Toxic Masculinity and its impacts on men and women

What it is not?

The term ‘Toxic masculinity’ was not coined for men-bashing. It is not an implication that masculinity is toxic in itself. Toxic masculinity is a serious issue that must be dealt with. It’s important to note that all men do not succumb to such behaviours. 

What it is?

According to Wikipedia: The concept of toxic masculinity is used in psychology and gender studies to refer to certain norms of masculine behavior in North America and Europe that are associated with harm to society and to men themselves.

Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Dr. Ryan McKelley has his own running definition of the term that explains it well:

“attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors culturally associated with boys/men/masculinity that result in covert and overt bias/prejudice/subjugation/oppression/victimization of self and/or others. This includes the domination of others, misogyny and devaluation of women, homophobia, transphobia, and violence (including homicide and suicide).” 

How did it come about?

The birth of ‘toxic masculinity’ arises from gender stereotyping. The patriarchal system that created rigid definitions of femininity also did so for masculinity. Every time a parent (both men and women are guilty of propagating gender norms) tells a young boy to ‘be a man’ or ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be a wuss’, we disturb the natural course of things. “Mard ko dard nahin hota” is not a motivation line, it is an unwavering belief. 

What are some examples of toxic masculinity?

According to McKelley, toxic masculinity appears everywhere and can be in the form of common slurs, modern music, at school and outside of school, etc. Such behaviours could be displayed by men consciously or in a sub-conscious manner. 

Groups of men engaging in sexual jokes, eve-teasing, trash talk and even gang-rapes are manifestations of this issue. 

Popular culture that glorifies the hero bashing up 20 men fearlessly single-handedly makes the matter worse. 

What are some of the stereotype myths propagated as truths owing to toxic masculinity?

Source: Feminism in India & Image Credit: The Mighty Pucks

Patriarchy has laid some very unrealistic parameters of manhood for all men to follow that have a negative impact on men and women:

Why do men find it difficult to accept their or their friend’s behavior is toxic?

Imagine having been told all your life to do something and how you’re expected to do it and you get used to it and comfortable. If some things irk you or make you wonder, you put it aside and move on. Old wisdom is the best wisdom. So you don’t question and move on. You don’t check whether the old beliefs hold water in the new context.  A lot of men who say maybe don’t like drinking or aren’t naturally aggressive, find it difficult to confirm to the rigid ideas but relent nevertheless to the peer pressure. When someone then tells you, the way you have been having all this while is not correct, you get confused and angry even.

How does it harm men?

The constant need to match a benchmark is not easy. Not only do unrealistic expectations of 'machoism' cause harm to men’s psychology but it also has physical implications. These include high risk of STD’s, cardiovascular health and even suicides. Even though 1 in 59 men are raped, they feel ashamed to talk about it. Since they are always seen as the initiators of sex, if he complains of sexual assault, it is likely that he is asked why he did not enjoy it! 

Propagating 'heteronormativity' (the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (male and female) with natural roles in life. It assumes that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or the only norm, and that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sex.), causes hatred and intolerance against the LGBTQ+ community. 

How is it linked to Misogyny?

Misogyny is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Toxic masculinity if unchecked leads to misogyny. The years of being told that men are superior to women, leads them to feel powerful. Attempts made by women to break this hierarchy is usually met with aggression and translates to sexual contempt. This leads to issues of sexual assaults, rapes and sexual trafficking. 

Why is it important to discuss it from the perspective of Feminism?

Patriarchy has led to toxic masculinity which in turn has led to subjugation of women. Unless you go back to the root cause of the problem, changes cannot be made. 

Since Feminism speaks of equal rights and opportunities to all, we need men to have the right to be themselves as well. The pressures of societal conditioning have a negative impact on them as well. 

How do we tackle the issue of 'toxic masculinity' as a society?

By restoring the balance. Neither men nor women should have unrealistic expectations placed on them. Both men and women need to help one another in our journeys together. No more saying ‘boys don’t cry’. Support is the key. The terms ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ must arrive at a normal definition and not extreme ones. That’s when real change will take place. 

I will leave your with this very touching first person narrative of Jordan Stephens, a writer/performer best known as one half of British duo Rizzle Kicks. He says he had abused his power in the past but now wishes to lead a more positive life. Here is an extract from the article:

As far as I can see, this toxic notion of masculinity is being championed by men who are so terrified of confronting any trauma experienced as children that they choose to project that torture on to the lives of others rather than themselves.
What’s even more upsetting is that often when men allow themselves to feel this pain, it’s so new to them that they kill themselves. We live in a society where men feel safer killing themselves than acknowledging pain. Accepting the patriarchy from a place of false benefit will prevent you from ever truly loving yourself or understanding others. It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to have loved your mum and dad growing up. It’s OK to have missed them or wanted more affection. It’s OK to take a moment when you’re reminded of these truths. When you allow your brain to access these emotions, it knows exactly what to do. So nurture yourself. Talk honestly to the people around you, and welcome the notion of understanding them more than you have ever done before.


