Toxic Masculinity is Having a Moment. Here’s What It Is and Who It Hurts.

Vanessa Childers January 24, 2019
The term toxic masculinity is everywhere recently. From the new APA guidance on its impact to the Gilette and Axe ads that ask, respectively, “Is this the best a man can get?” and “Is it OK for guys?”, the term has gone from a fringe Urban Dictionary definition to a mainstream phrase. Its usage has taken the world by storm and has sparked heated debate — either about whether the concept is harmful to the lives of everyone, or about whether the generalization is unfair to and unrepresentative of the male population. Regardless of one’s first impressions, it’s important to clearly define the term and understand how the components of its definition can negatively impact society at large.

What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity refers to a handful of traditional male norms that can lead to violence and other forms of intimidation and oppression against others. These harmful behaviors and attitudes are commonly associated with some men, such as the need to repress emotions during stressful circumstances and to act in an aggressively dominant way.
“Manhood or masculinity alone is not the cause of violence,” says Gary Baker, President and CEO of Promundo, a global leader in in addressing the impacts of harmful masculinity on the lives of women, children, and men themselves. “But the way we socialize boys to become men is clearly a factor.”

How is toxic masculinity harmful?

With data from more than 40 countries and partners in over 45 countries, Promundo’s comprehensive research finds that:
  • young men who most strongly believe in harmful norms of manhood are nearly 10 times as likely to have harassed others
  • globally, men and boys are disproportionately likely to perpetrate most forms of violence and to die by homicide and suicide
  • nearly 60 percent of men have been told that a “real man should behave in a certain way” at some point in their lives
  • comprehensive, longer-term interventions that challenge harmful norms about manhood work to prevent violence and pave the way for gender equality
Here’s what Promundo’s experts have to say in response to the recent commentaries on toxic masculinity.

On brands taking risks/ the global impact of toxic masculinity:

“We need to see brands like Gillette, Axe, and others taking risks to address what we know to be true from global research: when guys cling to traditional, old-school attitudes about manhood, it matters. We see this linked with use of violence, perpetrating sexual harassment, and we see it have negative impacts on their own health and happiness.”
— Gary Barker, President and CEO

Toxic masculinity and gender equality:

“We’re in this moment in time when discussions about harmful, or ‘toxic’ ideas of what it means to be a man are finally being recognized as a problem, but this is not new. We know from decades of research in the US and globally that the way we’re socializing boys — to be tough, not ask for help, to be dominant — is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching gender equality and achieving women’s rights globally.”
— Giovanna Lauro, Vice President of Programs and Research

Solutions for teenage boys and young men:

“Teenage boys and young men in the US and around the world want to open up about the harmful or ‘toxic’ messages they’ve received. When we talk with guys, in our discussion groups — about their emotions, their relationships, and about their vision for their own lives — they tell us that this is often the first time they’ve really reflected on what it means to be a man. And it makes a difference: we’re seeing an increased understanding of consent and improved communication skills.”
— Jane Kato-Wallace, Director of Programs, about Promundo’s Manhood 2.0 program, which has been used in Pittsburgh, DC, and is launching in New York 

Global research on sexual harassment:

“Through our research in the US, UK, and Mexico, we know that nearly 60 percent of men have been told that a ‘real man should behave a certain way’ at some point in their lives. This is a problem, because the young men that most buy-in to what they’re told about being tough, hyper-sexual, and ‘a real man’ are up to ten times as likely to have reported sexually harassing someone in the past month alone; they are also more likely to put their health and well-being at risk, to cut themselves of from intimate friendships, to resist seeking help when they need it, to experience depression, and to think frequently about ending their own life.”  
— Ruti Levtov, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Learning
Stakeholder Capitalism
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