toxic masculinity

[ tok-sik mas-kyuh-lin-i-tee ]
/ ˈtɒk sɪk ˌmæs kyəˈlɪn ɪ ti /

noun

a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health: Men and women both suffer when toxic masculinity perpetuates expectations that are restrictive and traumatizing.

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Origin of toxic masculinity

First recorded in 1985–90
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does toxic masculinity mean?

“Be a man. Only girls cry.” This saying is an example of toxic masculinity, cultural expectations and standards of aggressive male behavior that are harmful not only to women and society but also to men themselves.

Where does toxic masculinity come from?

The term toxic masculinity originated during the late 1980s as part of something called the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement.

A response to feminism, this movement sought to contrast ideals of masculinity seen as toxic (social pressures to be dominant, aggressive, and independent) with deep masculinity (a more natural, in-touch-with-oneself maleness and more fully developed male-male relationships). The term toxic masculinity also appeared in psychological circles in the late 1980s investigating feminism and masculinity through Freudian and Jungian perspectives.

Toxic masculinity is loosely defined as masculine traits and ways of thinking or behaving that negatively impact both men and society as a whole. More extreme, obvious examples include misogyny and homophobia but it takes more insidious forms like a need for dominance, fear of showing weakness, performative violent tendencies, sexual entitlement and aggression, and controlling behavior.

Toxic masculinity has been tied to the concept of the patriarchy (control of society by men) and often stands opposed to social justice efforts like gender, racial, and income equality.

Interest in toxic masculinity spiked in 2016 during the presidential election of Donald Trump, who was widely criticized for promoting aspects of toxic masculinity in his language and behavior.

Following Trump’s election, toxic masculinity became the focus of much public discussion—and scrutiny—as a result of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, in which scores of women came forward to reveal their sexual harassment and assault at the hands of powerful men in their lives, such as employers, executives (e.g., Harvey Weinstein), colleagues (e.g., Matt Lauer), friends, and family.

Toxic masculinity is considered a major factor of rape culture, promoting the sexual and professional abuse of women by men.

How is toxic masculinity used in real life?

In popular contexts, toxic masculinity is often cited as “ruining” a group activity or a social experience, making a positive experience more exclusionary toward women and hostile to everyone.

Toxic masculinity is also commonly discussed in debates about racial prejudice, as differences in social privilege and cultural background can create variations of toxic masculinity.

One effort to combat toxic masculinity involves teaching men and boys that emotionally vulnerable behavior (crying, asking for help, admitting defeat) is healthier than toxic masculine behavior.

More examples of toxic masculinity:

“The findings of a new study on men’s and women’s eco-friendly habits suggest “toxic masculinity” takes on an astonishingly literal meaning when it comes to men’s impact on the environment.’”
—Marie Solis, Mic, September 2016

“I will not name these vile, violent men – not just because this would give them the recognition they wanted, but because it’s unhelpful. Instead, we need to name the real culprit: toxic masculinity…Toxic masculinity is what entitles a man to take a weapon and take other people’s lives in the name of his values.”
—Janey Stephenson, The Independent, July 2016

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.