What Is Toxic Masculinity? Why You Should Be Concerned

Toxic masculinity has never been this exposed. Men hurt themselves physically, emotionally, and even others in their quest to show themselves as real men.

The unfortunate effect of toxic masculinity | Lisa Nielson | TEDxCWRUSalon

If you are wired to be stoic, strong or you acquired such, that’s fine. But shaming people who don’t share the same interest is toxic masculinity.

The life of the man is a deep crooked canyon that is not for the faint-hearted. Yet, it is fragile, easily bruised, and can quickly metamorphose into toxic manliness.

Masculinity is shrouded in medieval history formed by hard and rigid traits and has remained like that for as long as the man came to be.

RELATED: What Is Healthy Masculinity? Traits, And How To Develop It

But a closer look at masculinity would reveal a soft, fragile core protected by a hard but brittle exterior that also has to be protected and maintained. Or so we thought.

Masculinity, however, can quickly become toxic in the quest to protect the many layers that protect it.

This happens unconsciously as there is no threshold marking where toxicity actually begins.

Toxic masculinity meaning?

Toxic men are on the increase in our society

What actually is toxic masculinity? Before we look at that, we should know what masculinity itself is.

When you think about it for a moment, you might say masculinity is being able to lift a ton of load, be able to hump away on a woman all night or be able to provide and take care of your family.

Another might say masculinity is being an alpha male, hiding emotions, dominating the social space, being tough and competing with everyone, policing the woman so she doesn’t usurp his position, and, attacking other men who are not masculine.

As you can see, the two answers are both what men are capable of doing.

But one can be said to be positive and the other negative and tends towards harm and discomfort.

We men grew up being taught that we have to express toughness and be negatively stoic and averse to emotions.

Examples of risky behaviours by young men

Where and when I grew up, it was so evident that it seemed a boy must develop these traits to make any headway in life, including in farming, relationships, and other areas of life.

RELATED: Fragile Masculinity Vs Toxic Masculinity

Though my parents didn’t sing it into our ears that we have to do tough things to become real men, I saw this happen in other families.

This belief of toughness for the boy is deeply embedded in cultures and religions.

It’s not bad to be strong and tough as a man, but when it creates a problem for the individual and others or when misused, it becomes a problem.

Bottling up emotions, avoiding help because it makes you appear weak, or conforming to strict gender roles that can harm or put others in a precarious situation is toxic manliness.

It embodies the idea that men should reject anything feminine, both in behaviour, thinking, and every other way, or be called weak.

Because of the strength that masculinity carries, he is liable to misuse it when he runs out of options in establishing or proving his masculinity which leads to aggression, violence, sexual assault, and other forceful behaviours.

Below is a video on the meaning of stoicism which is the drive for toxic masculinity:

Stoicism – Credit: Holstee.com

Varied definition of toxic masculinity

Because of the elusive and slippery nature of masculinity, toxicity has no definite definition as it has evolved over time.

You as a man know masculinity as being a man. But what is actually acceptable to you as a real man?

It is from answering the question honestly that the pattern of toxic masculinity begins to emerge.

But it can be described as the collection of social behaviours by men that promote domination, unnecessary violence, disrespect for women, homophobia, and harm to society and the individual.

Sounds ambiguous right?

According to Medical News Today, toxic masculinity refers to the idea that some people’s understanding of manliness encourages domination, aggressive behaviours, and homophobia.

It imposes standards that are unfair which dictate how men should behave before they can earn the ‘real man’ badge of honour.

Toxic masculinity can be identified with the following traits:

  • Misogynism and homophobia
  • Aversion to emotions
  • Tough mental and physical display
  • Dangerous and risky behaviours
  • Aggressive dominance
  • Obsession with power and status
Many people having different opinions of what harmful masculinity is

This toxic arm of masculinity glorifies these toxic traits of manliness hinging on strength and the quest to gain prominence at the detriment of others and himself.

It promotes physical attributes more than emotional or mental capabilities. This could be a result of the limited knowledge of man’s mental powers at the period when masculinity began.

A young man who is averse or does not display these expected masculine traits would be taunted, mocked, and insulted.

He can quickly become emotionally battered and lose value in the world of men if he is not emotionally fortified.

On the other hand, trying to fit into the masculine expectation could make a man lose himself, falling into other forms of harmful masculinity like fragile masculinity.

Modern men have charted a new path for masculinity and abandoned the traditional and overbearing concept of masculinity.

