The TOXICITY of using “Toxic Masculinity”
By Amanda King
The belief that men should conform to specific behavior characteristic of their gender has been around for decades — centuries, even.
In fact, one could argue that the role of men in society has always been assumed, and their personality traits along with it.
But of course, gender expectations are not exclusive to men.
Expectations have been placed upon both the female and male sexes since the dawn of time — expectations that have been systematically examined and challenged and disregarded several times over since.
However, in recent years, most of the focus on breaking out of gender stereotypes has been concentrated on the feminist movement.
The battle against misogyny has taken the spotlight — while the fight to overcome “toxic masculinity” has been patiently waiting backstage for its turn to rally the bandwagon.
The concept might have been around forever, but for whatever reason, the pervasive “toxic masculinity” term has taken on a new life in the pop culture sphere.
Suddenly, it’s the phrase we’ve decided to attribute all undesirable male actions to — suddenly, it’s the catchall for any situations of sexism and violence stemming from the male gender.
The official definition of the term varies greatly depending on the opinion of the person defining it: The New York Times describes it as “what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes them “feminine” or weak.”
Dictionary.com defines the term as “a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive, or harmful, to mental health.”
What all definitions have in common, however, is the belief that “toxic masculinity” does not mean that men are inherently toxic.
Rather, it’s the consequences of raising boys to act in a sexist, violent and/or emotionally suppressive way; which, I think we can all agree, is extremely “maladaptive” and “harmful to mental health.”
But so, too, is calling masculinity “toxic.”
First of all, the name is sexist in itself —
it insinuates that these traits — anger, misogyny, etc. — are intrinsic with the definition of masculinity. Like to teach boys to be masculine is to teach them these attitudes — which is simply untrue.
It is entirely possible to be a man, and be “masculine,” without being violent or sexist or homophobic.
People might acknowledge that not all men are toxic, but somehow, they miss that this misnomer innately insinuates that all masculine traits are bad or shameful.
Especially considering that for so long, society has been drilling into boys that they need to be “masculine;” you can’t simply start preaching that their gender is “toxic” and expect any bad behavior to change.
The word “masculine,” as per dictionary.com, quite literally means “characteristic of man or men;” so how is it not hurtful to assign all unsavory male behavior to this fundamental term?
Furthermore, it is extremely hypocritical.
Anyone can use “toxic masculinity” to shame all male behavior they don’t approve of, but what about undesirable feminine traits?
Can you imagine what would happen if men started strolling about throwing around the phrase “toxic femininity” when women get too emotional, crazy obsessive or any other stereotypically undesirable female behavior?
There would be mass outrage; sexist accusations, social media call-outs, who even knows what else?
Why do any “toxic” traits have to have a gender assigned to them?
Why can’t we acknowledge bad behavior no matter which sex is responsible for it?
Why do we need to attribute it to a specific gender when all could potentially possess these “toxic” characteristics?
And there we have another problem: just using “toxic masculinity” helps perpetuate the very behavior it’s meant to disparage.
It just blames any negative male actions on their being genetically male — it takes away accountability: it’s not a man’s fault if he’s sexist; it’s that darn “masculinity” he was raised by!
Thankfully, unlike with other social issue bandwagons that we’re all expected to hop onto or else be shamed, there are some popular names speaking up in opposition to using such a damaging term.
At a recent panel discussion for her female-centered television show “Big Little Lies,” Meryl Streep advocated for the expulsion of the term: “We hurt our boys by calling something ‘toxic masculinity’… because women can be pretty f***ing toxic too… it’s toxic people.”
She further explained that it doesn’t help our ultimate goal of equality.
“I think the labels are less helpful than what we’re trying to get to, which is a communication, direct, between human beings,” she said. “We’re all on the boat together. We’ve got to make it work.”
Let’s stop pretending that the male gender is the only one capable of bad behavior and stress the idea that all people can be “toxic” — why discriminate?
If our true goal is total gender fairness — which the feminist movement is supposed to be about — how can we achieve it any other way than acceptance?
Moreover, rather than shame men by using “toxic masculinity” to describe any unseemly attitudes, why don’t we reform the way people think about manliness?
How about instead of teaching boys that masculinity is “toxic,” we teach them that it includes expressing their emotions in a healthy manner and respecting other genders?
How about we teach them that they don’t have to be violent to be masculine?
Or that they can be close to other men without compromising their own manhood?
How about we all come together as one species and eliminate all of the outdated and ridiculous gender stereotypes once and for all?