Toxic vs. Healthy Masculinity: Subverting Damaging Views

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What’s the difference between toxic masculinity and healthy masculinity? What are ways men can emotionally express themselves without feeling emasculated?

Toxic masculinity describes men who believe domination, aggression, and homophobia are the standard definition of “manliness.” On the other hand, a more positive and healthy definition of masculinity prioritizes self-growth and high emotional intelligence.

Below we’ll look at three ideas followers of toxic masculinity believe in, and combat it with healthy masculinity advice that men should support.

Toxic: Men Don’t Need to Bond With Other Men

A common view of toxic masculinity is that men don’t need a profound friendship with another man, let alone a romantic relationship with one. According to Stefan Aarnio’s book Hard Times Create Strong Men, having a relationship with another man is unmanly.

Aarnio explains that the modern-day expression of homosexuality is unmanly because it harms women. In Roman times, they had what Aarnio calls “functioning homosexuality”: Older Roman men openly had sexual relationships with younger men. But that younger man was still expected to marry and have children with his wife. When he did so, he was expected to stop having sexual relations with the man he’d been seeing, but he was culturally free to develop a different relationship with a younger man.

In contrast, modern gay men date each other and exclude women from their relationships. Moreover, most of them don’t raise children. This, according to Aarnio, is “nonfunctioning homosexuality” because it allows men to shirk their manly duties of procreating with and taking care of women. Aarnio points out that if every man in a society practiced nonfunctioning homosexuality, that society would not survive. Therefore, Aarnio argues that it is morally wrong and therefore unmanly to choose another man as a life partner. 

Additionally, No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover says that due to an overall lack of positive male bonding—likely due to an absent father figure—toxic men aren’t equipped to develop healthy relationships with fellow men. They pride themselves on being the opposite of their fathers and other men: attentive (to women), accommodating, even-keeled, and patient. This causes them to miss out on the support and companionship that accompanies the male community. 

Healthy: Male Bonding Is Important for Men

Alternately, exhibiting traits of healthy masculinity means accepting that homosexual relationships are normal, and pushing out the homophobic views that are toxic and harmful. Men can be with other men, and the goal of romantic relationships isn’t to just procreate. When men become open to the idea that LGBTQ+ relationships are acceptable and should be celebrated, they open their minds to different worldviews and perspectives.

No More Mr. Nice Guy also stresses that when men develop close male friendships, they reap the rewards and support of community. How do you connect with other men? Glover says to make plans and hang out! You and the guys can do anything you want, such as:

  • Casual hangouts (movie or game nights, potlucks, bonfires, just relax)
  • Attending events (sports, concerts, discussion groups)
  • Being exercise buddies or starting a team
  • Spending time in nature (camping, hiking, fishing, road trips)
  • Volunteering together

When a toxic man has no friends of his own, he becomes dependent on his partner for 100% of his emotional and social needs. But friends help meet these needs. Glover noticed toxic men are less likely to smother, resent, or manipulate their partners when they can turn to friends for additional support. 

Find Positive Male Role Models

To combat old negative assumptions about men, Glover emphasizes men must seek out new, healthy masculinity role models. When they observe healthy masculinity in action, men integrate these positive associations into their conception of manhood.

Your role models can be anyone—a coworker, world leader, old friend, or admired community member. Glover suggests you identify the positive, healthy masculine traits you would like to embrace, then find men who embody them. And these men don’t need to be real—there are plenty of fictional characters that exemplify the traits of healthy, functioning men. 

Toxic: Masculinity Is Threatened by Feminism

Another view that toxic men have is that the feminist movement is threatening to overpower men. The Rational Male by Rollo Tomassi says for women to successfully execute their sexual strategy, men must sacrifice theirs: They must settle down with one woman instead of “playing the field.” Therefore, the ultimate aim of the feminine agenda is to keep women in a position of power so they can manipulate men into prioritizing women’s needs and sexual strategy over their own. 

Tomassi writes that women must constantly assess the qualifications of the men around them to ensure they’ve got the best protector and provider they can possibly attract. To guarantee they are positioned to constantly assess men, women promulgated a narrative—through the women’s rights movement—that women’s needs and wants take precedence over men’s. This is why, Tomassi argues, we take for granted that “women come first” and expect men to set aside or suppress their personal ambitions, needs, and desires. 

Now that this “women first” narrative has taken hold of our culture, Tomassi explains, women are in the dominant position, which enables them to set the “rules” for men’s behavior. Men, consequently, are in the subservient position, relying on women to guide them on how they should think and act—because, they’ve learned, their role is to ensure the comfort, safety, and approval of the women around them. So, instead of following their own impulses and needs, men constantly compete with one another to impress and attract women.

However, the rules set by these dominant women are always shifting. Depending on the circumstances, women expect men to be alternately strong, intimidating protectors; gentle, supportive partners; reliable, stable providers; and exciting, alluring studs. These shifting rules, says Tomassi, keep men off balance and disconnected from their value as a man.

Tomassi says that women label any action or belief that threatens women’s dominance as “male privilege.” The lie of male privilege, says Tomassi, is designed to guilt men into sacrificing their interests to the further advantage of women. Men are always encouraged to “check” or give up their alleged privilege and to empower women—sacrificing their interests in the process.

However, the truth is that women are in control. They shape the overarching narrative and social conventions in our culture, which all serve women’s interests. This is why, Tomassi says, it’s common practice to ridicule or attack anyone who makes a statement or action that challenges women’s priority—calling them sexist, juvenile, or out-of-touch.