They are giving up aggressive, misogynistic behaviours that harm more than it builds.

Harmful masculinity traits

Domestic violence is one of the traits of a bitter man

Closely looking at toxic masculinity, three core components emerge:


Antifeminity is the belief or encouragement of men to be averse to anything feminine. It’s against the expression of emotions and succumbing to seeking help.


It encourages men to be physically strong, emotionally rigid, and show aggression. In the quest to be tough as a man, many men get hurt or hurt others.


Toxic masculinity assumes that men must have power and be at the top of the pecking order.

Just as the theory of alpha male toxic masculinity is obsessed with power so they can earn the respect of others.

What toxic masculinity is not

Possessing masculine traits is not bad, but using them to hurt self or others is.

Because of the ambiguity surrounding masculinity and its fringes like harmful masculinity, many misconstrue the entire terms associated with it.

Because it has to do with negative traits almost every man has the capacity to express, it is thought to be congenital and innate.

Toxic manliness is not in our genes, rather it is inculcated from childhood, and can also be learned at any time in life.

But it is prevalent in young men who are identifying with their gender identity.

It is not bad for men to look tough, macho, or aspiring to be so, so far they don’t use it as a launch pad to disadvantage or exploit others and put themselves in danger.

ALSO READ: How To Not Be The Nice Guy

If you were wired to be macho, learned it or if you are naturally stoic, that’s okay and not toxic.

But buying the idea that you have to suppress emotions to be a real man can impact negatively on your mental health.

If you love video games, working out, and out-of-this-world activities, that’s okay too, but using that as a base to shame men who don’t share the same interest is toxic manliness.

Origin of toxic manliness

Of course, masculinity is as old as man and social creation.

Homo sapiens, or what we can call the early men used strength, force, and dominance to get by.

Physical strength as in animals was used as a measure of manliness, and there was usually a dominant leader which can pass as an alpha male.

Coming closer to recent times, physical strength has been used to maim, subdue and conquer others into submission throughout history.

The phrase, ‘toxic masculinity, contrary to many opinions, is not developed through feminist theories.

It was born from the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement (MMM) in the 1980s.

The movement is founded by men and for men which aimed at providing men with avenues to express their masculinity.

The Mythopoetic Men’s Movement was anti-feminist and was responding to what was understood as the negative consequences of feminism.

MMM believed men were in crisis and their voices were being swallowed by the growing emphasis of feminism and subtle campaigns against men.

Traditional masculinity and its behaviours became a burden and certain groups of men felt it awkward to continue to express the same in modern society.

They termed these traditional behaviours damaging, and retrogressive and believed that if they don’t act on the behaviours, they would present as aggression against women and chauvinism.

This original concept of toxic masculinity, as defined by the mythopoetic men’s movement, came under challenge soon after.

This came about because it was thought that masculinity could only be expressed through one form, which was false.

RELATED: What is Positive Masculinity?

To this group of women, Western culture placed men in precarious situations, preventing them from realizing healthy masculinity.

This backfired into harmful and distorted expressions of masculinity brought about by competition and the quest for attention.

Shepherd Bliss is believed to be the one who invented MMM and also coined the phrase ‘toxic masculinity.

He went ahead to describe healthy masculinity to be the opposite of harmful masculinity which represents a more cooperative and understanding form of masculinity.

So, it’s safe to say that toxic masculinity emerged from the men’s movement by activists who were looking to address the problems bedeviling men.

The term is used mostly in feminist circles but it was not created by feminists for their propaganda to denigrate men.

Toxic masculinity glorifies unhealthy habits

Men are encouraged to treat their bodies like machines as grooming and preening are for women.

Some men brag they do not use body creams and other body-enhancing or self-care products.

They are made to believe they are meant to do all the hard stuff that is capable of injuring, or causing harm to health when they are pushed to their physical limit.

This is how far toxic masculinity can go to promote and glorify dangerous habits.

It also discourages men from having routine medical checkups as this puts them in the light of weakness.

Although, fear and other factors have been described as factors in this regard. However, men are usually reluctant to tackle terminal illnesses.

Studies have shown that men who are obsessed with masculinity are more likely to avoid preventive health care than men who are less inclined to masculinity.

Some men hold the belief that strong men do not visit hospitals. As long as, the illness has not incapacitated them, they don’t see the situation as threatening.

Another study also found that men engage more in risky behaviours when they conform strongly to masculine norms.

Behaviours such as heavy drinking, tobacco usage, and doping are seen as masculine behaviours and shows of strength.

