Toxic Masculinity = Masculinity?

Reader comments inspired this blog post which I published on Good Men Project:

Why do so many men insist that masculinity is the same thing as toxic masculinity — the violent, aggressive variant that leads to horrors like rape or beatings or terrorism (domestic and foreign)? I wondered about this while talking with some non-feminist acquaintances — I try to reach beyond my feminist choir on a regular basis.

We had gotten onto the subject of the tweetstorm created by Danielle Muscato’s question, “What would you do if all men had a 9 pm curfew?”

The men I spoke with were infuriated, taking the proposal literally and not as a thought experiment. “That would be a human rights violation,” said one. “Women would have nothing to do since most businesses would close at 9 PM,” said another.

Read more@ Good Men Project.

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 26, 2018, in men, violence against women and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Masculinity Means Agression

  2. I believe that Toxic Masculinity is being mixed into masculinity because throughout the course of time, the two have become so interconnected that many confuse the two as one. Toxic masculinity is defined to be aggressive, to abuse the power of man by putting down women by abusive means, whether it be physical or verbal. Masculinity however is defined as having male traits, and as history passed, where in most cultures man was defined as being the head of the family and to be the owner of their kids and their wife. This power has then corrupted many and gave them the idea that they have the ability to abuse their masculinity and see it as acceptable. Because of previous history of patriarchal societies, many feel the reason for this was because of man itself, but the true reason for the horrible sin of the past was because of those who saw their power as a tyrant. These people first gave off this male superiority because of genetic traits, and so this slowly adopted its way into previous societies that then accepted this horrible atrocity.

  3. One of the major reasons why there is controversy over the topic of toxic masculinity is because it is a matter of perspectives. First off, masculinity is defined as traits that would be applicable to traditional men: strong, courageous, and self-reliant. Toxic masculinity is an exaggeration of those traits to a point where a person can feel uncomfortable. To many women, it is easy to see when a man is being toxic. To men, however, it is hard to see when another man is being toxic as the main point of masculinity is to try to attract another woman so another man would not directly see all of the toxic masculinity. Also, to a person who views them self as not masculine, it would be hard for them to see what is masculine. Usually what happens is that if someone wanted to be “a man”, but would not know exactly how to become masculine, then that person would exaggerate almost every aspect of masculinity to a point where it is considered toxic as they would not know how much masculinity is too much and would assume that the more masculinity, the better. The line between masculinity and toxic masculinity is almost non-existent to many men which is why when toxic masculinity is attacked, they feel that all masculinity is attacked which hurts their ego.

  4. Eli Harrison Pritchard

    I think there is two question I come back to and that is what does mean to be a man? And is that valuable? Which have always bothered me. The answer I always come back to is it means nothing be a man, be a good human instead. If you have built a notion of what a man is or how they should behave (or even allowed to behave and how women behave) and you are presented with a situation that aims at subverting that, your frame of reference is limited. The responses make sense when you contextualize them that way, I am a man this would be illegal or women would do little because there are no men. Instead of reading the subtext or addressing empathy it’s easier to understand through the lenses you already have. So instead of seeing it as some way to enhance understanding through the thought experiment (like they are usually designed for) some men will see it as an attack on themselves or literal. I’m not making the evaluation that men will not understand it, simply that it’s hard to reach beyond the confines of masculinity once you’ve let become part of you. Some people would rather assert their world view as a man then expand it, I as a man have been guilty of this in the past.

  5. From my understanding, our current ideas about masculinity are synonymous with toxic masculinity. Please understand by this I am not saying that all men are evil or even more susceptible to evil, just that what they are taught from a young age as what is “manly” often leads to toxic behavior.
    I don’t believe that masculinity necessarily has to result in toxic masculinity, but in order for this to be true, masculinity is in dire need of a “face-lift”. Being that no one is innately more susceptible to evil than another from birth, we can infer that it begins with education or lack thereof.
    Rather than teaching boys that masculinity means being tough, never crying and having no interest in anything deemed feminine, maybe stress more of the biological differences and what they mean rather than focusing on untrue stigmas. For example, rather than teaching boys that boys don’t cry because they are tougher, teach boys about hormones and what makes one more emotional than another and also stressing that allowing yourself to feel an emotion does not in any way make one less of a “man”.
    Just as in everything, progress for masculinity begins with education.

