What Is Toxic Masculinity? Why You Should Be Concerned

Last updated on January 22nd, 2024 at 02:48 pm

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

It is a topic that has been gaining more attention in recent years. Though it has always been there, society is just getting to be conscious of its dangers as it has been hiding behind what it means to be a man.

I have always believed that what drives harmful masculinity is the brittle ego of man which almost all the time manifests as strong and tough, but in actual sense, it is fragile and easily bruised.

Man is fragile, but can’t admit it. In his quest to cover up his fragility because it is below his dignity to be fragile, he becomes toxic.

The Conducts of Life
TEDTalk on toxic manliness
The unfortunate effect of toxic masculinity | Lisa Nielson | TEDxCWRUSalon

This vague property of man can be disputed by the majority but it doesn’t change it from being a fact.

In this post, you are going to understand what harmful masculinity is, its components, origin, impact on society, and your role in society to combat it.

Being stoic and resilient is different from being ashamed and running away from your nature.

A man was created, okay, evolved to have emotions and express such. If he decides to withhold it because people will call him a half-man, then he should be ready to reap the consequences.

So, enough of the poetry, what is the toxicity of masculinity?

Toxic Masculinity Meaning

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.

Related: Developing Positive Masculinity

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.

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.

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 in 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.

Harmful masculinity can be defined as a set of beliefs and behaviours that reinforce traditional gender roles and expectations for men, which can be harmful to both men and women.

ALSO READ: How to Escape the Nice Guy Syndrome

These beliefs and behaviours often include traits like aggression, competitiveness, emotional repression, and a disregard for the feelings and perspectives of others.

It is often linked to the idea that men should be dominant and in control and that showing vulnerability or sensitivity is a sign of weakness.

This can lead men to feel pressure to conform to narrow definitions of masculinity and can cause them to engage in behaviors that are damaging to themselves and others.

A closer look at toxic 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.

An infographic showing the characteristics of toxic masculinity
Toxic-masculinity

Varied Definitions 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, harmful 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

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 during the period when masculinity began.

Related: Building A Strong Family: How To Be A Real Man At Home

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 masculine inadequacy.

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.

What Toxic Masculinity is Not

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 can 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.

A Brief History of Toxic Masculinity

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

Toxic manliness has roots in traditional gender roles that have been perpetuated for centuries.

Historically, men were expected to be providers and protectors, while women were expected to be caretakers and nurturers.

These roles were reinforced through social norms and expectations and were often tied to ideas about strength, power, and dominance.

Over time, these gender roles have become more flexible, but many of the harmful attitudes and behaviors associated with toxic masculinity persist.

In the 20th century, for example, the idea of the “tough guy” became increasingly popular in popular culture, reinforcing the idea that men should be strong, stoic, and unemotional.

Physical Strenght

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

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

The Components of Toxic Masculinity

Here are the three components of toxic masculinity:

1. Power

Harmful masculinity is thrilled by power and it is always on the heels of power in a hot pursuit to be in control and lord over others, particularly women and the vulnerable.

This can manifest in a variety of ways, including physical violence, sexual harassment or assault, and emotional manipulation.

2. Antifemininity

It can also be characterized by a rejection of anything considered “feminine,” including emotions, vulnerability, and nurturing behaviors.

Men who adhere to toxic masculinity may feel pressure to conform to traditional gender roles and reject any behaviors or traits that are seen as feminine.

3. Toughness

It often promote the idea that men must be physically and emotionally tough, suppressing any signs of vulnerability or weakness.

This can lead to a reluctance to seek help or support when needed and can result in negative mental health outcomes.

A man hanging on a rope many meters above the ground exhibiting toxic masculinity

How Males Are Socialized into Toxic Masculinity

The socialization of males is a complex and ongoing process that is shaped by a variety of factors, including male role models, societal expectations, and gender norms.

By challenging these factors and promoting more diverse and inclusive models of masculinity, we can help create a world where men are free to express themselves fully and live authentically.

1. Male Role Models and Heroes

The socialization of males begins early on in childhood, and a big part of this process involves the selection of male role models and heroes.

From sports stars and action movie heroes to political figures and historical icons, boys and young men are often encouraged to look up to certain male figures as models of masculinity.

These role models could have some streaks of toxicity in their masculinity, but because it is interwoven with what society wants, it is hardly seen.

These role models can have a powerful influence on how boys and young men view themselves and their place in the world.

They can shape their beliefs about what it means to be a man, what behaviors are considered acceptable or admirable, and what values and traits are seen as important.

This is mostly where toxic masculinity is imbued in young men.

Related: How Masculinity Affects Society: Importance of Diversity and Inclusion

2. Societal Expectations of Men

Societal expectations of men can be seen in a variety of ways, from the messages we receive from the media to the norms and values that are reinforced in our families and communities.

They are often encouraged to pursue careers that are traditionally male-dominated, such as engineering or finance.

At the same time, men are often expected to suppress their emotions and avoid showing vulnerability or weakness.

They are often discouraged from pursuing careers or activities that are seen as “feminine” or “soft.”

These expectations can create uncomfortable pressure for men to align with the narrow definitions of masculinity and limit their ability to express themselves fully.

3. Gender Norms

Gender norms are the unwritten rules that govern what is considered acceptable or appropriate behavior for men and women.

They can include everything from the way we dress and speak to the types of hobbies and interests we pursue.

In many cultures, gender norms are highly restrictive and reinforce traditional gender roles and stereotypes.

