Let’s Talk About Toxic Masculinity

Stay with me here on this one


Emma Harris

Guys have emotions too, and that’s not an insult- neither is being feminine.

“Toxic masculinity.” I know it’s a hot button phraseology, but stick with me here on this one- I believe you could really gain something from this. 

The term toxic masculinity is incredibly stigmatized and controversial. It’s often misused, misdefined, and misunderstood by its name, and because of this, conversations about toxic masculinity are typically shut down before they even begin. But it’s not an extreme ‘radical feminist’ idea to justify hatred towards men, it’s a real, valid thing that’s detrimental to both women and men. So let’s define it first. What is toxic masculinity anyway?

First we must look at what toxic masculinity is not. Toxic masculinity is not the banishment and scrutiny of all masculinity like people often misconceive- the term has “toxic” in it for a reason. That is not what this term critiques; what it critiques is the societal pressures men face telling them it’s not okay to cry, it’s not okay to show any weakness, and it’s not okay to associate yourself with anything feminine. To be clear, there is such a thing as positive masculinity. What differentiates positive masculinity from toxic masculinity is that positive “masculine energy—when consciously-calibrated, wisely-timed, and smartly-appropriated—is courageously life-giving, boldly empowering, and fiercely impactful to individual men and everyone else in their lives. Conversely, toxic masculinity is extreme, injurious, ill-timed, and poorly-appropriated,” says The Westport Library

Toxic masculinity refers to an incorrect idea of masculinity, one that has serious, even life threatening consequences (we’ll get to that latter part in a bit- and no, I’m genuinely not being dramatic when I say that). 

The NBC article titled “Toxic masculinity is terrible shorthand for a real problem plaguing men,” written by psychotherapist F. Diana Barth, states that the “concept of ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ […] is a standard for maleness held by large segments of the population that involves anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, adventure, risk, and violence, and is linked to homophobia, bullying, and sexual harassment”. 

According to Barth, men are constantly told not to show any weakness, not to cry, to suck it up, that emotions are silly, that liking anything feminine makes you lesser. Crying is only for little kids, funerals, and people gazing at the Grand Canyon. Life is about status, sex, and dominance in some toxic versions of masculinity. This is what causes an increase in sexual harassment cases. 

Here’s a breakdown of how it primarily affects women (in addition to cases of sexual assault): Toxic masculinity is the abnegation of anything that could be associated with femininity because it sees femininity as weak and silly. Such associations would include emotions. So, if a man partakes in poetry, an emotional and creative realm, his masculinity is questioned by “toxic males” and his actions are potentially twisted into a variety of insults. Makeup is a silly girl thing. Crying is for those overemotional women. The whole character of toxic masculinity is to be the opposite of a woman, that if you have feminine aspects, said feminine aspects make you lesser- it’s desperate to be anything but feminine. Thus, if they avoid femininity so frantically, there must be something incredibly wrong with it. Toxic masculinity very clearly indicates that there is a hierarchy, and women are not at the top- it’s degrading to say the least. It turns being a woman into the biggest insult imaginable. 

It’s not insulting to be feminine. It’s also not insulting when I say you have emotions too. Many guys were told to suck it up in their childhood, that big boys don’t cry. So what exactly occurs “when men are constantly told that they should not express their emotions freely — that they must be tough and strong, and if they do not fit those standards then they can be viewed as feminine, and therefore weak”?, as The New York Times article “What Is Toxic Masculinity?” defines toxic masculinity. There are a multitude of negative consequences. 

One of the consequences of suppressed emotions is extreme aggression. Counselor Nick Erber-Lapiere, PhD, says as men grow up, their “metaphorical little boys continue on existing inside our minds, and don’t get validated for their feelings. We carry this into our adulthood as men who are fearful of feeling anything. So when life circumstances injure us psychologically, the response is commonly anger and lashing out – because we can’t be angry and sad at the same time, so rage replaces sadness as a protective factor” (Ohana Behavioral Health) The FBI released studies that, in 2012, 88.7% of individuals arrested for murder or manslaughter were males. According to Yale psychology professor June Gruber, men more frequently turn to physical violence in times of depression and stress than women do, and studies show they are more prone to domestic abuse in general. Because men are told asking for help makes them weak, men often do not get help for depression, and thus are more likely to act in violence. Additionally, rage is the only emotion men are told they can have, as it is associated with power. Because men are only allowed to express anger- and sometimes even encouraged too- this is the emotion they express, and they do so in excess. Many men do not know how to regulate their rage. 

Toxic masculinity can legitimately be life-threatening. Because men are taught that their emotions are silly and asking for help equates to weakness, men are far less likely to seek help when struggling with their mental health. In the United States, men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women, and 40% of countries have more than 15 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 men (“Why More Men Than Women Die By Suicide,” an article by BBC). Toxic masculinity is the benefactor here. Though I am not a man, I know personally what it’s like to feel you’ll only be loved and accepted if you’re strong, to feel that showing emotion is a crime. Perhaps that’s why this is such a passionate subject for me- I know how difficult it is to live in this mentality. Toxic masculinity kills. Toxic masculinity drives people to commit suicide. 

The unavoidable truth is that toxic masculinity is still rampant in our society, and because many people do not believe in its validity, because it is so entwined in our society and daily lives, it often goes without correction. It is “ingrained in our way of life, so much so that we often do not notice it. It is prevalent in such seemingly small ways, like when a young male athlete throws a bad pass, he is regularly told not to ‘throw like a girl,’ as if that is an insult,” says the article “Toxic masculinity in society”.

Toxic masculinity is just that: toxic. Everyone suffers from toxic masculinity and everyone has witnessed the outcome of it, whether cognizantly or not. It’s such a large subject and impactful aspect of our society that this article hardly begins to scrape the surface of it. What it takes to be a “man” is something no one can hope to genuinely achieve, especially not in companion with a happy and fulfilling life; a life of trying to be society’s version of a man involves suffering, anger, and exhaustion. So I want to let you know that you have emotions, and that’s not an insult. Neither is being feminine. You don’t have to be “tough,” you don’t have to always be on top. I hope this helped bring awareness to a serious cause with an unfortunate name and stigma.