By: Sophie Wood
The phrase “Toxic Masculinity” has become quite the talking point across social media over recent years, but what does it actually mean?
It is important when discussing the realm of masculinity to differentiate between what is referred to as “toxic”, and what is considered “healthy”. This popularised concept of toxic masculinity specifically refers to “the constellation of socially regressive traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence”, as defined in the Journal of School Psychology. There is a focus on stereotypically masculine traits of dominance, aggression, and a lack in display of emotion such as sadness or pain. There have been several studies into the repercussions of this “Alpha Male” mindset, as well as plenty of concerns due to its recent popularisation through virtual platforms which glorify it.
What’s so bad about it?
As highlighted by the research of Frackowisk-Sochanska in 2021, the fear that this form of masculinity produces relates back to the idea of demonstrating weakness. Strong men are preached to be those who repress emotions, as to be emotional is to be feminine. Instead, men are coaxed into the “boys don’t cry” mentality, which unfortunately can manifest itself in different behavioural forms. When struggling emotionally, men are more likely to engage in risk-taking or dangerous behaviour, aggressive outbursts, and substance abuse. Through the continual repression of emotions in such a way, men and boys are also less likely to be able to actually detect within themselves whether they are experiencing depressive symptoms, consequently reducing the likelihood of them asking for support. In a distressing statistic, during 2021 men were over three times as likely to commit suicide per 100,000 people as women in the United Kingdom; A statistic which is not aided by the repressive effects of toxic masculinity.
Related: Steps Towards Fair and Equal Justice
Why has it blown up over recent years?
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many have turned to the viewing and production of online podcasts for entertainment. A genre of podcasts which has rapidly gained popularity, is the male-empowerment category. Though the intention of this subcategory appears to be uplifting, a variety of different social media platforms have been flooded with messages from influencers preaching that the key to male happiness is power, money, and a submissive array of women. One of the most controversial, yet well-known influencers is that of Andrew Tate. Tate, the once professional kickboxer and self-professed misogynist, is a social media influencer who centres content surrounding male empowerment. This vision of male empowerment however, revolves around the utilisation - often encompassing the violence and sexualisation - of women, as well as the necessity of obtaining power and wealth to be considered anyone of “high value”. The podcaster repeatedly exemplifies his degrading views of women through the repeated use of profane nouns in their description, his evidenced disregard for female bodily autonomy, and the admittance that he would encourage young women to produce sexual content in exchange for currency whilst reaping the financial gain for himself. The spread of these declarations across social media ultimately lead to his removal from the platforms Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and Tiktok for not complying with guidelines, though not before gaining a mass following. The consequence of this mindset is witnessable also in the several charges the influencer was recently convicted of, including: forming an organised crime group to sexually exploit women, rape, and human trafficking.
Many who are supportive of Tate and influencers preaching similar messages, claim to have been first intrigued by ideas appealing to those struggling with issues of loneliness, low-self confidence, and involuntary celibacy (a group otherwise referred to as “incels”). This demographic are shown messages revolving motivation, and self-improvement - messages which are then integrated with displays of misogyny, and hypermasculinization. Many fear that this perspective is dangerous not only for the mental health of men and boys, but for the safety of women and girls, as this misogynistic point of view is already teaching those that subscribe to it a dangerous message.
Frackowisk-Sochanska, M. (2021). MEN AND SOCIAL TRAUMA OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC. THE MALADAPTIVENESS OF TOXIC MASCULINITY. Society Register, Vol. 5(1), p.73-94. Ingram, K. M. Davis, J. P., Espelage, D. L., Hatchel, T., Merrin, G. J., Valido, A., Torgal, C. (2019). Longitudinal associations between features of toxic masculinity and bystander willingness to intervene in bullying among middle school boys. Journal of School Psychology, Vol. 77, p.139-151. Office for National Statistics via Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/research-policy/suicide-facts-and-figures/latest- suicide-data/