Toxic masculinity is a domineering topic in the news today. Seemingly a catch-all phrase to label problematic male behaviours in the media - and for good reason. These behaviours contribute to the unravelling of progress made by feminism, as it is responsible for misogyny, oppression, and discrimination. It seems there is an epidemic of negative stories, trends, and lifestyles that are bred from these issues. It is likely we have all experienced toxic masculinity in the news, or for guys, have felt its influence.
Delving into this topic may cause confusion, and that’d be understandable, as the term has gone through much debate causing it to be ‘lost’ amongst the noise. Its usage is dependent on context, be it the media, progressive, or academic. One thing is for certain, the effects of toxic masculinity are not up for debate; they contribute to many issues for women, LGBTQ+ groups, and men finding their identity in the world.
Understanding the term
I used to believe that ‘toxic masculinity’ was a clean cut description of behaviours which were problematic from males - traits such as intolerance, dominance, or aggression. This is typically the commonplace understanding in the media. However, it was soon apparent that there is a divide of understanding for the concept. These are driven by an attempt to unlock an understanding of these behaviours, whether this be finding the causes or breaking down the concept altogether.
One of these concepts is a progressive outlook that the removal of masculinity and femininity is a gateway to true gender neutrality. Another sociological perspective suggests that masculinity has been infiltrated by toxicity that causes anti-social behaviours, as men cannot achieve certain unattainable goals. The progressive outlook looks at the breaking down of masculinity in general, whereas the sociological focuses on the correction of the false notion that there is an ideal ‘man’.
The similarities of these two approaches are that they both seek to deconstruct the idea that there is a pre-set identity for people, rather a build-up of unique parts such as class, sexuality, and experience. While they both aim for separate descriptions and solutions of toxic masculinity, they meet at a poignant idea - identity. Allowing men to develop and understand their authentic identity, they are less likely to fall into these behaviours that result in socially regressive male traits. Thus, acknowledgement of privilege and development of healthy norms isn't affected by external influences of a misogynistic world.
Whether you agree with either concept, there is an underlying recognition that being a man isn’t a set of behaviours, nor is it naturally toxic, to suggest so would be ignorant and very damaging to the diversity of the modern individuals. These beliefs are typically socio-political perspectives that prescribe set identities to all groups, not just men, which is problematic and contributes to alienation and prejudice, unfortunately leading to false perceptions of identity.
Consequences of toxicity
Destructive is one word is all that is needed to describe the effects on society caused by toxic masculinity. Many of society’s darkest statistics find roots in toxicity. Men’s mental health suffers in a variety of ways ranging from a stunted or failing emotional state caused by teaching boys from a young age to suppress and hide emotion, to antisocial traits such as hostility, anger, and stoicism. This can lead to the condemnation of others and the need for dominance.
Unfortunately, these behaviours undo progress made, and cause further issues for the feminist movement. Men cultivating negative perceptions of women attack the progress that has been made with women’s rights, place and freedoms. Examples of this are the unwinnable battles women face in the world of fashion, no matter the set-up there is always criticism for how women dress, and no matter how prestigious the position. The most concerning reality of these behaviour is surrounding domestic abuse and sexual abuse, as most of these crimes are committed by men against women. This reality often influences women’s behaviour.
The condemnation of diverse identity is a consequence of toxic masculinity that impacts women and other groups. This can lead to the shunning of individuality, such as women who do not conform to societal norms expected of them - think marriage and family - or the pressures of LGBTQ+ individuals when they do not conform to ‘traditional’ stereotypes.
Often, this leads to the suppression of expression which could be present through our clothing choices or personality. Perhaps most concerning is that this exclusion of identity causes some men who do not fall into what would be considered ‘traditional masculinity’ into a toxic trap. An example of this is the incel movement, an incredibly dangerous and misogynistic group that blames women for ‘failures’, as they feel denied entitlement and systematically discriminated against.
How the cycle is being broken
Full solutions for the issue have not been found, although being said progress is being made. This progress is coming from all areas, because it has to, in order to redefine masculine norms. Programmes within education attempt to tackle the process before it starts, whereas mental health campaigns are trying to rewrite the toxic narrative.
A massively influential area for the movement is fashion. Positive role models are identified as a key strategy to resolve toxicity, this becomes most apparent when these individuals defy societal norms and redefine them through fashion. They also preach the importance of mental health through their expression. By adopting unisex fashion and gender blurring, strong statements are made, this opens up many doors for men to express themselves and their identity. Tarik Caroll describes the impact of ‘breaking the mould’ of masculinity in the entertainment industry through fashion.
The blight of toxic masculinity has caused significant issues for society, and it has actively destroyed progress made by movements such as feminism. The fashion movement has made strides in undoing this damage through positive role models, and by rewriting masculinity. Toxic masculinity is everyone's problem, there are no winners - everyone loses.