Toxic masculinity is not what you think it is

Before I begin, I just want to say that I reject the concept of “masculine” and “feminine” personality traits. I don’t believe traits are tied to our gender identity or biological sex intrinsically – rather, I believe we live in a culture that encourages conditioning us based on our sex to exhibit certain behaviors from childhood. I believe association of personality traits to biological sex excludes non-binary individuals and enforces restrictive, stereotypical and heteronormative gender roles that need to be removed. For the sake of clarity when addressing the article I’m responding to, however, I will be using the terms the writer used.

I’ll start with the obvious: toxic masculinity is not the same as regular masculinity. There’s a distinct difference, which is that toxic masculinity… is toxic. As has been stated repeatedly since the concept’s creation, toxic masculinity does not equal regular masculinity. The whole point of the word “toxic” in this term is to denote a dangerous and destructive form of masculinity. Equating toxic masculinity to regular masculinity is a mistake.

The other issue is that many who argue against the term “toxic masculinity” automatically assume that the people argue for the usage of the term don’t know how to make that distinction. Trust us, we do. What’s evident in those who argue against the term is that they don’t know how to make the distinction. They automatically assume that toxic masculinity is an attack on regular masculinity, which isn’t true. When people call out toxic masculinity, they’re not (usually) attacking men or masculinity – they’re attacking people who exhibit inherently negative traits.

I can’t help but note the irony of the writer of the previous article claiming that aggression is a trait of masculinity (which, he claims, gets lopped into toxic masculinity alongside traits like courage and independence), but then goes on to say that aggression is a result of the absence of masculinity. The reality is that traits like courage, strength, stoicism, independence, and assertiveness are not traits exclusive to masculinity, and no one who uses the term toxic masculinity considers those traits to be inherently negative.

The author did correctly define toxic masculinity – exclusion, aggression, and violence, among other traits that went unnamed – but then decided to label that as the “absence of masculinity.” He then proceeded to use the term “effeminacy” to describe what the rest of us know as toxic masculinity, even going as far to claim that the term “effeminacy” does not denote femininity despite the definition of the word being, “the manifestation of traits in a boy or man that are more often associated with feminine nature.” That’s not even mentioning the underlying implications of the usage of the term in the context of what the article discussed, which associated negative traits with femininity.

What’s especially difficult about the article in question is that the author (correctly) states that the portrayal of a male employee taking credit for his female colleague’s idea is correctly criticizing the man, all while the author is doing the exact same thing. The author agrees with what toxic masculinity is and the traits it encompasses, but instead chooses to rebrand the term – which was made by female feminists – into something else to take credit for “disproving toxic masculinity” (assuming his goal is such, as I have no idea).

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how you define or label the behavior because it’s still the same behavior. I’m baffled as to how people can agree with exactly what the Gilette ad was saying and yet act like they’re disagreeing. Unless you don’t view traits like exclusion, aggression, and violent tendencies as negative, you have nothing to disagree with in this ad. The only issue the author raised was that the ad was attacking regular masculinity, which isn’t true. Whether you call these behaviors “toxic masculinity,” “effeminacy” or – the correct term – “awful traits that anyone can exhibit,” they are still traits that should be argued against. Disagreeing with the Gilette ad is disagreeing with the notion that these traits should discouraged.

If you, dear reader, don’t exhibit traits of toxic masculinity, then you have no reason to feel attacked by this ad. If you do feel attacked, then maybe you should re-evaluate your personality or your understanding of toxic masculinity. Maybe even both. We can sneer at ads like Gilette’s and ironically call them “woke” all we want, but we should probably wait until we’ve taken actual productive steps to get rid of the traits toxic masculinity outlines before doing so.\

By: Trever McKenzie | Online Editor