Jump to content

Toxic masculinity

Extended-protected article
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The concept of toxic masculinity is used in academic and media discussions to refer to those aspects of hegemonic masculinity that are socially destructive, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violent domination. These traits are considered "toxic" due in part to their promotion of violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence. Socialization of boys sometimes also normalizes violence, such as in the saying "boys will be boys" about bullying and aggression.

Self-reliance and emotional repression are correlated with increased psychological problems in men such as depression, increased stress, and substance use disorders. Toxic masculine traits are characteristic of the unspoken code of behavior among incarcerated men, where they exist in part as a response to the harsh conditions of prison life.[1][2]

Other traditionally masculine traits such as devotion to work, pride in excelling at sports, and providing for one's family, are not considered to be "toxic". The concept was originally used by authors associated with the mythopoetic men's movement, such as Shepherd Bliss. These authors contrasted stereotypical notions of masculinity with a "real" or "deep" masculinity, which they said men had lost touch with in modern society. Critics of the term "toxic masculinity" argue that it incorrectly implies that gender-related issues are caused by inherent male traits.[3]

The concept of toxic masculinity has been criticized by conservative writers and authors as an undue condemnation of traditional masculinity,[3][4] In January 2019, conservative political commentators criticized the new American Psychological Association guidelines for warning about harms associated with "traditional masculinity ideology", arguing that it constitutes an attack on masculinity.[5] Some feminists[6] have argued it is an essentialist concept that ignores the role of choice and context in causing harmful behaviors and attitudes related to masculinity.[7]


The term "toxic masculinity" originated in the mythopoetic men's movement of the 1980s and 1990s.[3] It later found wide use in both academic and popular writing.[8] Popular and media discussions in the 2010s have used the term to refer to traditional and stereotypical norms of masculinity and manhood. According to the sociologist Michael Flood, these include "expectations that boys and men must be active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant".[9]

Mythopoetic movement

Some authors associated with the mythopoetic men's movement have referred to the social pressures placed upon men to be violent, competitive, independent, and unfeeling as a "toxic" form of masculinity, in contrast to a "real" or "deep" masculinity that they say men have lost touch within modern society.[10][11] The academic Shepherd Bliss proposed a return to agrarianism as an alternative to the "potentially toxic masculinity" of the warrior ethic.[12] Sociologist Michael Kimmel writes that Bliss's notion of toxic masculinity can be seen as part of the mythopoetic movement's response to male feelings of powerlessness at a time when the feminist movement was challenging traditional male authority:

Thus Shepherd Bliss, for example, rails against what he calls 'toxic masculinity'—which he believes is responsible for most of the evil in the world—and proclaims the unheralded goodness of the men who fight the fires and till the soil and nurture their families.[13]

Academic usage

In the social sciences, toxic masculinity refers to traditional cultural masculine norms that can be harmful to men, women, and society overall. This concept of toxic masculinity does not condemn men or male attributes, but rather emphasizes the harmful effects of conformity to certain traditional masculine ideal behaviors such as dominance, self-reliance, and competition.[14][15] Toxic masculinity is thus defined by adherence to traditional male gender roles that consequently stigmatize and limit the emotions boys and men may comfortably express while elevating other emotions such as anger.[16] It is marked by economic, political, and social expectations that men seek and achieve dominance.

In a gender studies context, Raewyn Connell refers to toxic practices that may arise out of what she terms hegemonic masculinity, rather than essential traits.[8] Connell argues that such practices, such as physical violence, may serve to reinforce men's dominance over women in Western societies. She stresses that such practices are a salient feature of hegemonic masculinity, although not always the defining features.[8][17]

Terry Kupers of the Wright Institute describes toxic masculinity as "the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence",[18][19]: 714 [20] involving "the need to aggressively compete and dominate others".[19]: 713  According to Kupers, toxic masculinity includes aspects of hegemonic masculinity that are socially destructive, "such as misogyny, homophobia, greed, and violent domination"; these are contrasted with more positive traits such as "pride in [one's] ability to win at sports, to maintain solidarity with a friend, to succeed at work, or to provide for [one's] family".[19]: 716  Feminist author John Stoltenberg has argued that all traditional notions of masculinity are toxic and reinforce the oppression of women.[21][22]