Here is a video showing Reece MacKinney giving his opinion on the issue of harmful masculinity:

Stop Calling it ‘Toxic Masculinity’ | Reece MacKinney | TEDxMountainAve

Causes of harmful masculinity

Masculinity accepted in a certain society could be rejected in another.

It becomes a shifting concept rather than a fixed parochial one. Time and places can happen and their causes, meaning, and expression change.

Masculinity and the gender role it creates which helps to perpetrate toxic masculinity is influenced by many factors including the following:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Class
  • Culture
  • Sexuality
  • Religion

Let’s explain them one after the other:


If we are observant, we would see that as men advance in age, they are less inclined to be obsessed with masculinity and its toxicity.

Younger men are more sensitive to their image of manliness than men in their forties and so are more likely to be toxic.

This is because mature men can tolerate and employ other means to handle situations than driven by testosterone.


The race also has a lot to do with the understanding and practice of masculinity.

Though masculinity is a universal concept, it takes many divergent views with races.

There are people who cede more rights to women than men. For instance, in the US, men and women take care of the kids.

But in Africa, women have the exclusive duty to cater to kids while remaining at home.

Both men are likely to abuse masculinity in different ways.

While men in the US are more likely to be toxic because of their somewhat equality with women. Their toxic masculinity comes from protest and bitterness.

But those of Africa would express toxic masculinity through abuse of the excess freedom masculinity gives them.


Class has always been a tool to marginalize, subdue, oppress and commit all sorts of negative treatment of others.

A man in a superior position is more likely to misuse his position of authority to perpetrate toxic masculinity against his subordinates and women.

Toxic masculinity can be employed when it seems to be the only option available for the oppressor to control and dominate.


Almost all cultures have masculinity embedded in it. Since toxic masculinity exists wherever there is masculinity, culture automatically becomes an enabler of erroneous.

Some cultures subject young men to dangerous activities such as initiation as induction into manhood.

In some cases, these activities might leave the young man injured and incapacitated for life.

In some cultures, the man-woman relationship also has many toxic tones that favours the man while subjugating the woman.

In some cultures like in Nigeria, women do not inherit their husbands’ property when he passes on.

The deceased’s kinsmen take over every property while subjecting the wife to undue hardship and further mourning.

Though this is changing, there are still cases of this reported here and there.

Bad behaviour by men is embedded in cultures


Just as toxicity is perpetrated wherever masculinity operates, sexuality is not excluded.

There are men who use sex to oppress and as a show of power. Even when the woman has choices, the man can subdue her.

The toxic man sees sex as a sport where he can show his prowess to the admiration of his peers without considerations to the opinion of the woman.

There have also been incidences where women stand their grounds which would trigger violence and death in many cases.


Right from time, religion has been a tool to promote many ideas and concepts including masculinity which can slip into toxicity.

Masculinity embodies strength, protection and provision in many religions.

However, some religions support the subjugation of women and reduce them to mere sex and procreation machines.

They are not allowed to work or have as much freedom as men. They are kept in the house while the man goes out to provide for the entire family.

Most religions teach the roles of men in society

Effects and examples of toxicity in men

Harmful masculinity causes men to endanger their lives trying to prove a point – that they are man enough.

During my childhood, we had a kid break his ribs while doing a flip-jump because other kids did the same.

He was taunted into proving he can measure up by forcing himself to do the flip-jump. And it didn’t end well for him.

Another instance is men dying in bed trying to prove to women they are man enough.

This is taking up challenges that you wouldn’t otherwise take if not to prove that you are capable.

Toxicity in being a man also discourages men from exploring traditional hobbies, interests or pursuits they desire.

It deprives them of expressing themselves fully and becoming the best version of themselves.

Over indulgent in the masculine traits against one’s inner wiring can cause unhealthy imbalances that hampers progress in the individual.

Some Quora users has this to say about the effects of toxic masculinity:

How harmful masculinity endangers the lives of men especially young boys
What being toxic as a man can do to you

Some of the ways toxic masculinity manifests includes:

  • Aggression
  • Sexual aggression or control
  • Showing no emotion or suppressing emotions
  • Hyper-competitiveness
  • Needing to dominate or control others
  • A tendency towards or glorification of violence
  • Isolation
  • Low empathy
  • Entitlement
  • Chauvinism and sexism
A young man taking a risk by hanging on a rope upside-down

The demonization of emotions and vulnerability in men

People have learned to view emotion or vulnerability as unmanly and something to be shameful about.

