The phrase “toxic masculinity” has become a trendy way to encapsulate and call out antisocial, violent and aggressive behaviors associated with maleness/masculinity. While the phrase is catchy and pointed, it can also be harmful to both men (and women) if it’s used without proper context and specificity.
Carelessly throwing around phrases like “toxic masculinity” has the adverse consequence of associating masculinity itself with harm. This has the effect, intended or not, of eroding men’s self acceptance and self worth, perpetuating an antagonistic dichotomy between men and women, while simultaneously doing little to highlight the actual specific issues and behaviors that the phrase was coined to address. Instead, the phrase”toxic masculinity” reinforces the idea that men are flawed by their very nature, which is a massively defeatist and disempowering narrative to for men and boys overcome.
Reinforcing an antisocial and disempowering stereotype of men hurts women.
Empowering, celebrating, and protecting women does not necessitate harming, stereotyping, and maligning men. To the contrary, women are stronger when the men around them are supported in discovering and expressing the beauty and power in their masculinity.
The words we use are important in framing our understanding of the world and we owe it to ourselves to be responsible for the world we create through our language. Call out behavior that is harmful and show better ways of interacting. Let’s stand together in touch with our shared femininity, masculinity, and sexuality more bravely. Let’s protect women by protecting men. Let’s protect men by protecting women. Let’s strive to be more specific and aware in the way we speak about men so that we create a vision of masculinity that doesn’t equate maleness with violence and oppression, so the next generation of men can have a blueprint of kindness, acceptance, and pride to grow into and model.
The tremendous work and scholarship of the women’s movement for the past forty years has advanced our understanding of women’s power and sexuality in amazing ways. This movement is stronger today than ever. Through an incredible network of women’s advocacy organizations, women’s studies programs at universities, and women’s health and education initiatives, women and girls are proactively shaping and challenging long held, ignorant, and harmful assumptions, gender roles, bigotry, violence, and stereotypes. This work continues to be relevant and extremely important for the advancement of women’s position in society and women’s security and health. Women holding positions of power in every sector of society is an incredibly positive change for all people. Despite historically having positions of power, men and boys are now decades behind in this positive and proactive exploration, analysis, and advancement of psychological and sexual health. If we want better men, we must advocate for boys and men to have a clearer understanding and mastery of their sexuality. As it stands today, almost no men are being meaningfully mentored and guided with respect to learning about and controlling their sexuality. The guidance men and women receive from tradition is no longer adequate. After all it is tradition that created the historical precedent we need to address. Only by shedding the layers of fear and shame around the many issues of sexuality can we begin to address them directly and in more productive ways.
It is impossible to be a feminist and stand for women without placing equal value on the male experience and the safety, mental, sexual, and emotional well-being of boys and men. We must advocate for men with the same vigor and purpose that we do for women. There is an opportunity to investigate the causes of violent and antisocial male behavior and to do that requires us taking a longer look at the nature of human sexuality and what it means to be human. We come from a legacy of scarcity, violence, and brutality. The natural world is brutal and violent for all species, including humans. With increased availability of resources and knowledge we increase our ability to both witness, and change this legacy. The primitive legacy we call “the patriarchy” hurts men as much as women. The vilification of maleness continues this legacy of conflict. The past was not “male” and the future is not “female”. The past was primitive. The future is ours to define together.
The future is human.