Gender norms

According to social learning theory, teaching boys to suppress vulnerable emotions, as in the saying "big boys don't cry", is a significant part of gender socialization in Western society.[23][24]

According to Kupers, toxic masculine norms are a feature of life for men in prisons in the United States, where they are reflected in the behavior of both staff and inmates. The qualities of extreme self-reliance, domination of other men through violence, and avoiding the appearance of either femininity or weakness, comprise an unspoken code among prisoners.[1][2] Suppressing vulnerable emotions is often adopted to successfully cope with the harsh conditions of prison life, defined by punishment, social isolation, and aggression. These factors likely play a role in suicide among male prisoners.[1][25]

Toxic masculinity can also take the form of bullying of boys by their peers and domestic violence directed toward boys at home.[26] The often violent socialization of boys produces psychological trauma through the promotion of aggression and lack of interpersonal connection. Such trauma is often disregarded, such as in the saying "boys will be boys" about bullying.[27] The promotion of idealized masculine roles emphasizing toughness, dominance, self-reliance, and the restriction of emotion can begin as early as infancy. Such norms are transmitted by parents, other male relatives, and members of the community.[23][28] Media representations of masculinity on websites such as YouTube often promote similar stereotypical gender roles.[28]

According to Ronald F. Levant and others, traditionally prescribed masculine behaviors can produce harmful effects including violence (including sexual assault and domestic violence), promiscuity, risky and/or socially irresponsible behaviors including substance use disorders, and dysfunction in relationships.[23][29]

Health effects

The American Psychological Association (APA) argues that "traditional masculinity ideology" is associated with negative effects on mental and physical health.[30][31] Men who adhere to traditionally masculine cultural norms, such as risk-taking, violence, dominance, the primacy of work, need for emotional control, desire to win, and pursuit of social status, tend to be more likely to experience psychological problems such as depression, stress, body image problems, substance use, and poor social functioning.[32] The effect tends to be stronger in men who also emphasize "toxic" masculine norms, such as self-reliance, seeking power over women, and sexual promiscuity.[15][33] The APA guidelines were criticized by the British Psychological Society in a 2022 practice briefing on psychological intervention for men, which argued that the concept of toxic masculinity may damage the therapeutic alliance, discourage men from seeking therapy, and contribute to the misdiagnosis of trauma.[34]: 4 

In the United States, the social value of self-reliance diminished during the first two decades of the twenty-first century, as society has moved more toward interdependence.[28] Both self-reliance and the stifling of emotional expression can work against mental health, as they make it less likely for men to seek psychological help or to possess the ability to deal with difficult emotions.[28] Preliminary research suggests that cultural pressure for men to be stoic and self-reliant may also shorten men's lifespans by causing them to be less likely to discuss health problems with their physicians.[35][36]

Toxic masculinity is also implicated in socially-created public health problems, such as elevated rates of alcoholism and certain types of cancer among men,[37] or the role of "trophy-hunting" sexual behavior in rates of transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.[38][non-primary source needed]

Psychiatrist Frank Pittman wrote about how men are harmed by traditional masculine norms, suggesting that this includes shorter lifespans, greater incidence of violent death, and ailments such as lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.[21]


