What Exactly is Toxic Masculinity?

Dads breaking-up kid’s fights, boardroom bosses ‘translating’ female opinions, and friends stopping pals harassing women. These are just a few of the scenes shown in Gillette’s new short film ‘The Best a Man Can Be’. On paper, there doesn’t seem to be anything too controversial about putting a stop to sexual harassment and bullying. But a quick glance at the comments on Gillette’s YouTube channel and it’s clear to see the ad has struck a chord. Or should we say ‘nerve’?

We live in a time when tolerance and understanding are at a generational low. Social media and the rise in political populism have led to lines in the sand being turned into permanent cracks in the concrete. And men – or rather, some men – are feeling more attacked than ever in this post-#MeToo world, with ‘toxic masculinity’ being blamed for issues far greater than simply not listening to your girlfriend. But what exactly is toxic masculinity? And why does it matter? As a leading men’s lifestyle voice (sort of), we thought it was important to throw our hat in the ring.

What ‘Toxic Masculinity’ Isn’t

There are plenty of varying definitions to what toxic masculinity actually means. But to us, whatever the person who plays the role of ‘Piers Morgan’ says, it’s important to know that it isn’t about men losing their masculinity altogether. It shouldn’t even be about appeasing femininity. Really, it’s about embracing the positive aspects of masculinity and losing some normative aspects which have created an atmosphere where the likes of sexual harassment, a lack of emotional diversity, violence, homophobia, and competitiveness to the detriment of common decency have become par for the course.

A few things should probably be made clear here as to what the term also doesn’t mean;

  • It doesn’t mean all men are sexual deviants
  • It doesn’t mean all men are violent thugs
  • It doesn’t mean all men hate women
  • It doesn’t mean men can’t find women attractive and act on it
  • It doesn’t mean men and women can’t be different physiologically and psychologically
  • But what it does require men (and women) to accept is; A) men have been the dominant sex throughout history, mainly due to physiology; B) some men have used this power for their own personal, or their sex’s, benefit to the disadvantage of women in the home and workplace; and C) both of A) and B) have very real world, day-to-day consequences for both men and women now.

    Why Should I Care About ‘Toxic Masculinity’?

    So why does it matter? Well, the #MeToo movement demonstrated that some men in some of the biggest industries in the world sometimes abuse their power over women for sexual gratification. But evidence suggests that it’s a much wider problem than that. Last year, for example, a survey by the Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that one in five women in England and Wales between the ages of 16 to 59 have experienced some form of sexual assault; more than quadruple the amount of men who experienced sexual assault – not that the latter is any less serious.


    But the term isn’t simply about men changing ways to improve the lives of women. One major element of the term has to do with mental health among men. Male suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, with more than three times the amount of male suicides recorded than female suicides. Many experts have put this down to toxic masculinity and the expectations that men should “man up” or “grow some balls” when dealing with anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts, simply by suppressing emotional engagement.

    Thankfully the acceptance of mental health problems among men seems to be on the rise, with charities like CALM and PAPYRUS leading the conversation on the toxicity of unwavering stoicism. If statistics are anything to go by, it’s saving lives too. The UK male suicide rate in 2017, while still much higher than women, was the lowest since records began in 1981, according to the Office for National Statistics.


    Masculinity for the Better

    We can debate the Gillette advert and its merits – the scene of a man being stopped by his friend from approaching a woman as she walks past a shop seems to be missing the point a little, for example – but the debate around toxic masculinity is clearly an important one. It isn’t about ‘virtue signalling’, a phrase which seems to be thrown around by conceited people who can’t fathom somebody else has the capacity to say something genuinely empathetic. It’s about creating a society that’s better for BOTH men and women.

    At its best, masculinity demonstrates bravery, righteousness, self-awareness, loyalty, humour and emotional maturity. It’s time to celebrate that while still accepting some men can/have been shits occasionally. Simple, really.

    Join the conversation in the comments below or Tweet us at @averagejoesblog.