    • I personally don’t think it’s necessary to make distinctions between masculine and feminine, but our society does. Given that, I would like to encourage positive forms of masculinity, that both women and men can benefit from.

  6. Let the record show that I am male presenting and wear a kilt every day. I always feel like the manliest man in every room.

    I think toxic masculinity gets conflated with normal masculinity because they are one and the same. Toxic masculinity is a perversion of “good” traits every man should be. The author said that being “strong, supportive, assertive, a leader, adventurous, and courageous.” are among the traits she admires in men. Considering this list a man could not be an admirable man if he were weak, needing support, passive, a follower, a shut in, or debilitated by fear. While many of those things wouldn’t be desired in most people, it is the linking of those with ones worth as a person that leads men to run to the other extreme. It is the man afraid of being perceived as weak that hits another person as a show of strength. It is the man who absolutely must be seen as a leader that can’t listen to others when they are trying to show him a different way to act. Toxic masculinity isn’t just doing masculinity wrong, it is the natural consequence of having anything considered to be masculine. These words, masculinity and femininity have no meaning. As the author said, everyone has a combination of both things considered to be masculine and feminine, and masculinity can be whatever we make it. Despite having no meaning, we give these words incredible power over how we relate to ourselves. This naturally creates a void, because these words don’t help to tell us who we are, but who we /should/ be. The chasm created between who we are and who society tells us we should be is bridged by insecurity. That insecurity turns these words like masculinity and femininity toxic. Women should be calm, compassionate, deferential, beautiful and so toxic femininity is expresses itself by having women forever chasing an ideal they will never feel they embody. It so happens that chasing this ideal doesn’t cause as much destruction as men forever trying to be strong, supportive, assertive, a leader, adventurous, and courageous in the face of the inherent weaknesses we all have inside of us.

    • “These words, masculinity and femininity have no meaning.”

      They have no innate meaning. But they do have social meaning. They mean whatever a society says they do, and each society assigns certain meanings to XX versus XY genes —- Which largely varies from place to place. Which is why you are probably the only man wearing a kilt in your classes. You are acting against what our society deems to be masculine.

      “Toxic masculinity isn’t just doing masculinity wrong, it is the natural consequence of having anything considered to be masculine.”

      Well, you can’t have toxic masculinity unless you divide things into masculine and feminine. But there are societies that divide between masculine and feminine and don’t seem to have toxic masculinity. Forager societies for instance do divide things up between the sexes and yet there is great equality. If you look at the Indians of the east coast of the Americas at contact with Europeans rape and wife battering were virtually nonexistent and there was great respect among the sexes.

      I personally am good with doing away with gender differences. And everyone benefits from being strong, supportive, assertive, a leader, adventurous, and courageous. But it should also be OK to admit weakness too. The healthiest people are strong in both — what we call — masculine and feminine traits

      • I am indeed the only man wearing a kilt in my classes, and at work, and often when I’m in public. I recognize they have social meaning, I think the point I’m getting at is that to create a definition for those words that would capture the nature of everyone in the genders they seek to define would be so vague as to have no meaning. So, it isn’t just that without a social context they don’t have a meaning, because that is true of language in general, it is that these words should not have meaning,,,because to give them meaning is inherently limiting and exclusive to those in the gender that do not exhibit those traits.

        I find that interesting. I do not have data here, so this is strictly speculation and pondering. I think, if you define gender equality as the main metric of toxic masculinity then you have a very solid point. What I’m wondering about is the mental health and general happiness of everyone in that society…or even of the people who felt they didn’t ft in. There are bound to be men to wanted to take care of the children and women who wanted to hunt, how was this approached? What comes to mind, and forgive the silly example, is the kids movie How to Train your Dragon. The main character lived in a civilization where there may have been a solid amount of gender equality…I don’t have it solidly in my mind, so lets for the sake of this argument say there was perfect gender equality. The main character still suffered for not being seen as a good man. He had feminine traits and was harassed for not being able to fulfill his role.

        I think, as someone who was raised as a man, I have a relationship with toxic masculinity that wouldn’t necessarily present itself in the greater social context. To me, toxic masculinity arises in being socialized to be a certain way and then covering up the ways in which you aren’t that way as opposed to embracing them. This seems inevitable considering how diverse people are. I’m uncertain if that is mutually exclusive with gender equality…does that make sense? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

      • Well, words are always confusing and yet we are able to communicate with each other so we do have generally socially agreed-upon meanings. And most people have some idea what masculine and feminine mean in our society.