For men, gender norms often reinforce the idea that they should be dominant, in control, and emotionally detached.

They can also contribute to the normalization of harmful behaviors, such as aggression and violence. These norms can make it difficult for men to break free from traditional gender roles and strike a balance between toughness and vulnerability.

Myths of Masculinity

When we talk about masculinity, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many myths and stereotypes associated with it.

These phrases make reinforce the psyche of man to hide behind toughness even though he doesn’t want to, to remain a man.

These myths should be dislodged even toxic masculinity will be dislodged.

Here they are:

1. “Be a Man” Mentality

The “be a man” mentality is a common phrase that many of us have heard or even used ourselves.

This phrase reinforces the idea that men should be tough, resilient, and unemotional.

It implies that showing vulnerability or weakness is not acceptable and that men should always be in control.

This mentality can be damaging to men’s mental well-being, as it discourages them from seeking help or support when they need it.

It can also create a culture of silence and isolation, as men feel they are not allowed to express their emotions or share their struggles with others.

2. The “Tough Guy” Image

The “tough guy” image is another common myth of masculinity. This stereotype portrays men as strong, rugged, and fearless.

It suggests that men should be able to handle anything that comes their way without showing any signs of weakness or vulnerability.

This image can be harmful, as it can make it difficult for men to express their emotions or seek help when they need it.

It can also lead to a culture of violence and aggression, as men feel they need to prove their toughness and masculinity through physical force if that’s the only option for them.

Related: Everything About Alpha Male and the Controversy Surrounding it  

3. The “Player” Image

The “player” image is a myth of masculinity that suggests that men should be promiscuous and have multiple sexual partners.

This stereotype reinforces the idea that men are supposed to be sexually aggressive and dominant and that they should be constantly seeking out new conquests.

This image has made men who are faithful to their girlfriends or wife reexamine their masculinity.

This image can be harmful, as it can lead to a culture of objectification and disrespect towards women, and also make men not be true to themselves.

4. “Show No Weakness” Mindset

The “show no weakness” mindset is a myth of masculinity that suggests that men should never show any signs of vulnerability or weakness.

This stereotype reinforces the belief that men should dominate and be in control and that showing weakness is not honourable.

This mindset can be damaging to men’s mental health, as it can box men into silence and isolation.

It can also make it difficult for men to seek help or support when they need it, as they feel they are not man enough when they do that.

Signs of Toxic Masculinity

  • Aggression
  • Suppression of emotions
  • Objectification of women
  • Homophobia
  • Belittling others
  • Promiscuity
  • Risk-taking
  • Sexual aggression towards women
  • Stoicism
  • Truancy in domestic chores

See a comprehensive article on the manifestation of toxic masculinity.

TEDTalk on harmful masculinity
Stop Calling it ‘Toxic Masculinity’ | Reece MacKinney | TEDxMountainAve

Causes of Toxic 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

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.

Overindulgence in the masculine traits against one’s inner wiring can cause unhealthy imbalances that hamper progress in the individual.

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

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

What being toxic as a man can do to you

2. 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.

3. Gender Role Conflict

It 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.

How harmful masculinity endangers the lives of men especially young boys

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 typical 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 wants 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.

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 of 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 with 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.

Conclusion

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 a tender age so they don’t battle insecurity acquired from trying to fit into the fantom and elusive image of being the real man.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is toxic masculinity?

It is a set of attitudes, behaviors, and expectations associated with traditional notions of masculinity. It is characterized by aggression, violence, dominance, and a disregard for emotions and vulnerability. It is harmful not only to women but also to men who are expected to conform to these rigid gender roles.

How does toxic masculinity manifest in society?

It can manifest in many ways, including physical violence, sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and homophobia. It also leads to the suppression of emotions and vulnerability, which can result in men being unable to express themselves or form meaningful relationships.

Why is toxic masculinity harmful?

It harms both men and women by promoting harmful gender stereotypes and limiting the range of acceptable behaviours for men. It can also contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

How can we combat toxic masculinity?

We can combat harmful masculinity by challenging gender stereotypes and promoting healthier expressions of masculinity. This can be achieved by encouraging emotional openness and vulnerability, promoting healthy relationships, and rejecting violence and aggression as solutions to problems. Education and awareness-raising campaigns can also play a vital role in tackling toxic masculinity.

Can toxic masculinity be unlearned?

Yes, it can be unlearned. It requires a willingness to challenge and change harmful attitudes and behaviors associated with traditional notions of masculinity. Education, awareness-raising campaigns, and role models who promote healthier expressions of masculinity can all contribute to the unlearning of this unhealthy masculinity.

REFERENCE

  1. Why Harmful Masculinity Exponentially Affects Men’s Health And How To Change It
  2. Talking About “Toxic Manliness
  3. What are the top 10 Harmful Masculinity behaviours?
  4. Why Hamrful Masculinity Exponentially Affects Men’s Health
  5. Time to banish harmful masculinity
The Conducts Of Life | piousclements@gmail.com | Website | + posts

Pious Clements is the insightful voice behind "The Conducts of Life" blog, where he writes about life ethics, self-development, life mastery, and the dynamics of people and society.

With a profound understanding of human behaviuor and societal dynamics, Pious offers thought-provoking perspectives on ethical living and personal growth.
Through engaging narratives and astute observations, he inspires readers to navigate life's complexities with wisdom and integrity, encouraging a deeper understanding of the human experience and our place within society.

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