The title of this post might seem a bit provocative, if not, depending on your political alignment, downright offensive. How can anything that has the word ‘toxic’ in it, be anything but bad? And especially when it is combined with a term like ‘masculinity’, which as things presently stand, is probably a toxic term in itself.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this subject matter, it is important to keep in mind the first point of order in a discussion such as this: that the devil (as usual) is in the details. So with that in mind, let's get started.

What Is Toxic Masculinity?


When it comes to addressing the problem of toxic masculinity, and in case the reader has any doubts, it is viewed as a problem in society today, we need to understand what is meant by this term. If one follows the discourse surrounding the subject, and going further, that of masculinity specifically, the dominant view is a negative one.

In fact, the preponderance of the debate on the subject of toxic masculinity, and the singular or should I say one-dimensional focus by those who are involved in this field, has meant that the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’ has come to be associated with that of masculinity proper. The latter also suffers negative PR.

The times are such, that it is virtually impossible to engage on the subject of masculinity without getting pulled into a debate on its “toxic” character.

But why though? Why form this (negative) association with this subject? And importantly, from the standpoint of men, why approach masculinity only from its problematic side?

In answering these questions, let’s start by understanding what is generally meant by the term “toxic masculinity”. According to the Oxford dictionary (Its online ‘Lexico’ version), toxic masculinity is defined as “A set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole” (1).

Before we get any further, the very fact that this term has entered into our parlance, that it is now been given official recognition says something about the significance that is attached to this.

But this raises the question: since toxic masculinity is gaining greater attention, what effect does it have on our understanding of masculinity in general?

Toxic Masculinity in Practice

To understand how toxic masculinity is actually is toxic to men and to the world around them, we need to see it in real life, in relation to arguments that are often made to validate its reality.

A quick survey of the literature online (and there’s quite a bit of it), reveals that toxic masculinity in practice tends to break down into three main areas:

  1. The association with power and status

  2. The emphasis on physical strength and aggression

  3. The belief in sex differences (i.e. boys will be boys)

Underlying these factors, is the deeper, one could say philosophical view: which is that the very notion of masculinity as it exists in society is something that is socially constructed. One that is imposed on men and boys from the outside. We will get into this subject later, but for now, let’s look at each of these points in order.

The Association with Power and Status


This is a tricky point to engage, since the concepts of power and status are vast, and one that cannot possibly be engaged in the space that we have here. Suffice to say, power and by extension higher social status are important markers of success in a man’s life. And in the absence of these, the quality of life for men will necessarily suffer.

When it comes to the subject of toxic masculinity, the notion that is advanced is that the men, particularly young men who are going out into the world, and who set their minds on these objectives, are necessarily adopting a frame that is problematic to society and to themselves.

Men, unlike women, for example, must not limit themselves to being content with the household, the security of a caring relationship, and other (non-disruptive) contributions to society.

No. Masculinity, as it is socially understood (and seemingly imposed) requires men to go out, learn, grow, and yes even fight, their way towards success. Which in practice involves, the acquisition of power, and status.

But to get that point men, and preceding that boys, need to adopt a certain kind of mental ‘frame’ or mindset. This takes us to the next point.

Emphasis on Strength and Aggression


First of all, when it comes to showcasing strength in the real world, 90 percent or more comes down to what is inside of you. It doesn’t matter how big, tall or strong you are physical, if you don’t get your mindset right, nothing else really matters.

When it comes to the idea of strength and aggression, these things naturally go together, and they are naturally associated with men. However what is deemed to be problematic in the context of their “toxic” character, lies with the view that men in pursuit of strength, and the need to be aggressive, stand to do more harm than good.

In other words, men, particularly men who wish to learn, work and compete in the world to pursue success, need to take the path of strength or connect with their aggressive (ahem.. masculine) side.

The counterargument is that men instead should just be content to do the opposite? To pursue other, more acceptable goals like being good partners, loving parents, and caring citizens. Taking it calm and slow.

