What Really is Toxic Masculinity?

“Toxic masculinity” is a concept that gets thrown around the Internet, often haphazardly. Most commonly in my personal life, I’ve come across this term on platforms like TikTok. Time and time again, I’ve scrolled through the app and come across videos of straight boys wearing nail polish, skirts, and makeup on my “for you page.” The comments of these videos are replete with young people praising these boys for rejecting “toxic masculinity.” Similarly, when Harry Styles donned the cover of Vogue magazine a few months ago in a dress, he was praised for taking a stand against the same status quo. The tweets of support came flooding in for Styles, praising his gender-bending presentation.

I agree that gender roles are meant to be broken. There is no reason why boys shouldn’t be able to wear make-up and girls shouldn’t be able to shave their heads. The cultural prescriptions on how to “do” gender properly were devised as a means of social control. By telling people how they’re supposed to look and behave, those in power – white, straight, wealthy cisgender men – are able to keep the power centralized within their narrow population and castigate those who dare to step out of line and deviate from the norm. So, it’s great that individuals are attempting to rewrite the script and publicly present themselves in ways that reject this rigid and oppressive system.

However, visual presentations are just one part of the multifaceted beast that is “toxic masculinity.” The straight boys painting their nails or choosing to wear pink shirts aren’t going to end the patriarchy. Men who truly reject toxic masculinity don’t just reject gender norms on a shallow, aesthetic level. Rather, they condemn the patriarchy and dedicate their actions to eradicating it.

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash Toxic masculinity isn’t about wearing masculine clothing or having a masculine appearance. Toxic masculinity is about holding sexist, racist, and homophobic attitudes, then perpetuating those ideas through one’s actions. It’s what leads to a culture that glorifies sexual aggression, violence against women, mass shootings, economic exploitation, and exacerbates all forms of oppression. To truly eradicate toxic masculinity, it’s about more than defying gender presentation norms. Men must celebrate all expressions of masculinity and femininity, not just ones that conform to the heterosexist norm. Men must hold each other accountable to help dismantle systemic racism and patriarchy, even if they benefit from either. Reaching these goals will take time and effort, but having male allies that reject toxic masculinity is what will help lead us to a world free of oppressive patriarchy.