Toxic Masculinity: A Feminist Issue?

Image source: Bustle

Image source: Bustle

We’ve all heard it. “Boys will be boys”: a grin, a roll of the eyes, an excuse and a get-out-of-jail-free. But hang on – what is meant when we use this phrase? That some actions and behaviours are just so excruciatingly masculine that they are unavoidable for any boy to partake in? Why are certain actions masculine? And why should a boy be a boy?

The answer is toxic masculinity. In case you don’t know, toxic masculinity refers to the socially constructed idea that the masculine gender is naturally more aggressive and violent, less emotional, and ultimately more dominant. Why, you might ask, is this a feminist issue?

 

1.     Because toxic masculinity overvalues what it deems masculine and devalues what it deems feminine

 

Women are criticised for holding traits deemed masculine, but also for holding opposite traits that are supposedly overly feminine. Assertive in the workplace and she’s bossy, but quiet and she’s a pushover; over-emotional and she’s illogical and can’t make a decision, but not emotional enough and she’s cold and unnatural. Toxic masculinity actively contributes to misogynistic and oppressive stereotypes about women.

 

2.     Because we’ve all met a toxic masculine

 

That guy who thought it was appropriate to catcall you, the mansplainer you had to listen to for twenty minutes, and the boy who pulled your hair in preschool because he had a crush. These are all products of the pervasive ideas of toxic masculinity. Men and women alike are taught from a young age that these aggressive and overbearing behaviours are acceptable and affirm masculinity.

Moreover, toxic masculinity also contributes to homophobia and transphobia. When a man acts as supposedly a woman should, for example dating a man, society considers his masculinity undermined. And because toxic masculinity constructs gender as a strict binary, if you are not man enough, you are automatically lesser, and therefore a woman.

Image source: Elite Daily

Image source: Elite Daily

3.     Because toxic masculinity is literally toxic

 

Think it’s a coincidence that the leading cause of death for men in the UK between 20 and 49 is suicide[1], and that in 2015 men in the UK were three times more likely to die from suicide than women?[2]. Toxic masculinity means that men aren’t supposed to ask for help, let alone feel depressed in the first place. Men in their youth are supposed to live up to an augmented version of masculinity, leaving no room for our differences that make us human.

And what about the perpetuation of rape culture? If toxic masculinity encourages the ideal man to be dominant and aggressive, mutual consent is not a very masculine concept. Further, if we use the traits of toxic masculinity to excuse overly violent behaviour (think “boys will be boys”) then we are directly contributing to the culture of victim blaming that so often prevents women from reporting sexual assault.

The purpose of feminism is to celebrate and uplift the feminine in all its forms, and to break down the barriers that have constrained women and femininities for so long. To do this effectively feminists must also be active in reinventing what it means to be a man, and what it means to be masculine. Toxic masculinity is a feminist issue, and boys should not have to be boys.

 

Article by: Mairi Lubelska

 

[1] Esquire, May 9th 2017 http://www.esquire.co.uk/culture/longform/a9202/britain-male-suicide-crisis/

[2] Samaritans http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Suicide_statistics_report_2017_Final.pdf