To fight against “toxic masculinity,” many on the radical left are vilifying all forms of masculine behavior, dismissing the opinions of men, and teaching boys that they’re privileged oppressors. But, if they really believe that toxic masculinity exists, how is any of this going to encourage men to change their behavior?
Modern Society Holds Two Incorrect Ideas about Masculinity
In modern society, there are two main beliefs about masculinity. The first is that it’s a social construct. Instead of being a set of biological traits, masculinity is now understood as a social performance. It’s thought to be “not biologically fixed but socially constructed,” and nothing more than a “collective hallucination.”
Not only is masculinity a performance, it’s also harmful. Studies warn that traditional masculinity is toxic for young boys, claiming that focusing on fitness, inhibiting emotions, and desiring financial success are examples of unhealthy “masculine stress.” Some psychologists even suggest that all boys are born loving and empathic, but socialization into masculine roles stunts them until they’re unable to process emotion.
The fight against toxic masculinity focuses on “debunking” the gendered brain and reversing the socialization of young boys.
And so, armed with these two beliefs, the fight against toxic masculinity focuses on “debunking” the gendered brain and reversing the socialization of young boys. It’s thought that the human mind is a blank slate, on which masculinity leaves its marks. Movies and video games are therefore targeted as the main conduits of toxic behavior, with dangerous influences like Indiana Jones and James Bond in the firing line. To reverse this damage, we’re now granting women typically masculine roles and encouraging a more effeminate image of men.
A Slippery Slope
But, there are two problems with the modern ideas of masculinity. Firstly, male traits do have a biological basis. For example, men have higher levels of testosterone, a hormone associated with aggression, and this combative behavior appears at a very early age — long before kids conform to social expectations.
Secondly, I’m sure everyone can agree that masculinity can become hypermasculinity. Nobody is denying the existence of sexual assault, domestic abuse, homophobia, or violence. But the phrase “toxic masculinity” is a slippery slope — and we’re already seeing its effects. Hatred isn’t always directed at toxic masculinity; it’s often aimed at masculinity itself. For instance, the American Psychological Association introduced guidelines to protect against traditional masculinity in young boys, with no mention of toxic masculinity.
Hatred isn’t always directed at toxic masculinity; it’s often aimed at masculinity itself.
Failure to distinguish between the two has led to widespread hatred against men. While misogyny is treated as intolerable and reprehensible in society, misandry is normalized as funny and relatable (e.g. #menaretrash). Efforts to tackle hypermasculinity, like the #MeToo movement, have now warped into a loss of gratitude for all typically male characteristics.
Teaching Traditional Masculinity
So, the way to fight destructive male behavior is not to call masculinity “toxic,” deny all gender differences, or encourage men to be feminine. Instead, we must reaffirm the meaning of real masculinity. Of course, men shouldn’t bottle up their emotions, but that doesn’t mean that stoicism is a bad thing. And of course, men shouldn’t dominate women, but that doesn’t mean being protective is inherently evil.
We must reaffirm the meaning of real masculinity.
Traditionally masculine traits are healthy and rooted in human nature. And so, the best thing we can do is encourage boys to harness them, rather than stifle them. For instance, we should allow boys to express their aggression in a healthy way, like playing rough with one another or joining sports teams — rather than suppressing their competitive tendencies. For example, in the 2019 Gillette ad two young boys are shown wrestling, and their fathers pull them apart, telling them that’s not how to behave. But what’s so harmful about play-fighting, when it’s seen across the animal kingdom and is crucial to human development, especially in preventing later chronic aggression?
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that just because someone dislikes the phrase “toxic masculinity” doesn’t mean they condone violence, homophobia, or sexual assault. It just means they think there are better ways to fight destructive behavior.
As a society, there’s three things we can do: call out hatred against men, stop teaching that masculinity is entirely socialized, and celebrate real masculine energy. We must remind boys that there’s nothing toxic about protecting your family, being stoic with your emotions, cultivating self-sufficiency, or harnessing aggression with boundaries and control. What better way to foster great men than by such encouragement and optimism?