Some conservatives, as well as many in the alt-right, see toxic masculinity as an incoherent concept or believe that there is no such thing as toxic masculinity.[3][4]: 2  In January 2019, conservative political commentators criticized the new American Psychological Association guidelines for warning about harms associated with "traditional masculinity ideology", arguing that it constitutes an attack on masculinity.[5] APA chief of professional practice Jared Skillings responded to conservative criticism, stating that the report's discussion of traditional masculinity is about "negative traits such as violence or over-competitiveness or being unwilling to admit weakness" and noting that the report also discusses positive traits traditionally associated with masculinity such as "courage, leadership, protectiveness".[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Kupers, Terry A. (2004). "Prisons". In Kimmel, Michael S.; Aronson, Amy (eds.). Men and Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 630–633. ISBN 978-1-57-607774-0.
  2. ^ a b Kupers, Terry A. (2007). "Working with men in prison". In Flood, Michael; et al. (eds.). International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities. London, England: Routledge. pp. 648–649. ISBN 978-1-13-431707-3.
  3. ^ a b c d Salter, Michael (February 27, 2019). "The Problem With a Fight Against Toxic Masculinity". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on May 11, 2019. Retrieved May 11, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Sculos, Bryant W. (2017). "Who's Afraid of 'Toxic Masculinity'?". Class, Race and Corporate Power. 5 (3). Miami, Florida: Berkeley Electronic Press. doi:10.25148/CRCP.5.3.006517. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Dastagir, Alia E. (January 10, 2019). "Psychologists call 'traditional masculinity' harmful, face uproar from conservatives". USA Today. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  6. ^ McCann, Hannah (June 2020). "Is there anything 'toxic' about femininity? The rigid femininities that keep us locked in". Psychology & Sexuality. 13 (1). London, England: Taylor & Francis. doi:10.1080/19419899.2020.1785534. hdl:11343/254288.
  7. ^ Waling, Andrea (October 2019). "Problematising 'Toxic' and 'Healthy' Masculinity for Addressing Gender Inequalities". Australian Feminist Studies. 34 (101). Adelaide, Australia: Routledge: 362–375. doi:10.1080/08164649.2019.1679021.
  8. ^ a b c Ging, Debbie (May 2017). "Alphas, Betas, and Incels: Theorizing the Masculinities of the Manosphere". Men and Masculinities. 22 (4). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications: 638–657. doi:10.1177/1097184x17706401. S2CID 149239953. Although the term 'toxic masculinity' has become widely used in both academic and popular discourses, its origins are somewhat unclear.
  9. ^ Flood, Michael (n.d.). "Toxic masculinity: A primer and commentary". XY. Archived from the original on June 12, 2019. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  10. ^ Ferber, Abby L. (July 2000). "Racial Warriors and Weekend Warriors: The Construction of Masculinity in Mythopoetic and White Supremacist Discourse". Men and Masculinities. 3 (1). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications: 30–56. doi:10.1177/1097184X00003001002. S2CID 146491795.
    Reprinted in: Murphy, Peter F., ed. (2004). Feminism and Masculinities. Oxford Readings in Feminism. Oxford University Press. pp. 228–243. ISBN 978-0-19-926724-8.
  11. ^ Longwood, W. Merle; Schipper, William C.; Culbertson, Philip; Kellom, Gar (2012). Forging the Male Spirit: The Spiritual Lives of American College Men. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 65–6. ISBN 978-1-55-635305-5.
  12. ^ Hartman, Rebecca (2003). "Agrarianism". In Carroll, Bret (ed.). American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. pp. 20–22. ISBN 978-1-45-226571-1.
  13. ^ Kimmel, Michael S., ed. (1995). The Politics of Manhood: Profeminist Men Respond to the Mythopoetic Men's Movement (and the Mythopoetic Leaders Answer). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. pp. 366–7. ISBN 1-56-639365-5.
  14. ^ Hess, Peter (November 21, 2016). "Sexism may be bad for men's mental health". Popular Science. Archived from the original on July 7, 2017. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Kaplan, Sarah (November 22, 2016). "Sexist men have psychological problems". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 9, 2017. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  16. ^ Liu, William Ming (April 14, 2016). "How Trump's 'Toxic Masculinity' Is Bad for Other Men". Motto (Time). New York City. Archived from the original on January 21, 2018. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  17. ^ Connell, R. W.; Messerschmidt, James W. (December 2005). "Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept". Gender and Society. 19 (6). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications: 829–859. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/0891243205278639. JSTOR 27640853. S2CID 5804166.
  18. ^ Zuckerberg, Donna (2018). Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-674-98982-5.
