective ways of interpersonal communication and problem-solving. We may not know what the future will bring for Smith and his career, yet it is crucial to note how haste actions can imprint long-lasting impressions. 

Kayla Batchelor

UC Riverside '23

I'm an English major that is dedicated to writing about mental health, entertainment, relationships, politics, LGBTQIA+ issues, and literature.
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