  1. Anonymous7:01 pm

    It's crazy, when people tell my kid "ladke hoke rote ho?". my god! I always flip at this. We have come up with something/ anything to undo the harm . When kid comes and say "girls can't play cricket". drives me crazy. I goggle and show him that girls can do anything and everything that men are capable of. your posts are great Ashwini.
    priya from priyreflects

  2. I dont encourage the gender stereotyping in my family. ever if someone says i snap them on face. have faced similar situations when it comes to doing some tasks. The generation gap is the reason. while me and hubby dont have the male vs female, the oldies still practice it. great thoughts ashwini.

    1. Thanks Deepa for your comment. Stereotyping has dangerous impacts. Glad you are doing your best to prevent it in your family. It's an imporyant step in doing away with this monster.

  3. Oh I have so much to say about this that I would have to write a blog post about it.

    A helpful and caring man is called a gulam of his wife

    A boy who expresses his emotions is called a wuss

    The statistics about male sexual abuse is alarming especially since there is so little spoken about it.
    Even emotional abuse of a man goes unacknowledged.

    Anyways, continue the good work and finish strong. Last week of AtoZ😊

    1. Thanks Namrata for your comment. You should write that post. I will read it. :)

  4. Thank you for this post. Growing up, the "men don't show emotions" thing was a real problem for me. I remember being told many times by teachers and coaches and sometimes by family members to "stop acting like a girl." This is why men need feminism too, because rigid gender roles are harmful to everyone.

    1. Hi James. I'm so glad this post touched a chord with you. It is unfortunate that you did not get to express your emotions. Glad you realised eventually that there is no harm in being you. Being a woman I have a limited perspective on men...but these issues have bothered me for a while now. Feminism IS for men as well. All it talks about is equal opportunities and rights for all genders. It's not a women's movement alone. Besides, women can't reach the destination of equality without the help of men. We need to help one another.

  5. This is such a wonderful post!!! Every person should read are humans too and not machines. They have emotions. Help them channelise these emotions in the right direction and they'll become better human beings.

    1. Hey Chriss. Thank you your encouraging words. Do share the post so that it reaches more people. ;) .
      The pressure to confirm gets to everyone-men and women. We need to be aware of that.

  6. Lovely post Ashwini. We often forget how much patriarchy harms men too and the restrictions it indirectly place son them. Here is a poem I wrote about how it can subtly affect the relationship between fathers and daughters too

    1. Such a wonderful poem. My Feminism journey has been so fulfilling so far. Not just because of the love you awesome bloggers have shown me but also because I didn't realise how much is still left to be said. Sigh! And men have to be a part of the journey. They have suffered wrongs too.

  7. I had been equally mystified by the concept of men being assumed to be string and protect women. I didn't knowe why this was a thing and why a woman would need to be protected by a man. My girlfriend actually believes in this. I have asked her about why she believes so and she said it's how things are. I was perplexed by that. Being expected to stare off with someone if they look at your girlfriend is an alien concept for me.

    1. You can be whoever you want. I am sure you'd do what you could if she ever needed your help. And that should be fine. If I have learnt anything it is that pressures and expectations only make you worse. Hey thank you for the visit and comment. Truly appreciate it. :)

  8. Ashwini my U and V posts are up on the blog. Would really appreciate your comments.

  9. I had not heard of this term before but I have seen enough examples of the scenarios you've described. Feminism is needed for men too.

    1. Hey Nayantara. Feminism speaks of equal opportunities and rights for all genders...and yes including men. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.:)

  10. I don't like to stereotype men. Having said that there are ways in which men and women are different, and it is OK to be comfortable with that. Men are physically stronger so I don't mind when in the gym, a man helps me to uplift weights. Women can bear children, they are also emotionally stronger. However, on other aspects like mocking a woman on her driving skills or making fun of a man because he cries watching movies is not something I appreciate.

    1. Hi Anshu. Thanks for sharing your views. I really appreciate it. And thanks for reading my posts too. You are right. Men and women are different physically. But what the Feminism movement talks of is equal rights and opportunities for all genders. So if women have proved that they can march along with men, then nothing should stop them. But impediments do exist and we need to change the way we think for things to change.


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