I’m not cool at all with the phrase “toxic masculinity.”
To be fair, I’m not cool with the phrase “toxic femininity” either. I’ve been holding back on this for a while now. It’s something I’ve talked about many times before, but movements like #metoo and #timesup (which I fully support by the way) have made it easy to misinterpret and misrepresent.
But hey, I get it. Words are, by definition, meaningful. I understand how a man who is aggressive, sexually manipulative, hyper old paradigm macho or puts violence on display could be seen as “toxic.” There is no doubt that someone who exhibits these traits on a daily basis has some serious issues. The question is whether the word “toxic” helps or hurts the process of him realizing it, and getting better. I don’t think it helps at all. In fact, I think it does the opposite.
The dictionary defines the word toxic as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” Wow. That’s a pretty strong thing to associate with a person.
Clearly, assigning someone as having toxic masculinity is not meant to be a compliment.
And this is why I don’t like the phrase “toxic masculinity.” Putting the two words together makes masculinity feel inherently poisoned and objectively worthless.
In an era when we are trying so hard to reverse years of damage caused by women feeling ashamed of their femininity, I find it hard to believe that the solution lies in making men feel ashamed about their masculinity.
On a personal level, it’s sure to create feelings of resentment (especially in someone who exhibits the traits mentioned above). Used on a global scale, it does nothing more than make men feel negative about themselves. Something they don’t need to feel. Because, believe it or not, men have been feeling that way for thousands of years already.
I don’t think I’m saying anything new when I say that it’s your positive traits that define who you really are, not your negative ones. Believe it or not, men with a lot of anger, abuse & control issues know that something is wrong. They can feel it. And deep down they are already shaming themselves.
Our goal should be to make men like this feel better, not worse, about themselves.
The key is to approach this whole thing more compassionately while not dismissing the intensity and importance. Instead of marrying toxicity to masculinity, we need to continue to focus on educating and transforming unhealthy belief structures on masculinity. Instead of demonizing men with aggressive and abusive behaviors, we need to be supporting them to become the men they are supposed to be.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that people can’t have toxic behaviors. People, both men as well as women, can be violent and abusive. All I’m saying is that using the word “toxic” doesn’t do anything to help educate (young) men to become more kind, compassionate and empowered.
Just as we are today more conscientious about associating femininity with positive traits, it would much better serve our young (and adult) men to associate the word “masculinity” with concepts like integrity, presence, and enlightened leadership to name a few.
If you rage, sexually manipulate, abuse or even emotionally stonewall people in your life, you may not be conscious of your own self-judgments and shame. Don’t doubt for a minute that shame doesn’t have its grip on you. Shame is a self-made prison. And a killer, in so many ways of left unchecked.
I am here to tell you that you are not toxic. Nor is your masculinity. But you can’t ignore these issues any longer. Especially in today’s world. Don’t feel ashamed about seeking some support and guidance, especially from other men. That’s your shame talking, not you.
I should know, I’ve been there myself. If you need someone to talk to, I’m here. All you have to do is hit reply.