Overuse of the phrase can lead to some people misunderstanding what toxic masculinity is, which can lead to further misunderstanding and irritation. Underlying notions of ‘traditional’ masculinity are complex.
Some people may find it difficult, and time-consuming, to challenge archaic thinking and move past these negative aspects of traditional and outdated masculine values.
To do this, it is important to first understand what toxic masculinity is and why it exists.
What is Toxic Masculinity?
The exact definition of toxic masculinity has evolved over time.
A study in the Journal of the School of Psychology uses the following definition to describe toxic masculinity: “a constellation of socially regressive [masculine] traits that promote dominance, devaluation of women, homophobia, and Acts of senseless violence.”
In modern society, people often use the term toxic masculinity to describe exaggerated masculine traits that are widely accepted or praised by many cultures.
This harmful concept of masculinity also values ’masculinity’ on the basis that:
- lack of emotion
- sexual virility
According to traditional toxic masculinity values, a man who does not exhibit enough of these traits may miss out on being a ‘real man’.
An overemphasis of these traits can lead to a harmful imbalance in the individual trying to meet these expectations. Some examples include:
- a tendency towards or glorification of violence
- sexual aggression or control
- chauvinism and sexism
- needing to dominate or control others
- showing no emotion or suppressing emotions
- low empathy
An example of this includes telling another person who is expressing an emotion to “man up.” In other words, to hide that emotion. This example illustrates how some people see emotion or vulnerability as ‘unmanly’.
Another common example is the saying, “Boys will be boys.” This expression advocates reckless, aggressive, or otherwise harmful behavior in young men, rather than teaching them about responsibility and accepting their mistakes.
These types of expressions highlight how cultures and societies have traditionally viewed men. However, these ideas can undermine and embellish the idea of masculinity, which can lead to more toxic attitudes toward these behaviors.
Origins of the Term ‘toxic Masculinity’
The term toxic masculinity originates from the men’s myth movement in the 1980s. Founded by men for men, this movement aimed to give men an outlet for their ‘masculinity’.
Certain groups of men felt that they were no longer able to display these traditionally masculine or masculine behaviors in a modern society that viewed these traits as harmful.
Members of the movement believed that if they were unable to practice these masculine traits, they would eventually manifest as chauvinism or aggression against women.
This original concept of toxic masculinity, as articulated by the methopedic men’s movement, soon came under challenge. This was mainly because it still suggests that there is a pure form of masculinity, which it is not.
This explains the origin of the term, but how do people view toxic masculinity today?
Many people now see masculinity and the gender roles it creates as a combination of behaviors involving several factors, including:
Thus, what defines masculinity can take many different forms. What one society or even subculture considers masculine, another may reject.
Masculinity, then, becomes a shifting idea rather than a rigid, narrow set of rules.
What Issues Can Toxic Masculinity Cause?
Some believe that toxic masculinity is dangerous because it limits a man’s growth and definition of what it means to be a man. It can cause conflict between man and his environment.
This concept, called gender role conflict, puts pressure on a man who does not fulfill these traits.
When a boy or adult man sees the world through the narrow lens provided by these exaggerated masculine traits, he may feel that he can only find acceptance by living up to those traits.
Unchecked toxic masculinity and the behaviors it causes can lead to a variety of problems, such as:
- psychological trauma
- school discipline
- jail or prison time
- domestic violence
- lack of friendships or genuine connections
- risky behaviors
- substance abuse
- sexual assault
- academic challenges
Some theories suggest that toxic masculinity plays a role in physical health. Toxic masculinity can prevent some men from seeking help for potential health problems and other potential problems.
How to Facilitate Change
Overcoming or changing toxic masculinity won’t happen overnight. However, as more people begin to define their own version of masculinity and include other human experiences within that definition, gender roles will continue to change in a big way.
On a personal level, it can be as simple as an individual being self-aware of their attitudes about masculinity and holding space for others to help them change their definitions.
Inviting a friend to share their feelings or emotions about the topic, and discussing them openly without judgment or criticism can be a good way to proceed.
Deliberately questioning and working against exaggerated traits can help a man and those around him redefine masculinity and work past old and potentially harmful patterns of thinking. such as those arising from toxic masculinity.