What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Last updated on June 28th, 2024 at 01:14 pm

In their quest to prove themselves as real men, some men hurt themselves and others, including society. What is toxic masculinity, and how does it affect you?

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

Key Takeaways

  • The toxicity of masculinity harms men, women, and society with its emphasis on toughness and power, suppressing emotions and promoting aggression.
  • The brittle ego of men drives toxic masculinity, manifesting as strength and dominance but hiding fragility and vulnerability.
  • Misunderstandings of toxic manliness can hinder progress, leading to misconceptions of all masculinity being toxic or an attack on masculinity.
  • Drivers of toxic masculinity include toughness, anti-femininity, and the pursuit of power, leading to mental health issues, relationship strains, and societal harm.

Toxic Masculinity Meaning

According to Medical News Today toxicity of masculinity is a set of behaviors that men exhibit in our society that are detrimental to themselves, women, and society.

It includes the belief and practice that those men must be tough and resilient, dominant, aggressive, and emotionally unavailable to be considered “real men.” And this explains the dangerous quest to become the elusive alpha male.

This belief in toughness with no room for vulnerability 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.

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

Related: How to Heal from Wounded Masculine Energy

Related: Developing Positive Masculinity

A Brief History of Toxicity of Masculinity

Toxicity in men in its entire meaning has existed since man came to be. It is as old as man as it plays out in his interaction with society.

However, the term, toxic masculinity originated in the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, where some authors used it to refer to the social pressures placed on men to be aggressive, competitive, independent, and emotionally repressed or bottling up emotions.

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

The concept later gained wider use in academic and popular discussions to describe aspects of traditional masculinity that are socially destructive, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violent domination.

However, the term has also been criticized for potentially alienating men and oversimplifying complex gender dynamics.

The debate around toxicity in masculinity reflects an unending discussion about the role of masculinity in modern society.

ALSO READ: How to Escape the Nice Guy Syndrome

How to Identify Toxic Masculinity

An infographic showing the characteristics of toxic masculinity

Toxic masculinity can be identified with the following traits:

  • Misogynism and homophobia
  • Aversion to emotions
  • Tough mental and physical display
  • Dangerous behaviours
  • Aggressive dominance
  • Obsession with power and status

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.

Related: Everything About Alpha Male and the Controversy Surrounding it  

How to Recognize Toxicity of Masculinity

A man hanging on a rope many meters above the ground exhibiting 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 are influenced by many factors including the following:

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

Examples of Toxicity in Men

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

What being toxic as a man can do to you

Misinterpretations and Misconceptions About Toxic Masculinity

The concept of toxic manliness is often misunderstood and misinterpreted, leading to misconceptions that can hinder meaningful dialogue and progress.

Here are some misconceptions around the term:

1. Assuming All Masculinity is Toxic

One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that toxic masculinity implies that all masculinity is inherently toxic or harmful. This is simply not the case.

It does not mean that all expressions of masculinity are toxic or that masculinity itself is inherently problematic.

It only means that men can capitalize on masculinity to perpetrate dangerous agendas.

2. Thinking It’s an attempt to Emasculate or Eliminate Masculinity

Another common misconception is that discussions around toxic masculinity are an attempt to emasculate men or eliminate masculinity.

This is not the goal of those who use the term.

The aim is to identify and challenge harmful behaviors and attitudes, not to diminish or undermine masculinity as a whole.

3. Questioning Why There is No Discussion of Toxic Femininity

Some critics argue that if we can discuss harmful masculinity, we should also address toxic femininity.

However, this comparison is often misguided.

While certain behaviours and attitudes associated with traditional femininity can be harmful, the term ‘toxic masculinity’ specifically refers to the negative consequences of rigid adherence to traditional masculine norms.

The concept does not imply that all masculinity is toxic, nor does it suggest that femininity is inherently superior.

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

Addressing Misinterpretations and Providing Counter-narratives

To address these misinterpretations and misconceptions, it is crucial to provide accurate counter-narratives.

We must emphasize that the term toxic masculinity, is not an attack on men or masculinity as a whole, but rather a recognition of specific harmful behaviors that can negatively impact individuals and society.

Drivers of Toxic Masculinity

At the core of toxic masculinity are three key drivers that shape the attitudes and actions of those who adhere to these dangerous ideals.

Let’s take a look:

Toughness: Strength, Aggression, and Emotional Hardening

The emphasis on physical and emotional toughness is a key driver of toxic masculinity, leading men to suppress their emotions and cultivate an aggressive, stoic demeanor.

