What is Toxic Masculinity: All the Red Flags to Watch Out For

What is Toxic Masculinity?

What is toxic masculinity? There are many examples of it in mainstream media, whether it be manifested in physical aggression or even gaslighting in relationships. Its “normalcy” in popular media is also why some young men might think it is something that should be normalized. However, it can pose a very real danger to both the person who has it and those around them as well.

This is why it’s very important to recognize red flags early on. Having this awareness will help you avoid toxic relationships that can affect you mentally and may even be dangerous to your physical well-being. These things don’t immediately manifest themselves, but do you really want to wait until it’s too late?


Toxic Masculinity Definition

The exact definition of toxic masculinity has changed significantly over the years. Modern society uses it to describe the way certain cultures and people glorify exaggerated masculine traits. It basically creates a standard of what a man should be like.

This concept places significance on the following traits:

  • Lack of emotion
  • Strength
  • Dominance
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Sexual virility

These are all traditional values of what “makes a man” and anyone who does not display these traits to an acceptable degree isn’t considered man enough. However, overemphasis of these traits fosters a toxic environment and ultimately pressures people to live up to them. There are men who overcompensate, thus creating a toxic environment for those around them.


What is Toxic Masculinity – Origins of the Term

To define toxic masculinity, we must first discuss the mythopoetic men’s movement that gained popularity during the 1980s through the 1990s. The movement was founded by men for other men. It was aimed at enabling men to express their manliness and catered to those who felt as if they no longer had an outlet for their traditionally masculine behaviors. This is because modern society has deemed such traits as damaging.

What is toxic masculinity for them? Members of the movement believed that if they were unable to express their traditional male characteristics, these would eventually manifest as aggression toward women. It’s a very controversial belief that is also considered to be the origin of the term.

The movement’s beliefs were quickly challenged, however. They believed that there is only a single form of masculinity, one that adheres to tradition, when this is simply not the case. As you might already know, masculinity can be expressed in many different ways and there is no such thing as one being above the other.


What Causes Toxic Masculinity?

It is shaped by a number of different factors, including a person’s:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Culture
  • Class
  • Religion
  • Sexuality

Few will argue that the environment a person grew up in and is exposed to can greatly influence their world view. Someone developing these toxic traits is no different. If they often associate with people whose view of masculinity is very narrow and archaic, there is a higher probability that they may develop the same ideals.


Signs and Red Flags of Toxic Masculinity

Toxic Masculinity Red Flags
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Learning about what is toxic masculinity and what isn’t begins with recognizing its signs. Here are some red flags you should be mindful of when it comes to your relationships with men. Remember, these can manifest in platonic and even familial relationships as well.

Their Ego Always Comes First

In healthy relationships, it doesn’t matter who was in the right and who was in the wrong. You wouldn’t need to compromise or sacrifice your personal beliefs just to keep the other part happy. This is because, for both people involved, each other’s happiness is what matters. There is equality.

If you’re with a man who has toxic masculinity traits, you’ll find yourself catering to their ego before anything else. He’ll make you feel as if the success of your relationship relies on how happy he is, instead of ensuring mutual happiness. They might get aggressive just to prove that they are right or exhaust you to the point of agreeing with them.

They Always Seek Dominance

What is toxic masculinity like in other areas of life? You will notice that this person always has to have the upper hand. This can be seen in how he treats his family, his friends, and his peers at work. Whenever he is in a group, he will find ways to be the center of attention and expect everyone to follow his lead.

Quite a lot of women tend to find this attractive at first. After all, confidence is very appealing. However, confidence and dominance are two very different things. For someone who seeks the latter, they will make you feel as if you are lesser than them. As such, their needs must come first and you cannot have an opinion that opposes theirs.

These guys also tend to be very old-fashioned and would want their partners to be submissive to them in all areas of life. He might not voice it, but he will make you feel less worthy just because you are a woman.

Physical and Verbal Aggression

The unfortunate truth is that some people tend to deny that their partner is being aggressive or abusive. They might excuse their partner’s action as a normal reaction to having a bad day or that their use of violent language doesn’t really affect them. However, it is important to take these things at face value since they are all red flags in any type of relationship.

If your partner becomes aggressive or violent whenever things don’t go his way, don’t wait until the day comes when he actually hits you. Some men start by throwing or destroying things just to avoid violence towards you. Don’t take this as a form of kindness or a sign that they “love” you enough to not hurt you. These things can escalate quicker than you think and it is important to get out of the relationship before it does.

They Avoid Showing Vulnerability

It is a very archaic notion that men should not show emotions, but those who have toxic masculinity traits take this to an extreme degree. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in a relationship with them, because these men will never show you their sensitive or vulnerable side. They see it as a form of weakness if they do. What is toxic masculinity teaching? Avoidance and bottling it in.

However, nearly everybody knows that emotions are a normal part of life. It is healthy to express them, instead of holding everything in. As you might imagine, all that pent up anger, sadness, and frustration will eventually take a toll on them. It can begin to manifest as aggression, irritability, or volatile behavior. Some men even turn to drinking, seeing it as the “manlier” option compared to communicating their feelings instead.

Emotional Control or Manipulation

The possessive guy trope is one that is often romanticized when, in fact, it should be a red flag for women. A man who has toxic masculinity traits takes this a notch higher, however, and desires control of every aspect of their partner’s life. The thing is, some of them can be expert manipulators and you won’t realize what is happening until you’re already deep in it.

For men who seek emotional control, they often begin by hiding their own feelings. Rarely will you hear these men say “I love you” to their partners or show any affection. In turn, their partner might see themselves as lacking and compensate by doing everything their toxic partner says.

You might find yourself begging for their love and attention, while you constantly lavish them with yours. This also feeds their ego and their need to assert dominance over you. Remember that these types of men need to be constantly reassured that you love them more.


