Toxic Femininity Holds All of Us Back
Men and women alike perpetuate and suffer from it every day
Toxic masculinity is a much bandied-about cultural disease, and it is everywhere. Toxic masculinity is in evidence when a dad tells his sobbing son to grow up and stop blubbering and when a man at a coffee shop refuses to even consider drinking a lavender latte because something so sweet and softly purple cannot be for him. It’s evident in the basement-low rate of male teachers and stay-at-home dads and the scant numbers of men willing to hug someone they are not sexually interested in.
People sometimes talk about toxic masculinity as if only men have it. In mainstream conversations about it, we often act as if the singular man who refuses to buy berry-scented shampoo is toxic—as if he alone created millennia of rigid, prescribed male roles of toughness and disdain for the finer, softer things in life. We observe the adult man who cannot cry and judge him as repressed rather than feel compassion that he was instructed to suppress his emotions for years. We look to the dude in the theater who cannot seem to sit without an invisible yardstick between his knees as though he were the one who invented dick-and-balls-based insecurity.
But he didn’t. He just learned it, took it as gospel, carried it forward from his knee to your thigh, jammed tight in your seat. And while I can’t blame you for being mad at that guy, you probably learned and internalized some of the same toxicity too.
Toxic masculinity is not some annoying quality that dudes have. And it is not a preference for all things masculine either—be it flannel, catching the spiders in the house, or feeling stoically sad at movies like The Iron Giant. Toxic masculinity is a warped, unrelenting cultural relationship to masculinity and the trauma that such a relationship creates.
All people are infected with toxic notions of what masculinity must entail and how it must look. And all people are both victims and spreaders of the sickness. It is not just the father who upbraids his son for crying; generations upon generations of mothers have denied their sons delicacy and vulnerability too. Sometimes the man who is loathe to order a fruity drink at the bar has taken the risk before and been mocked for it by a woman…