An example is the saying, “he’s only being a boy” when a boy engages in dangerous escapades.

This expression supports careless, aggressive, or otherwise damaging behavior in young males, rather than teaching them about responsibility, owning up to their mistakes, and avoiding danger.

Toxic masculinity is dangerous because it limits a person’s growth and constricts what it means to be a man.

A boy feeling that the only way to gain acceptance in the society is by living up to exaggerated masculine traits, they might become depressed and have other unintended social problems.

Toxic masculinity encourages aversion to help and medical checkups

It is established that toxic masculinity can prevent men from seeking medical help for terminal issues because they feel it is unmanly to succumb to illness.

Also, it makes men feel it’s below their dignity to ask for help, even when it’s obvious they need it.

In the quest to protect their ego, they forgo whatever help they might need.

Gender role conflict

Toxic masculinity causes conflict between the man and his values when he has the impulse to express naturally some traits that society abhors.

The failure to express these traits places a strain on the man and it is called gender role conflict.

Gender role conflicts cause an obvious identity crisis that might extend well into adulthood.

Social impacts of toxicity in men

When looking at rates of violence, drug-related crime, anti-social conduct, drug overdoses, and suicides, the societal effects of toxic masculinity are clear.

Additionally, there is a strong link between toxic masculinity and the absence of responsibility in rehab.

Males are less likely to seek treatment for mental health problems as a result of stigma and cultural constraints.

Males may find it difficult to completely express themselves and their emotional needs due to unhealthy or toxic masculinity since it may be perceived as a sign of weakness or vulnerability.


According to data released by the Violence Policy Center in 2017, 93% of female murder victims were slain by men they knew.

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report on violence against intimate partners.

Close male companions were responsible for almost 38% of all murdered women, according to the WHO.

Males make up more than 90% of all violent criminals in the United States.

These figures highlight the significance of toxic masculinity education and prevention.

Drug-related crime

In the United States, men make up the majority of those who are jailed. People of color who were reared in low-income families make up the majority of those serving time in prisons.

Surprisingly, drug-related offenses are the primary reason that males end up in jail.

Numerous people require immediate help for their mental health, substance abuse, rage, domestic violence, or sex offender attention.

In-depth research on toxic masculinity and the accompanying “male power” is expected to provide light on imprisonment and drug-related crime rates, according to experts.

Anti-social behaviours

In the US, toxic masculinity-related practices and a lack of accountability for activities make men more prone than women to participate in antisocial conduct.

For instance, unwholesome or damaging male attitudes might induce people to physically attack others as a result of a perceived insult that may not even have been one.

Overdose on drugs

Drug overdose risk is also correlated with toxic masculinity. Because some consider it as a show of weakness, males may be less inclined or hesitant to seek addiction therapy.


Males are more likely than females to commit suicide in the United States and elsewhere. Male suicide deaths were 3.63 times higher than female suicide deaths in 2019, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Additionally, white males in their middle age had the highest suicide rate.

Other social issues caused by toxic masculinity:

  • Bullying
  • School discipline
  • Academic challenges
  • Jail or prison time
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Risky behaviors
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicide
  • Psychological trauma
  • Lack of friendships or genuine connections

How can harmful masculinity impact mental health?

When a guy feels compelled to live up to these elusive expectations even when he does not feel so, toxic masculinity can negatively impact his mental health.

The American Psychological Association warns against attempting to maintain these overtly male characteristics.

Men and boys who are pushed to maintain these features frequently suffer negative consequences and may encounter issues like:

  • Depression
  • Body image issues
  • Poor social function
  • Substance abuse
  • Stress

Men with mental health disorders run the additional danger of not seeking professional help or even talking about their struggles with friends or family since feeling upset or discussing feelings in public goes against these conventional male norms.

Challenging traditional gender norms

For a guy searching for his manly identity, social pressures, expectations from family and romantic partners, and even religious identities can be difficult.

It is preferable for a person to adhere to their own definition of masculinity, as long as doing so does not hurt them or others, despite the fact that certain social, political, or religious groups may offer a set of recommendations for a healthy kind of masculinity.

A revised definition of what it means to be a man may take into account all aspects of human existence, such as:

  • Showing emotions openly
  • Seeking help
  • Expressing vulnerability
  • Kindness
  • Showing weakness

This does not imply giving up any typically male characteristics.