What is Toxic Masculinity – The Dangers It Can Pose

The Dangers of Having Toxic Traits
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It is believed that it is dangerous because it can limit a person’s growth. As such, it can also lead to conflict between man and his environment. Otherwise known as gender role conflict, what it does is add pressure on a man who may not meet the traditional masculine traits imposed upon him.

Now picture someone growing with this narrow world view and believe that the only way to gain acceptance is by living up to these archaic standards. While it does not excuse their behavior, it does give better insight into why they act a certain way and become aggressive when their beliefs are challenged. Aside from that, it can also cause a slew of other issues such as:

  • Bullying
  • Academic challenges
  • Domestic violence
  • Jail or prison time
  • Sexual assault
  • Social isolation

One important thing to note is that these men don’t seek help when it comes to mental health issues they might be experiencing. This is what leads to mental issues such as substance abuse, psychological trauma, and even suicide.


What is Fragile Masculinity?

Fragile Masculinity
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Fragile masculinity is a term used to describe men who try too hard to fit the stereotypical masculine mold. This happens out of fear that they’ll be seen as too feminine by others. It can also manifest as aggression towards women or other men they deem as weaker.

On social media, it isn’t unusual for entitled men to comment on women’s photos or posts even when its content does not relate to them. Verbal abuse and even online sexual harassment are prevalent in many forms of social media. The worst bit? There will always be other men who actually praise and celebrate these actions.

Studies such as Fragile Masculinity: Men, Gender, and Online Harassment from Research Gate also associates this with the aggression that many men exhibit toward women online. In a survey of over 264 men between the ages of 18 and 24, it shows that those who feel anxiety over their masculinity are more likely to harass or endorse harassment toward women on social media such as Twitter.


All Masculinity is Toxic? – What You Need to Know

Is All Masculinity Toxic?
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No it is not. Now that you know the true toxic masculinity meaning, it is important to differentiate it from traditional masculinity. It’s easy to make the mistake of seeing these two things as one and the same. In fact, it’s this misunderstanding or blurring of the lines that often creates issues.

What is toxic masculinity? The concept is built upon two fundamental pillars: violence and sexual conquest. Those who have toxic traits celebrate this as the peak of manliness. They see sex and aggression as a way of measuring one’s manhood. This belief also perpetuates that cases of rape and sexual assault are to be blamed upon the woman, rather than the man who had done it.

On the other hand, we can say that traditional masculinity is focused more on celebrating values that make men dependable. It highlights courage, strength, leadership, and independence. Masculinity only becomes toxic when it is taken to the extreme.


Examples of Toxic Masculinity in Mainstream Media

What is toxic masculinity like in action? Donald Trump is one of the best examples when it comes to showing how dangerous it can be. This is especially true when the person with such traits also occupies a seat of power and authority. He has openly bullied and taunted women around him, while also highlighting his supposed “strength” and “power.” He has even spoken of committing sexual assault as mere “locker room talk” in the now infamous Donald Trump Access Hollywood Tape.

In some cases, it’s popular artists who perpetuate the alpha-male stereotype and show toxic masculinity examples in their music. Former president Barack Obama once called out rappers for setting a bad example to young men and normalizing these toxic traits. Rap savants Kanye West and Lil Wayne both used to include homophobic slurs in their lyrics.

It isn’t just rap music, either. Take the case of singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, who used his success to target young, aspiring female musicians. He offered to “help” their careers, but only used them sexually or objectified them.


Gillette Toxic Masculinity Ad and Controversy

In a series of ads and short films entitled We Believe: The Best Men Can Be, Gillette sought to teach people what is toxic masculinity and how it can be prevented. It’s contrary to the “boys will be boys” excuse that is often given whenever men display inappropriate behavior, whether it be toward women or other men. Instead, they call on men to be better. Not just for themselves, but for the young boys who will follow in their footsteps.

The ad shows everyday examples of toxic masculinity. From catcalling, speaking over a woman during an office meeting, to playground fights. Gillette, through their ad, implies that change needs to happen and a new model for confident masculinity is a must. These ads were met with criticism and even anger from its target audience: men.

Public Response

Piers Morgan even went on to call it “anti-masculinity” and threatened to boycott the brand despite having used it for 30 years. Nonetheless, the Gillette ad also found much support from those who are able to see the message for what it is. Not an attack on the entire male populace, but simply a reminder to change harmful ideals for their own benefit.


What is Toxic Femininity?

Contrary to what the term might suggest, this isn’t the opposite of toxic masculinity. We’re not talking about masculine women who exhibit similar exaggerated traits as their male counterparts. Instead, toxic femininity means someone who embodies all the stereotypical feminine traits, such as: passivity, empathy, sensuality, patience, and receptivity. This concept celebrates old-fashioned gender roles, which can hinder a woman’s growth.

This ideal also encourages silently accepting the abuse one receives from their partner. Much like how toxic masculinity is a performance, so is toxic femininity but for entirely different reasons. The former serves to feed the man’s ego, while the latter is done for survival. It is deeply rooted in misogyny and some women also tend to suffer from internalized misogyny as a result of it.


In Closing:

What is toxic masculinity? We hope we were able to enlighten you better about the subject, along with the red flags you must watch out for. While a total change still seems far off, there are those who continue to challenge gender norms.  You have your lovable himbos, artists like Harry Styles who openly express their feminine sides, and even tough guys like Will Smith who are not afraid of showing vulnerability and emotion.

It will take a while for people to unlearn these damaging beliefs and as such, it is only wise to know how to protect ourselves from it. There is nothing wrong with letting boys be boys or men be men, but it’s time we began holding them accountable for their inappropriate actions.