  19. ^ a b c Kupers, Terry A. (June 2005). "Toxic masculinity as a barrier to mental health treatment in prison". Journal of Clinical Psychology. 61 (6). Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell: 713–724. CiteSeerX doi:10.1002/jclp.20105. PMID 15732090. The term toxic masculinity is useful in discussions about gender and forms of masculinity because it delineates those aspects of hegemonic masculinity that are socially destructive, such as misogyny, homophobia, greed, and violent domination; and those that are culturally accepted and valued.
  20. ^ Kupers, Terry A. (2010). "Role of Misogyny and Homophobia in Prison Sexual Abuse". UCLA Women's Law Journal. 18 (1). Berkeley, California: University of California Press: 107–30. doi:10.5070/L3181017818.
  21. ^ a b Dowd, Nancy E. (2000). Redefining Fatherhood. New York City: New York University Press. pp. 185–6. ISBN 0-8147-1925-2. [Pittman] links toxic masculinity to men being raised by women without male role models. In his view, if men raised children they would save their lives, and save the world. On the other hand, John Stoltenberg views toxic masculinity from a strongly antimasculinist, radical feminist perspective, arguing that masculinity can be serious, pervasive, and hateful.
  22. ^ Cooper, Wilbert L. (July 26, 2018). "All Masculinity Is Toxic". Vice. Archived from the original on April 12, 2019. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  23. ^ a b c Levant, Ronald F. (1996). "The new psychology of men". Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 27 (3): 259–265. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.27.3.259.
  24. ^ Lindsey, Linda L. (2015). Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective. London, England: Routledge. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-31-734808-5.
  25. ^ Mankowski, E.S.; Smith, R.M. (2016). "Men's Mental Health and Masculinities". In Friedman, Howard S. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Mental Health, Volume 3 (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Academic Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-12-397753-3.
  26. ^ Keith, Thomas (2017). Masculinities in Contemporary American Culture: An Intersectional Approach to the Complexities and Challenges of Male Identity. London, England: Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-31-759534-2. In some ways, bullying and other forms of coercion and violence are part of what has been termed toxic masculinity, a form of masculinity that creates hierarchies favoring some and victimizing others. Disrupting these forms of toxic masculinity benefits boys and men, rather than attacks and blames men for these behaviors.
  27. ^ Liu, William Ming (2017). "Gender Role Conflict". In Nadal, Kevin L. (ed.). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender, Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. p. 711. ISBN 978-1-48-338427-6.
  28. ^ a b c d Weir, Kirsten (February 2017). "The men America left behind". Monitor on Psychology. 48 (2). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association: 34. Archived from the original on June 11, 2017. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  29. ^ Liu, William Ming; Shepard, Samuel J. (2011). "Masculinity Competency Typology for Men Who Migrate". In Blazina, C.; Shen-Miller, D.S. (eds.). An International Psychology of Men: Theoretical Advances, Case Studies, and Clinical Innovations. London, England: Routledge. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-13-528065-9.
  30. ^ Salam, Maya (January 22, 2019). "What Is Toxic Masculinity?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 14, 2019. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  31. ^ Fortin, Jacey (January 10, 2019). "Traditional Masculinity Can Hurt Boys, Say New A.P.A. Guidelines". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 7, 2019. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  32. ^ Wong, Y. Joel; Ho, Moon-Ho Ringo; Wang, Shu-Yi; Miller, I. S. Keino (January 2017). "Meta-analyses of the relationship between conformity to masculine norms and mental health-related outcomes". Journal of Counseling Psychology. 64 (1). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association: 80–93. doi:10.1037/cou0000176. PMID 27869454. S2CID 8385.
  33. ^ Panko, Ben (November 22, 2016). "Sexism Sucks for Everybody, Science Confirms". Smithsonian. Archived from the original on July 2, 2017. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  34. ^ "Psychological interventions to help male adults" (PDF). British Psychological Society.
  35. ^ Horowitz, Kate (March 28, 2016). "Psychologists Say Macho Behavior May Help Explain Men's Shorter Lifespans". Mental Floss. Archived from the original on January 22, 2018. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  36. ^ Ellis, Marie (March 24, 2016). "'Tough guys' less likely to be honest with doctor". Medical News Today. Archived from the original on July 14, 2017. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  37. ^ Kirby, Roger; Kirby, Mike (2019). "The perils of toxic masculinity: four case studies". Trends in Urology & Men's Health. 10 (5): 18–20. doi:10.1002/tre.712.
  38. ^ Muparamoto, Nelson (December 2012). "'Trophy-hunting scripts' among male university students in Zimbabwe". African Journal of AIDS Research. 11 (4): 319–326. doi:10.2989/16085906.2012.754831. ISSN 1608-5906. PMID 25860190. S2CID 25920016.

Further reading

Academic sources

Popular press