Certain men may find it easier to define their own masculinity by including some stereotypically male traits, such as strength and adventure.

But these characteristics shouldn’t constitute a person’s whole notion of masculinity; rather, they should make up only a tiny part of it.

It’s important to note that a person cannot be made or taken out of masculinity by society or any criteria.

It is up to each person to choose who they are and want to be.

An individual may be able to understand and appreciate oneself and others more fully by broadening and incorporating new ideas into their understanding of masculinity.

A man shouting for his wife

Tackling masculine toxicity

The problem of toxic masculinity is complicated, and there is no one best method to solve it.

In the end, addressing the issue will involve a fundamental change in how our culture defines masculinity and the abolition of the stigma associated with deviating from unhealthy masculine standards.

There are certain things you can do if you’re a man or identify as a man to reduce the prevalence, impact, and effects of toxic masculinity in your own life and the lives of others, whether at home or at work.

Steps to tackle toxic masculinity on the individual level

Below are steps to take to tackle toxic masculinity:

Recognize It

Recognizing harmful behavior is a wonderful place to begin. Call it out when you see it happening.

Holding people responsible for their conduct makes it quite obvious that toxic masculinity is not acceptable.

Additionally, it serves as a message to others that there is no one correct way to be a guy and that nobody should ever feel the need to demonstrate their masculinity to the disadvantage of others.

Loosen up and express yourself

It’s crucial to not blame the past on oneself, though this is sometimes easier said than done.

We’re all still developing and improving. Focusing on the present and planning ahead should be a priority.

It pays to be honest to yourself as a man while also giving people the freedom to explore their passions and interests which do not conform to the traditional image of gender.

Share your feelings, and be open

Don’t be ashamed to show vulnerability when necessary.

Being vulnerable and showing emotions is part of humanity whether masculine or feminine, not excluding to seek help when you need one.

Most men struggle emotionally from time to time. By being open to your friends and family, you can interrupt the pattern of keeping everything within and demonstrate to others that it’s okay to provide and receive assistance.

By so doing, it is possible to banish fear and the wrong impression attached to mental health care and therapy.

Be an ambassador of healthy masculinity

The manifestation of growth most times take time.

Talking to family and friends about your conviction to gain perspective is in good taste to halt toxic masculinity.

Listening to opinions without being defensive is encouraged. This may open a new window to understand that some things done in the past might have been misconstrued.

Seek help when you need it

Be emotionally intelligent by being self-aware to know when toxic masculinity is creeping in and thwart it.

If need be, have the services of a therapist if you become emotionally overwhelmed and unsure where to get help.

This is very crucial for drug addictions and related issues.

With therapy, you can understand the effect toxic masculinity has on your well-being while developing coping mechanisms for the attendant emotional upheaval.

Effecting change

Eradicating toxic masculinity which is as old as man is almost impossible.

When people start defining and creating their own version of manliness with individual experiences, gender roles will continue to assume shifts.

It may be very simple for an individual to effect change on himself by seeking sensitization.

He can educate himself on issues on healthy masculinity while standing aside for others to express their view on the matter.

A good way to also effect change is by discussing toxic masculinity and its negative effects openly without judgment or bad blood.

Sometimes, people practice toxic masculinity because they grew up into it.

This means they obliviously engage in it without proper knowledge of what they are doing.

Engaging them and educating them about an option might make a difference.

Demarketing toxic masculinity can encourage men to redefine masculinity and jettison outdated, damaging patterns of thinking and behaviours.


The meaning of toxic masculinity focuses on the harmful versions of masculinity which is battling for survival.

People accept a very parochial view of masculinity which can pose both emotional and physical harm to the individual wielding it and others around him.

There is also prejudice against those who fail to conform to this popular opinion, making them suffer rejection and emotional torture.

Others in the quest to meet up with these accepted harmful behaviours, endanger their lives and those of others.

Overcoming this menace starts with seeing masculinity from a different angle and redefining what it means to be a man.

It entails imbuing young men with confidence right from the tender age so they don’t battle insecurity acquired from trying to fit into the fantom and elusive image of being the real man.


Why Toxic Masculinity Exponentially Affects Men’s Health And How To Change It


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A Personal Development Content Creator and an author. I write about life ethics and love to document and share life hacks and experiences of people to help others make good life decisions.

Every content published on The Conducts Of Life is well-reviewed by experienced professionals in the field. Contents are fact-checked for accuracy, relevance, and timeliness and we include links to sources at the bottom of every article for more insights.

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