But such a thing is not going to work for a lot of men. Men and boys will instinctively pursue different goals and outcomes and will do so in a competitive way.

But this state of affairs it is argued is due to the toxic character of masculinity being imposed on boys socially at an early age. One that is made manifest in the next point.

Belief in the Sex Differences

men women

OK so now we are getting into areas of real controversy. When it comes to debating toxic masculinity, one of the problems that have been associated with men is their ‘traditional’ or “archaic” views on sex and gender.

Now, this is a complex subject that connects with a lot of areas, but for now, let’s look at it from the standpoint of traditional male and female roles.

Historically human societies have been organized around the biological differences between men and women. Men went out and hunted (worked) and brought home the bacon, and women stayed at home, had babies, and took care of them and the household.

Pretty simple apparently.

Things started to change over the last century with women entering the workplace, men having to work with and alongside women, the decline in heavy industries that favor men’s physical strength, and the rise in the service and communication jobs that are supposed to favor women, in many Western countries, which made the pathway for women in the workplace, and in society, for the lack of a better word ‘easier’.

On top of that, the influence of social movements like feminism and their activism had the effect of bringing in supportive legislation that again made things more favorable to women but also had the effect of shifting our view of sexual roles, and critically sex differences and how they play out socially.

Often these had the effect of not considering the views and opinions of men when it comes to gender relations, and importantly when it comes to the specific expectations that men may have.

I will not get into the specifics here, but one of the consequences of the growing social presence and status of women is that it started to have an effect on men and how their social roles were being perceived.

As the argument went: Men no longer need to be the providers, protectors, and leaders in the lives of women, and interestingly even in their own lives. The newly empowered woman of today can handle all of that.

A key effect of these changes was the shift made towards a more neutral understanding of gender. Where the ideas of masculinity and femininity as being different and biologically based were questioned and time weakened.

Which also had the effect of making arguments in favor of masculinity difficult to sustain. As things, as they usually do, become more political. Which in time gave rise to the subject of toxic masculinity.

Toxic masculinity, it is claimed, attempts to bring these age-old concepts back. Those who embrace the toxic frame of pursuing power and status, by focusing on building their strength and being aggressive (or assertive), are trying to take society back to an older, more problematic period.

But is this true?

Why ‘Toxic Masculinity’ is Problematic

What is Toxic Masculinity

Problematic to men that is. Let’s break this down a bit.

If you follow the conversation on ‘Toxic Masculinity’, as there is no shortage of resources that are engaging this subject area, you will soon discover that what is often assigned under the category of “toxic” are often traits that, at least historically, were associated with traditional masculinity.

When you look at terms like ‘aggression’ ‘competitiveness’, ‘risk-taking’, ‘dominance’, or states like the ‘suppression of emotions, all of these traits correlate with… Masculinity. At least a kind of masculinity that recognizes the importance of the biological. One in which men are aware of and in touch with the darker aspects of their being.

If we’re honest with ourselves, all of us men have a dark side. A beast mode so to speak, that lies dormant waiting to burst out. This aspect of our being, whilst often chaotic and destructive is also a source of great power and drive.

When those who promote the conversation on toxic masculinity come out and criticize traits like aggression, competitiveness and by extension the belief in hierarchies, what they are actually doing is going after what is truly masculine. Masculine in a traditional, but biologically faithful way.

To be masculine is to be true to who you are as a man.

By going after this core idea of masculinity by labeling it as “toxic”, they are in the process, they are in the process going after not just masculinity, but by extension, against men as a whole.

Alternate forms of (Acceptable) ‘Masculinity'

Further, the problem when it comes to the social critic of “toxic” masculinity is one that is accompanied by competing views. Other forms or expressions of “masculinity” that are being forwarded, that we as men are supposed to adopt.

To understand what is problematic about the debate on toxic masculinity, let’s look at a few of these more acceptable expressions of “masculinity”.

