Men today face an interesting dilemma. In a time where third wave feminism has introduced concepts of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy, what behaviors are still acceptable? Domestic abuse has gained a wider definition, and for good reason. A large swathe of time has passed since men’s undershirts were affectionately termed wife beaters, and yet there still seems a wide range of men looking back at the 40s and 50s through a romantic lens. No one is telling men not to be masculine, yet male sensitivity and insecurities seem to be rife nonetheless.
Toxic masculinity is defined as misinterpretation (by men) of what defines masculinity and how best to embody it. Being brave in a social situation turns into challenging someone you’re arguing with to a physical fight. The need to assert one’s dominance and feel proud of themselves turns into calling electric saws a tool for cowards as seen in this video on Explosion.com. Homophobia is an obvious symptom of toxic masculinity, as it belies an intolerance stemming from insecurity: I don’t like that someone is homose*ual, and the fact that they anyway make me feel powerless.
The term is one that used to belong only to women’s gender studies classrooms but has been catapulted into mainstream by activists and those fighting for equal rights between men and women. It has been misinterpreted by men who embody its traits and is wrongly believed to imply that manliness is inherently toxic. This is not the case. One can still embody the traditional traits of masculinity without the worry of persecution by feminists or women in general. It’s alright to be chivalrous, as long as you aren’t condescending.
One term that goes hand in hand with toxic masculinity is “mansplaining.” When heard out of context, ignorant men may believe that it implies a man explaining something is seen as wrong in itself. The term itself describes the act of a man automatically explaining something to a woman on the assumption that the woman doesn’t know – all because she is a woman. It is relegated to situations where men are being arrogant and ignorant all at once. It doesn’t mean that you can’t tell your wife how to get to the doctor’s office, or explain to a coworker how coding works – just don’t assume they’re ignorant off the bat. Treat them as an equal, and ask them if they need something explained before launching into a possibly boring, entirely unnecessary lecture.
It’s terms like these that have led many men to term women activists as “fem-nazis” – women who use their womanhood to belittle and criticize men in general. This characterization is itself toxic, as it leads many men to incorrectly assume that feminism, in general, is a form of misandry – it isn’t. It is a fight for equality that stems from ancient assumptions of gender roles. The belief that men are meant to provide for their families and women are meant to raise children completely ignores cultures in which that wasn’t the case. There have been hundreds of cultures that were matriarchal ones. The willful ignorance of facts like this is detrimental to feminism and women being treated as equal.