This can manifest in harmful behaviors and have severe consequences for mental health and interpersonal relationships.

2. Anti-Femininity: Rejecting Feminine Traits and Behaviors

Toxic manliness is characterized by a deep rejection of anything perceived as feminine, including empathy, emotional expression, and nurturing.

Men adhering to these toxic behaviours view these qualities as weak, leading to hostility towards them.

This anti-feminine stance can marginalize women and gender-nonconforming individuals, and suppress healthy emotional expression and connection among men.

3. Power: Tying Men’s Worth to Money, Status, and Influence

At the core of toxic masculinity is the belief that a man’s worth is tied to power, wealth, and status.

This can drive men to ruthlessly pursue material success, dominate others, and feel entitled, leading to abusive and exploitative behaviors that harm both the individual and society.

The Devastating Effects of Toxic Manliness: A Call for Change

How harmful masculinity endangers the lives of men especially young boys

While the toxicity of manliness has been widely discussed, its impact on individuals and society is often underestimated.

The Toll on Men’s Mental and Physical Health

One of the most ignored aspects of harmful manliness is its impact on men’s mental and physical well-being.

The pressure to be tough and suppress emotions can lead to a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and shame.

Men who adhere to these toxic ideals may find it difficult to express their feelings or seek help when they’re struggling, often leading to a worsening of their condition.

The Strain on Relationships and Social Dynamics

Toxicity in men also takes a toll on interpersonal relationships and social dynamics.

Men who subscribe to these harmful ideals may exhibit controlling and entitled behaviors towards women and marginalized groups, leading to domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other forms of abuse.

This can create an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and resentment, making it difficult for healthy relationships to thrive.

A Call for Change

Harmful masculinity has devastating consequences for individuals, relationships, and society as a whole.

By standing up to these harmful ideals and sustaining a more inclusive and empathetic understanding of masculinity, we can recreate our society where men feel confident to express their emotions, seek help when needed, and engage in healthy, respectful relationships.

This change starts with each of us. It means challenging the notion that men should see toughness, aggression and the likes as a measure of manliness.

It means celebrating the many ways masculinity can be expressed and recognizing that vulnerability and empathy are not weaknesses, but strengths.

Addressing Toxic Masculinity

While the concept of toxicity in men has been widely discussed, addressing it requires a well-thought-out approach that encourages men to embrace a healthier, more inclusive understanding of masculinity.

1. Encouraging Men to Accept Help and Support: One of the key steps to addressing toxic behaviour in men is encouraging men to seek help and support when needed.

2. Promoting Emotional Expression and Empathy: Another important step in addressing harmful masculinity is promoting emotional expression and empathy among men.

3. Challenging Rigid Gender Norms and Expectations: Addressing this dangerous behaviour also requires challenging the rigid gender norms and expectations that perpetuate these harmful ideals.

Sustaining a More Understanding of Masculinity: Ultimately, addressing toxic masculinity is about fostering a more inclusive and diverse understanding of masculinity that celebrates the unique experiences and expressions of all individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is a set of behaviors men exhibit that are harmful to him and society.

How does toxic masculinity manifest in society?

Harmful masculinity manifests through aggression, suppression of emotions, and the belief that men must be dominant and unemotional.

Why is toxic masculinity harmful?

Harmful masculinity is dangerous as it promotes violence, emotional repression, and unhealthy gender norms that negatively impact individuals and society.

How can we combat toxic masculinity?

We can combat toxicity in manliness by promoting healthy masculinity, emotional intelligence, and gender equality through education, media representation, and policy changes.

Can toxic masculinity be unlearned?

Yes, it can be unlearned through self-awareness, therapy, and embracing a more inclusive and emotionally mature understanding of masculinity.


Toxic masculinity refers to harmful behaviors that men exhibit in society, such as aggression, emotional suppression, and dominance.

It can have negative effects on men’s mental and physical health, relationships, and society as a whole.

Addressing harmful masculinity requires promoting emotional expression, challenging rigid gender norms, and encouraging men to seek help and support.

By redefining masculinity and embracing vulnerability and empathy, we can create a more inclusive and healthy society for all individuals.


  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
  6. https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1433&context=senior_theses
  7. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dispelling-myth-toxic-masculinity-embracing-healthy-masculine-ahmed
  8. https://e-journals.unmul.ac.id/index.php/PSIKO/article/download/7528/pdf
  9. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-toxic-masculinity-5075107
  10. https://www.healthline.com/health/toxic-masculinity

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.