‘Toxic Masculinity’: The Problem With The Phrase
Professor Eric Anderson, a sociologist from the University of Winchester, wants to retire the term 'Toxic Masculinity', saying it unfairly implicates all men.
Toxic masculinity – what is it?
2017 was a nadir for the reputation of men as a series of monsters and dinosaurs were dragged from their toxic swamp of sin and quite rightly disgraced. Yet the behaviour of Weinstein and the rest were no great surprise really. In the real world we’ve all seen men like these: sexual predators using their power to be perverts. They are everywhere, and as such, the reverberations spread out to all industries, all workplaces, and has made us all reassess our behaviour. Women have put up with a lot of grubby shit for a long time, and men need to seriously listen to what they are saying. Most men would agree that it’s time to change.
“None would tolerate the phrase toxic feminity.”
However, one thing which people have started to debate is the term ‘Toxic Masculinity’. Some, including Professor Eric Anderson, from the University of Winchester, are calling for people to stop using it. “The term mostly serves as a pejorative against men, it castigates men generally,” says Eric, “It is not a theory, is not supported by academic literature, and it is used arbitrarily. The idea of toxic masculinity unfairly characterizes all men as the same: saying “toxic masculinity” implies that even a little bit of masculinity is poisonous; thus, using the word masculinity at all suggests that all men are toxic.”
“Toxic masculinity unfairly characterizes all men as the same”
While many men are undeniably monsters, there should be other ways of calling them out.
“I am not opposed to critiquing men: as a collective, men do cause a lot of social damage; and a great deal of social welfare,” admits Eric, “Yet snap-judgments about men being toxic fails to recognize the complexity of masculinity. The use of the phrase lacks sophistication because it fails to realize that some of the same behaviours that men display more than women (willingness to risk, willingness to use violence) are hero-ized in some settings (such as with soldiers) and rightfully devalued in others (criminal activity). It’s the same traits, just used in different contexts. If we call men’s actions in one sphere toxic masculinity, it devalues those behaviours in all.”
The Language Barrier
As for what we should say when we’re calling out these men, well, it’s not so easy, but is perhaps a case of attributing facts about issues rather than throwing a catch-all term over it.
A gay man who hits on a straight man in not enacting toxic homosexuality
“A better way is to keep gendered language out of critiques,” says Eric, “To argue that rape, sexual harassment is wrong is appropriate. To say that these are aspects of toxic masculinity is to generalize in a way that would never be acceptable for issues of race, religion, sexuality or other variables. It is neither sociologically sound, nor moral to castigate the whole by one aspect of one’s actions. A black man who commits a crime is not toxic black; a gay man who hits on a straight man is not enacting toxic homosexuality. They are individuals whose gender and lives are complicated.”
Give us Trump, though Eric. Come on, surely we can slap that label on Trump?
“There are words to describe Donald Trump. ‘Asshole’ comes to mind. But to say he exemplifies toxic masculinity is to verbally say men are also toxic, he’s just the most. It is to use him as evidence of men’s awfulness. It’s stereotyping based off the worst scenario. It is akin to finding a lazy female and saying ‘female laziness.'”
Well, that told us.
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The concept of toxic masculinity is not intended to demonize men or male attributes, but rather to emphasize the harmful effects of conformity to certain traditional behaviours.
I wish “toxic masculinity” went by another name because, you’re right, it does sound like an accusation. What a lot of people fail to realize is that toxic masculinity doesn’t mean “all men are evil.” Rather, it refers to the pressure men face to conform to our society’s idea of masculinity. It demands that men shun self-expression and vulnerability. It asks men to bottle up their emotions, to be brave 100% of the time, and to never diverge from society’s expectations of manliness (like when Macklemore says “when I was in the 3rd grade I thought that I was gay ’cause I could draw”).
‘The idea of toxic masculinity unfairly characterizes all men as the same: saying “toxic masculinity” implies that even a little bit of masculinity is poisonous; thus, using the word masculinity at all suggests that all men are toxic.”’
This is not true. It can be interpreted that way, but that does not mean that it should be interpreted in that way. Unless you want to retire the use of adjectives to modify nouns entirely. As George Lakoff said, “There are two forms of applying adjectives to nouns, and the classic example is “the industrious Japanese,” which assumes either that all Japanese are industrious, or that there are some and I’m picking out those.”
Apply the same logic to ‘toxic masculinity,’ which assumes either that all masculinity is toxic, or that there is some and I’m picking out that.
Individuals that claim that toxic masculinity unfairly demonizes all men are usually either motivated to misinterpret in order to discredit the person (or movement) using the phrase and/or are the very people for whom the phrase was developed to describe.