**Disclaimer: This article was written in response to the notion of "Toxic Masculinity," presented by the new Gillette commercial that came out in January of 2019. The contents however are relevant for any age. I have both a BA and a Masters in English, so yes, I believe that words and how we use them matter! A simple phrase or a misunderstanding of a crucial term can make or break our society.**
What is “Toxic Masculinity?”
In today’s society, the term “toxic masculinity” has been thrown around a lot. In an attempt to better understand it, I did some research. It turns out, this term is slang for the academic term “Hegemonic Masculinity,” which is defined by Connell in his study, Masculinities, by University of California Press as follows: “a practice that legitimizes powerful men's dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of the common male population and women, and other marginalized ways of being a man.”
In layman’s terms, this means that toxic masculinity describes a man who’s view on gender is supposedly narrowed by his adherence to traditional stereotypes, leading him to be unemotional, violent, and sexually aggressive. Such a man also supposedly believes that men are weak or not “real men” if they do display emotion or are not perceived as violent.
There are many problems with this notion. To begin, we will address the false analogy: an argument that uses an irrelevant metaphor or comparison. Both of the above definitions stem from a gross misunderstanding of the term, “masculinity.” In order to appropriately gage it, “masculinity” must first be understood before determining its level of “toxicity.”
What is “Masculinity?”
Masculinity can best be understood as a code of conduct, and some of the oldest and best examples of such a code belong to the code of chivalry. Developed in Europe somewhere between the end of the 12th century and beginning of the 13th century, the notion of chivalry was popularized, both in practice in the Early Middle Ages and in High Medieval literature, as a code of conduct, involving the key virtues of piety, honour, loyalty, forbearance, and nobility of character. These were virtues that a knight was expected to live by, if he was to be considered a real man. Of course, no man every perfectly lived out his masculinity through the code of chivalry, but the important point is that the goal existed at all.
As these virtues and the code of chivalry became idealized in literature, they have become universally accepted as a definition of what it means to behave in a "masculine" or "manly" fashion. We can see this in Oxford dictionary’s definition of “manly”: “having or denoting those qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage, strength, and spirit” [emphasis added]. These are not negative qualities at all, nor do they conform with Connell’s claim that traditional concepts of manhood are somehow toxic.
A Contradictory Phrase
Now we get to the heart of it: the realization that “toxic masculinity” is a term that actually contradicts itself.
It is so important to separate society from a person’s individual sense of self. While all of us will acknowledge that society has its darker elements (ex. a toxic society that victimizes women, foregrounds abuse, and promotes promiscuity), to attack a reality like masculinity is to make a generalized attack on an individual’s identity.
To say that masculinity can be toxic is to completely misunderstand the sacredness of true masculinity. If masculinity can be toxic, then water can be dry or wood can be fluid. The qualifying adjective goes completely against the essence of what makes the noun a reality. If I punch you in the face, am I demonstrating an example of “toxic love?” You see? It is nonsense.
The Lie that Cuts Deep
We can expand this understanding to see gaps in other uses of this word like “toxic friendship.” If a relationship is toxic, than it is by definition not a friendship. The use of terminology in both the case of “toxic friendship” and “toxic masculinity” demonstrates a lack of agency; in other words, a desperation to persist in calling the relationship a "friendship" or the man's behavior, "masculine." To call any of these things toxic is not only an affront to the inherently good nature of these realities but also a refusal to actually embrace the evil that is happening. If someone is behaving like “x,” than it is not a “toxic” friendship, but rather, no friendship at all. If a man is behaving like “x,” it is not a case of “toxic” masculinity, but a lack of masculinity.
Let me be clear. When we say “toxic masculinity,” we are actually covering up the real problem. When we allow men to believe that their identity is inherently toxic, we give them a way out. We tell them that there is no point in trying to change. We tell them that their masculinity has the possibility to become toxic, like an active volcano that at any moment could go nuclear. Once men believe this lie, they are rendered powerless, as their will and need to fight for righteousness is destroyed. When this happens, a once beautiful culture becomes a toxic society.
Masculinity is not toxic. Masculinity is true, holy, and a powerful force for positive change. But let me tell you what is toxic. Rampant rape in our society is toxic. Hook-ups - which tell men and women that they can become one only to be ripped apart - are toxic. The lie that divorce doesn’t destroy families is toxic. The lie that a woman can abort her own child is toxic. The lie that a man can view pornography and still have a healthy respect for women is toxic. I have something to say to all men who are struggling in their identity, on both a personal level and on behalf of all like-minded men and women.
I am sorry. I am sorry because our society is telling you that you are toxic. I am sorry because the women you try to honor say you are trash. They pin the misdeeds of your brothers on you and claim your identity – your very masculinity – is toxic to society.
They do not know what they do.
They do not understand that it is not your masculinity, but a LACK of it that is to blame.
They are hurting because of the LACK of masculinity that is destroying our culture and are blinded by the wounds this situation has inflicted on them.
But I am here to tell you that your identity is NOT toxic. Masculinity is a holy, pious, and honorable reality. It is your identity and as men, you can be the change that we so greatly desire to see in our society.
Men, this is a PROMISE from all of us who acknowledge the sacred call that is manhood.
In the fight against a toxic society for a culture of beauty, we will NOT TURN on our own soldiers.
We will FIGHT alongside you in this battle.
We will HELP you face these evils.
We VALUE your masculinity.
WE NEED YOUR MASCULINITY.