        And for sure there are some men who want to take “women’s roles” and many women who want to take “men’s roles.” Because we value of masculinity over femininity (gender ranking male over female) is been easier for women to take on so-called male roles, and they largely have. Although they usually get paid less for doing the same thing. It’s harder for men to do the same because society makes them feel demeaned. But I have a brother and sister-in-law who are very conservative and they always say it’s too bad that they were born into the genders they have because the guy would rather stay home with the kids and the girl would rather work outside the home. Of course they could. But they have so strongly internalized their gender roles that they can’t conceive of that option.

        “To me, toxic masculinity arises in being socialized to be a certain way and then covering up the ways in which you aren’t that way as opposed to embracing them.”

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Something I’m trying to think for myself.

        I know that you can’t have gender equality and have different social roles. I personally prefer her not to divide up the rolls so that everyone can do what they are most comfortable with. But societies like the Cherokee and Iroquois did divided social roles and yet maintain gender equality. Same with hunter gatherer societies.

        Thanks for your thoughts. It can’t take me a while to approve all the comments because I do them a little at a time just to get my eyes off the computer, because they need a rest!

    • Teverett, “The chasm created between who we are and who society tells us we should be is bridged by insecurity. That insecurity turns these words like masculinity and femininity toxic. Women should be calm, compassionate, deferential, beautiful and so toxic femininity is expresses itself by having women forever chasing an ideal they will never feel they embody. It so happens that chasing this ideal doesn’t cause as much destruction as men forever trying to be strong, supportive, assertive, a leader, adventurous, and courageous in the face of the inherent weaknesses we all have inside of us.”

      The destruction caused by the ideals pushed onto women is in some ways more destructive to women because they try to force women to internally murder themselves. This shows up when a woman is with an abusive, but not-yet-physically abusive partner. No matter what she does, society says it is her fault for standing up to her man & also for letting him walk all over her. Although there is nothing she can do to stop the abuse (even after she leaves, he tends to find ways to continue the abuse, especially if they have a child), many in society say things that make her think if she would be more _____, he would stop abusing her. THAT is one of the reasons many women stay as long as they do: they believe they hold the key-as soon as they figure out what it is-to helping the partner become a decent man.

      Her tendency to think she is somehow to blame also effects the man; the more she looks for fault in her own behavior, the nastier he gets. These behaviors & beliefs also effect everyone connected to the couple. Those who encourage her to be more deferential at the same time encourage themselves & women with whom they connect to be more deferential. Women who tell her the answer is in standing up to him, also believe they can change an abuser.

      Meanwhile abusers surround themselves with folks who agree with their male-superior ideologies, and give one another tips on how to control “their” women. Some of those men choose to beat their partners, & some murder. Some carry such a vile hatred for women in general, and for their partner in particular, they dream up ways to murder without consequences to themselves. If they cannot physically murder, they may choose to sabotage instead. Sometimes that sabotage brings about a long, slow, painful death for their partner. (A large study found that abused women are more prone than non-abused women to diseases, including chronic ones like anxiety, depression, heart disease, urinary tract infections, etc). Murder by long, slow disease is just as deadly as shooting with a gun.

      • Hm, my post may have been been a little too dismissive. My focus was on the pitfalls of masculinity, not on femininity. The quote you responded to wasn’t meant to imply that woman do not struggle or every struggle less. It was simply saying that toxic femininity often leads to personal pain, and toxic masculinity tends to lead to outward destruction. I think, this is reflected in what you shared? I apologize if it came off as me belittling or diminishing.

      • Yes, that’s what seems to happen: toxic masculinity more often creates pain in others while toxic femininity more often creates pain within oneself. Which can then end up hurting others (it’s hard to be raised by someone who is depressed, it’s hard to be partnered with someone who’s too dependent etc.)

  7. I would like to comment on how the article was ended. The author said that “positive qualities that I admire: strong, supportive, assertive, a leader, adventurous, and courageous.” I think that this is where the problem with toxic masculinity arises. These are the common responses I have found from the women I know in my life but including honesty. Toxic masculinity arises from the desire by most women for that strength and assertiveness. Although most women (and men) have a desire for those traits in men they date, everyone wants a different amount. Eventually, young men run into somebody that wants them to be so strong or so assertive that they reach a breaking point. This does not only happen in relationships but in families, gangs, business, and of course the military. But I think while a lot of attention is being paid to trying to curb toxic masculinity in business but we need to focus on raising young men (and women) not to want to be strong and assertive but to be compassionate, empathetic, and curious.

