We're all familiar with the "fairy tale" version of the heteronormative expectations associated with masculinity — in this sense, the term denotes a virile, strong man who likes women and is relentlessly tough and brave in equal measure. There are definitely problems inherent with that paradigm (i.e. not all masculine men like women, and women can be masculine too) — which is why knowing how to identify toxic masculinity in your life is so important.
It's worth noting that the term "toxic masculinity" did not, in fact, originate with feminists. Society today loves to claim that women are always to blame for casting aspersions on men, but in actuality the term "toxic masculinity" was coined in the '90s by men's advocacy groups like the Mythopoetic Men's Movement. What they sought to do at the time was to separate what they perceived as "healthy" masculinity from the negative tropes tied to the term.
In the time since, toxic masculinity has mushroomed into a growing cultural phenomenon with feminists on one side of the fence and conservatives on the other claiming masculinity isn't toxic — but, rather, we're all simply misandrists. To be clear, though, toxic masculinity does exist. Here are a few indicators of it that are worth looking out for.
1. An Aversion to Showing Any Emotion
Toxic masculinity mandates that "real men" are strong, and these real strong men don't show emotion — crying is for sissies and girls. When someone has a severe aversion to showing emotion, it's a telltale sign of toxic masculinity (and some seriously repressed feelings).
2. Aggressive Sexualization or Objectification
In the model of toxic masculinity, sex doesn't exist to show affection. Rather, it is a way to exert dominance and control. Toxic masculinity perceives women as inferior and, therefore, things that need to be subjugated. If a guy comes onto you a little too strong at the bar and then verbally bashes you when his advances are rebuffed, his toxic masculinity is showing.
3. The Rejection of Perceived Feminine Roles
Here's a great example of how the patriarchy actually hurts men. Toxic masculinity subscribes to the idea that certain roles and responsibilities are prohibitively feminine. A big one? Parenting. Toxic masculinity discourages a man from being invested in the lives of his children, based on the tired old trope that tending to a child is a woman's "job."
4. Perpetuation of the Friendzone Myth
Have you ever heard a guy rail on about how women and men could never be just friends? How men will never understand women (with the assumption that it's because women are highly irrational beings)? You're looking at a classic case of toxic masculinity. Those guys are the same guys who insist that anytime a woman dares to classify a man as a friend, she has just de-sexualized him — she has "friendzoned" him. I probably don't need to tell you that this concept is rife with sexist problems. Like, primarily, the basic implication that a woman is obligated to return or reward romantic interest from a man.
5. Disbelief That Men Can Be Victims
Again, if you need further proof the patriarchy is damaging for men too, take this symptom of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity believes showing emotion is akin to showing weakness, and as such, posits that "real men" could never actual be victims of abuse — much less talk about such a "shame." In reality, this leads to a culture of men afraid to come forward when they actually are assaulted.
Like so many instances of sexism, toxic masculinity hurts everyone, no matter what gender they are. It's why it's so important that we actively fight it whenever we can — because it is possible to dismantle harmful stereotypes.
So let's get to it.