You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, we’ve all heard it. The term “toxic masculinity (TM)” has been getting thrown around a bunch in recent years. It is often used to describe negative behavior from men, usually behavior that target women. It is seen as a symptom of the patriarchy, the system of power being implemented by men in our society that is designed (whether intentionally or not) to keep women oppressed and unequal. The term itself carries a lot of weight, and honestly, it doesn’t sound very nice either. So let’s examine this term and try to understand if it is helpful.
First we’ll look at the two words that make up the term. “Toxic”, according to our old friend Webster, can be defined as ” extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful “. Let’s use the word harmful going forward to simplify. “Masculinity” is defined as ” having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man”. That’s pretty straightforward. So now let’s combine the two definitions to get our final meaning. Toxic masculinity can be defined literally as “harmful qualities that are usually associated with a man”. There you have it.
So is using this term the best way to address poor behavior that is often carried out by men? My opinion is probably not. That is mainly due to the term not really accomplishing what it should accomplish, helping to identify a problem and promote positive change. Many men see it as a personal attack, more of an insult than anything else. Using the word masculinity to describe specific behavior ultimately generalizes that behavior and creates a divide. Being masculine might mean different things to different people but using the term TM disregards that to a degree.
You never want to generalize behavior using a blanket term or statement, it will always lead to alienation and resentment.
So is there a more inclusive term to describe the behavior associated with TM or is it fine how it is?
Let me know your thoughts down below!