Generally, what is being offered as an alternative type or form of masculinity for men today is one that is quite naturally the opposite of the “toxic” form.

Often this takes the form of traits that are historically associated with the feminine. To be caring, to show vulnerability, to be kind, and to even the idea of being ‘soft’.

At a more social level, these acceptable forms of masculine traits are supposed to correlate with attitudes like being open to feminism, homosexuality, and modern families, where fathers stay at home, whilst the wife does all the work.

If you have been paying attention, the idea of the stay-at-home dad, and how that is supposed to be a good thing, or a thing of the future has started making waves. Wonder why?

In sum all of these ‘new-age’, post-feminist notions on what masculinity is or should be, work against the true core of what it means to be a man in the modern world.

Being a man is not easy. Being a truly masculine man is tough. Being true to yourself and working to achieve goals in life means you need to dig deep, grind, compete and stay thought.

As the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said: ‘What makes for a worthy goal? Not to chase things that are popularly considered good, like pleasures and fame, but to live according to your nature, following reason and benefiting society.

Guess what, in order to do these things you need to be a masculine man. Or should I say, you need to be more than masculine: you need to be a ‘toxic’ masculine man!

Why Toxic Masculinity is Needed

Toxic Men

In a debate such as this, it is important to recognize there is a lot of gray areas when it comes to what is considered masculine, vs those which fall under the heading of toxic masculinity.

Whilst the focus of those engage this subject (critically) has been to engage the matter by looking at the negative effects of masculinity, usually by citing specific instances of bad or unacceptable male behavior: physical violence, bullying, intimidation, racial or sexual discrimination, etc.

But what is problematic is that the connection between these things is not always clear. Sure a guy behaving badly and aggressively can be said to be operating out of a ‘toxic’ masculine frame. However, that does not necessarily mean that it is his masculinity that is to blame.

Being aggressive and being confrontational are qualities that are innate to the person. Which both men and women can exhibit. The problem with masculinity is that men are more inclined to do so. But the argument that this is a result of social pressure rather than a combination of factors is where the problem lies.

The fact is there are a host of factors that make people do good things and bad things. And statistics show that men are more likely to get in trouble which relates to things like their masculinity: aggression, competitiveness, dominance, etc.

But the answer then is not to stomp down on it. To kill masculinity in the name of fighting its “toxic” character. Rather the answer lies in taming it and directing it towards something constructive. A task that involves role models.

What is needed in the debate on masculinity, is a more whole picture of men. One that is faithful to what it means to be a man in the modern world.

Take a young tough guy: a big, strong, the bloke, who weighs around 200 pounds, and could knock down most people based on sheer mass strength alone.

However, if he does not have the mental chops to develop discipline, direct his energies, and build strength: essentially the mindset to face sources of the realities of life head-on, it wouldn't matter how big he is. He is likely to fail at many if not most hurdles in life.

Often times the ‘toxic’ character of masculinity emerges in the absence of a guiding hand. Someone or some system that can guide the man, to discipline himself and work towards constructive goals. What he needs is direction.

So as to direct his thoughts, develop his mindset, and organize his time to achieve his goals in life. In finance, in fitness, and in relationships. Caz if the guy can these areas of his life sorted, the ‘toxic’ part of the masculinity will take care of itself.

So what men need, or rather what their masculinity needs are discipline. He and many other men around the world need our role models. Do you think you need one?

In Conclusion

Masculinity is good. Masculinity is needed. Masculinity is part of being a man. Of course, women can also showcase masculine traits, but these are found most strongly in men. And with good reasons. Biology is key in this equation.

Social conditions do play a part. But these could direct masculinity in a certain direction. Never contain it. The problem with “toxic” masculinity is one of undirected masculinity. Men who lack direction, discipline, and guidance work through their strengths and weaknesses in navigating the trials of life. What is needed is the right leadership to direct their strength and aggression in the right direction.


Oxford (Lexico). 2022. toxic masculinity. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 18 June 2022].