What Toxic Masculinity Is, and What it Isn’t

Trigger Warning: Mentions of toxic masculinity including suicide, homophobia, assault, misogyny and murder. And Piers Morgan.

You may be familiar with the gender binary. It looks a little like this.

Feminine Masculine
Child rearing Breadwinner
Cooking Sports
Sexually cautious Sex mad
Romantic comedy lover Horror lover
Make-up Work out
Crying “Man up”
Soft Aggressive

 

Based on what your genitals look like, assuming you’re not one of the estimated 1 in 4500 born with ambiguous genitalia, you’ll be expected to fit into one end of the binary or the other. If it’s a vagina then you need make-up while you deal with a baby; and a penis means you’re going to have to fit the gym around your high powered job to provide for your family.

You’re probably already thinking that this doesn’t work for you, in the same way it doesn’t work for most people. I’m certainly a ‘several from Column A and also from Column B’ kind of person, not conforming to the strict false dichotomy of gender that we enforce over the false dichotomy of sex. Generally, in feminist circles, the destruction of our societal expectations based on these gender roles underlies most of what we do.

Some will cling to gender norms with both hands though–usually, I’ve found, those who have a vested interest in maintaining the control that these roles give them. Here is where we encounter ‘toxic masculinity.’ It pops up around big sporting events, it is the hot button topic when discussing male suicide rates, it lurks behind gendered parenting tips. Toxic masculinity is relevant to all of these things.

What toxic masculinity is NOT, however, is this:

It isn’t saying that Column B is bad, and needs to be eradicated. It’s not trying to ‘ban’ men from being who they are. It isn’t saying that we should all be feminine in all aspects of our lives and eradicate all that we associate with masculinity.

No, the problem isn’t masculinity.

The problem is that patriarchal control is based on feminine traits being seen as ‘bad’ or ‘weak’. It’s why you say someone does something ‘Like a Girl’. It’s why women wear trousers but men don’t wear dresses. It’s why it isn’t seen as socially acceptable for men to cry. Toxic masculinity occurs when someone who is very invested in maintaining association with ONLY masculine traits acts in ways harmful to themselves and others rather than let themselves slip and admit they’re not as into the gym as their friends think they are.

It’s men not wanting to be associated with the ‘girly’ task of caring for their own child, so it being called babysitting if daddy is doing it. It’s ‘tough guy’ boxers like Mayweather using slurs and his fans joining in so nobody thinks any of them are soft or have sex with other men.

It’s seeing being rejected by a woman as such a threat to your ‘sex master’ status, that you turn to assault or murder, like Elliot Rodger.

It’s perhaps most significant when we look at male mental health issues and suicide rates. Looking back at our columns, men don’t cry. Women are soft and have feelings and talk to their friends and doctors about said feelings, while men just have to suck it up and get on with it. Rather than do the ‘girly’ thing and talk about what’s getting to them, toxic masculinity leads them to bottle it all up and become the 1 in 8 men who have experienced mental health issues, and the average 13 per day in the UK who take their own lives. Man up, don’t be soft, don’t display your emotions in the ‘hysterical’ way women do.

So no, calling out toxic masculinity isn’t about shaming men for being men or demanding that everyone wears pink skirts. It’s about recognising that society’s obsession with masculine traits above all else is dangerous. It’s about acknowledging that a society that values masculinity over femininity is a society that is literally killing our women and our men.

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