Toxic Masculinity: Should Men Be Better? 

Gillette made an ad suggesting that men could be better. And then the internet exploded.

I watched the ad before diving into articles and comments and opinion pieces. You can watch it here if you haven’t seen it already.

The ad illustrates “Toxic Masculinity” through examples of young boys being bullied, sexual harassment, catcalling, a man speaking over a woman in a meeting, and the “boys will be boys” line. The second half of the ad then goes on to call men to be better, with Terry Crews suggesting, “men to hold other men accountable”. And then the men in the ad go on to break up fights, stop their friends from making women uncomfortable, all while being seemingly pleasant men. The ad implies that men should be behaving better and redefining masculinity, because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.

And oh boy, were some men angry about this ad.

It’s not surprising that this caused controversy. Despite the fact that women have been pointing to the problem of toxic masculinity long before #MeToo, I’m not surprised that in 2019 the majority of people still want to deny that there is a problem, let alone that they might be part of the problem. Self reflection is hard, conflict is hard, and change is even harder. Sure enough there were lots of “Not all men!” cries when this ad came out, lots of comments about how it’s too generalized, or that this doesn’t apply to me specifically so it’s not relevant.

So let’s break it down shall we?

What is Toxic Masculinity?  
Toxic Masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of ideas about the male gender role. Defining masculinity with exaggerated characteristics of violence, sex, status, and aggression. Toxic Masculinity is a result of cultural masculinity taking control; where strength is everything and emotions are weakness, “feminine traits” – which can range from emotional vulnerability to sexuality – can take your “man” status away, when sexual conquests are how a man establishes and reaffirms his manhood.

Here are some defining beliefs of toxic masculinity:
-Interactions between men and women must be competitive, not cooperative.
-Men can never truly understand women, and men and women cannot be just friends.
-That REAL men need to be strong and showing emotions is a sign of weakness, unless the emotion is anger.
-That men can never be victims of abuse, and talking about it is shameful.
-That REAL men always want sex and are ready for it at any time.
-That REAL men solve their problems with violence.
-The idea that any interest in things that are considered “feminine” would be emasculating for a guy.

First of all, not all men have Toxic Masculinity. No one is or has ever suggested that. However, pretty much everyone is impacted by Toxic Masculinity. Men and women alike.

A lot of socializing went into the development of Toxic Masculinity. Men don’t start out toxic, and not all men become toxic. Are these men just a product of their environment? Perhaps. But this socializing has lead to a drastic problem that needs to be addressed. It doesn’t really matter which came first, the toxic man or the toxic environment, because the problem exists in both people and environment and needs to be addressed overall. Maybe you aren’t aware of your behavior, maybe you are just doing what you were taught, but either way there is a Toxic Masculinity problem that is affecting women AND men in a very negative way.

In my mind, I would almost think that defining Toxic Masculinity and pointing out the characteristics and how it hurts MEN would be a relief for men. It’s a growing understanding that societal pressures are just as high and damaging to men as they are to women. Suicide rates are high in men, and that is not a coincidence. Basically what we are saying is Hey, #MeToo wasn’t just about women, this behavior negatively affects you too. Bullying, boys will be boys, swallow your emotions, treating women like objects, that isn’t good for men either. Toxic Masculinity isn’t a woman’s problem, it isn’t a man’s problem, it’s a human problem.

Acknowledging that there is a problem, that men need to be better, is not admission of guilty behavior. Being part of the solution doesn’t mean you need to be a drastic part of the problem. But being complacent in this issue is contributing to the problem. Standing by and watching a problem persist and doing nothing because it doesn’t directly affect you is contributing to the problem.

It’s time for all of us to reflect on how we can be part of the solution. Bullying does not need to be a normal part of society, sexual harassment does not need to be a socially acceptable thing. We could all make little changes that would completely shift the dynamic. And the biggest thing we can all do is lead by example. We need to be allies for each other now.

So what can you do to be part of the solution?