Healthy: Support Women & Encourage Equality

The narrative that male privilege doesn’t exist and that the women’s rights movement was created for control is purely false. This same narrative actually proves why it’s incredibly hard for women to be in positions of power.

As Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg points out, the more successful a man is, the greater his likeability. The more successful a woman is, the worse her likeability. Why is this? Professional achievement is considered a “male” attribute. If a man is high-achieving, it’s normal. If a woman is highly successful, she is seen as pushy, unlikeable, and unfeminine. This reflects traditional gender stereotypes: males are providers, decisive, and driven. They’re given positive reinforcement for these traits. Women are seen as caregivers, nurturing, and communal. They’re given positive reinforcement for these traits. 

When women break traditional gender stereotypes by displaying traits of professional achievements, such as being decisive and driven, they’re deemed “too aggressive,” “not a team player,” and “difficult.” If a woman focuses on getting the job done instead of pleasing others, she’s acting like a man.

Consider these examples of women leaders who had unsavory nicknames:

  • Margaret Thatcher was called “Attila the Hen”
  • Indira Gandhi was called “the old witch” by Nixon
  • Angela Merkel is called “the iron frau” 

Heidi violated our stereotypes; Howard lived up to our expectations. This bias is at the heart of why women are held back and why they hold themselves back. Men who practice healthy masculinity make sure they don’t.

In the last 30 years, as imperfect as it is, women have made more strides in the workplace than the home, where lopsided gender roles still prevail. Data shows that when both spouses work full time, mom does 40% more childcare and 30% more housework than dad. 

Even the U.S. Census Bureau calls mothers the “designated parent,” while a father caring for his children is called a “child care arrangement.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. With knowledge and effort, dads can contribute equally to the home and childcare so women can work their way to the top of the corporate ladder. True feminism means that women get the same opportunities as men do, and to do that, traditional roles must be challenged. True and equal partnership sets the stage for the next generation. The sooner we break the cycle of gender-specific patterns in the home, the faster we’ll reach greater equality everywhere. Our goal is to model an equal division of labor for the next generation that doesn’t fall for toxic masculinity standards.

Toxic: Men Should Be Promiscuous, Women Shouldn’t 

The last toxic viewpoint we’ll discuss is that men are praised for dating multiple people at once, while women are considered “promiscuous” and “unfaithful” for doing the same.

The Rational Male says that the best thing a guy can do to build their intrigue in the eyes of women is to have multiple sexual options. Tomassi advises men to unapologetically build up a roster of eligible sexual partners. Doing so will highlight men’s sexual desirability—in their own eyes and in the eyes of the women they date. Further, Tomassi says that a man with options is a man with power, which inevitably leads to confidence. A man without options will feel and act needy—the opposite of what attracts women.

Tomassi advises men to be forthcoming with their dating partners about being nonexclusive, or at least give the impression that they have many women clamoring for their attention. The same advice holds true for men in committed relationships: Tomassi says they must routinely hint to their female partners that other women find them attractive. Why is this so important? When a woman knows that other women desire her man, she sees him as more valuable and alluring.

But on the flip side, The Unplugged Alpha warns against dating women who exhibit signs of promiscuous behavior, as promiscuous women aren’t as able to have healthy, monogamous relationships. Don’t ask her how many sexual partners she’s had, as she’ll likely lie about her number. Instead, look at the company she keeps and her behavior. If her close acquaintances are promiscuous, she’ll likely be promiscuous. She also may be promiscuous if she regularly goes clubbing, posts provocative pictures on social media, or has any men in her life in a social capacity (friends included): These are all ways that she advertises her sexual availability to men. 

Healthy: Promiscuous Behavior Isn’t Limited by Gender

The idea that men can be promiscuous but women can’t is blatantly sexist. Only men benefit from these double standards, whereas women still have to adhere to traditional gender roles that are harmful. Healthy masculinity values state that when dating someone, both partners should be clear on what they want out of the relationship. If they both want to date other people, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t. If they both want to be exclusive, then neither person should see other people.

If anything, monogamy isn’t natural for both men and women. According to Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan And Cacilda Jethá, monogamy is extremely rare in the natural world, occurring in just 3% of all mammals. Furthermore, among humans, adultery is a common occurrence in every culture around the world, even despite the brutal punishments that some societies inflict on adulterers. In Ryan and Jethá’s view, the only reason anyone would risk such punishment is to satisfy a deep evolutionary urge. The authors conclude that monogamy is thus not “natural” at all, contrary to the standard narrative. 

What should we do with this information? The authors assert that they’re not out to promote any particular lifestyle or destroy monogamy as we know it—they merely aim to present the facts and let the reader decide how to respond to them. As a starting point, they recommend questioning the cultural rules around monogamy and potentially exploring whether some version of consensual non-monogamy might be a better fit for your relationship. Again though, this shouldn’t be acceptable for just men and not women. Women and men deserve an equal playing field in the dating game.

Final Words

The toxic concept of masculinity usually starts in childhood, with young boys being taught to “man up” or that “real men don’t cry.” If you’re still exhibiting these behaviors as an adult, just know it’s never too late to learn and grow. Acknowledging your past behavior as disrespectful and hurtful is a step toward living a healthy masculine lifestyle.

What are some other ways we can redefine masculinity? Let us know in the comments below!

Toxic vs. Healthy Masculinity: Subverting Damaging Views

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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