    • Hmmm, the Cambridge University dictionary defines Assertive this way:
      1. Someone who is assertive behaves confidently and is not frightened to say what they want or believe: 2. behaving confidently and able to say in a direct way what you want or believe

      I believe that this is a positive quality for both women and men. Our society has deemed the quality masculine but all human beings have both a masculine and feminine side to themselves.

      Courage means feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Again, this seems a positive quality for both women and men (even though our society associated more with men.)

      And I agree that these qualities should be partnered with compassion and empathy.

  8. “It’s true that both women and men harm others. But the hurt is not grounded in being raised as girls.”

    I don’t believe for a moment in the proposition that the patterns we see in society are anything other than a reflection of our biological inclinations. But let’s run with this for a moment. Girls are raised to use their femininity to get what they want. Whether it be the damsel in distress trope, or the using of their body or sexuality, or just not taking responsibility for anything because “I’m the girl, and you’re the man”.

    I’ve don’t know how many girlfriends I’ve seen who make a complaint about something to their man, and the man responds.. “yeah true… but you do that too”, and the girl responds.. “But you’re the man!”, as if this was an interesting or irrefutable argument.

    This idea in women that the world owes them not just a living, but a great living, runs deep in women. Whether it be hypergamy of women’s preferences in mates, or the male/female swipe ratio on Tinder, or even the current controversy that “Thots” resent paying taxes, women believe they should get stuff, and get it for nothing. It’s also a little known fact that women embezzle money much more often than men. So called “pink collar crime”. One of the biggest motiviations for women embezzling is they wanted “equality” with men, they thought they deserved the money without having to work for it. Men who embezzle did so because they wanted to be “successful”. You can call that toxic masculinity if you want. But then I’ll call the phenomena of women thinking they should always get something for nothing as toxic femininity.

    Frankly, this blog article itself is an instance of toxic femininity, because it displays the credulous and fantastic belief that only masculinity can exhibit negative consequences. That women can do no wrong. They always tell the truth. #BelieveAllWomen, and all that nonsense. The whole “believe women” narrative is part of the crazy toxic femininity that puts women on a pedestal, they are weak, oppressed and hard done by, by men. Even the fabrication of the “patriarchy” narrative itself by feminist “thinkers” is part of this toxic femininity, designed to blame men for their own lack of desire to achive by merit, so they can take stuff for nothing.

    • Well, in the article I did mention some ways that femininity can hurt but I thought it more as hurting women themselves and hurting their children and being too dependent on men, which at least part of your comment alludes to. But I think you do have a good point in this:

      “Girls are raised to use their femininity to get what they want. Whether it be the damsel in distress trope, or the using of their body or sexuality, or just not taking responsibility for anything because “I’m the girl, and you’re the man”.”

      That does happen too often. And it something that feminists don’t like.

    • What I find interesting about your post, Fred, is that you fault women for not taking responsibility but the majority of your post is sidestepping responsibility.

      “I don’t believe for a moment in the proposition that the patterns we see in society are anything other than a reflection of our biological inclinations.” Means the frightening statistics we see today, like the ones that say men commit 90% of all violent crimes, are not the fault of men, but of some biological imperative. Men are not genetically predisposed to destroy, that’s just what we have been taught.

      Even the example of your conversations with your girlfriend displays a dodging of responsibility. “yeah true… but you do that too” seeks to validate your actions by saying someone else was guilty of it as opposed to just recognizing that what you did didn’t work for her.

      I have never heard a women say that all women should be believed or even that all women are good, and I talk to a lot of them. I think what people are trying to get at right now is that women comprise a population of people who are disempowered in our current society. When they come forward with abuse, they are almost always met with skepticism, just like black people were met with skepticism when they talked about racism still existing. It is the natural order of the world for the people in power to mistrust those without. So, people aren’t saying all women are honest, in fact I’ve never met a single person who has never lied once..me included, what people, men, women, and non-binary, are saying is, “This is a real problem, and if you don’t believe women you will help perpetuate a system that allows for their abuse.”

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