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What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Mann_der_Zukunft
Mann_der_Zukunft
Source: Wikimedia

There has been quite a lot of attention in the world’s press about the issue of toxic masculinity in recent months. The huge global brand, Gillette, weighed into the debate on this issue when it launched a major advertising campaign which used the subject of male behaviour as a means of promoting its shaving products. That certainly got the firm lots of attention which, in fairness, was probably the aim of Gillette all along.

That said, any global brand which has advertised its products – historically, at least – with images that conform to gender stereotypes has probably already identified that it needs to shift its approach. You could say the same of brands that operate in any ‘traditionally male’ reserves, such as online casinos and football clubs, for example, even though many women enjoy them these days. Many savvy brands that no longer wish to only appeal to men have made great efforts to alter the public’s perception recently. What made Gillette’s campaign remarkable was that it didn’t merely subtly alter its brand identity; the marketing team at the company really went for a whole new approach.

As such, it is probably understandable that Gillette’s move received a bit of a backlash. Of course, the company also received plenty of praise from those who didn’t see it – entirely, at least – as a cynical marketing move. Why was this? For some, the negative reaction was down to the male patriarchy pushing back against its privilege. That may be so, but one of the problems with the campaign was the fact that the concept of toxic masculinity is not as widely understood as, perhaps, Gillette’s executives had thought. Yes, the term is much more widely used in 2019 than it was even twelve months ago, but does that mean we really understand it fully? After all, what is toxic masculinity and does it mean that all men are toxic?

The Growth of Toxic Masculinity

It is probably worth stating that the idea of toxic masculinity is nothing new. It is a concept that has been around for years within certain circles. What has changed is that this formerly niche term has gone mainstream to an extent. Thanks to Gillette and a number of social commentators, you will hear toxic masculinity being spoken about more and more even if the concept, itself, is nothing new. To some people, this social change has not been welcome because some object to a coverall term which implies, at least, that there is a perhaps a more widespread problem than they are comfortable with.

Nevertheless, a consensus in parts of the media is beginning to emerge that the term toxic masculinity really does represent a societal issue that needs addressing. Like other mots du jour, the term toxic masculinity may fall out of fashion and be replaced with another phrase. Who knows what the future will be concerning media obsessions of particular buzzwords? What is of more importance is the concept that goes behind the on-trend term of the day.

Where Did Toxic Masculinity Come From?

The idea is that toxic masculinity has been around for as long as men have. In the past, society was set up to preserve the privilege of men in terms of family power, wealth and political control. Of course, throughout the twentieth century, women – in the Western world, at least – gained more and more freedoms until – in theory – equality was achieved. Only, it hasn’t. The continuing concept of toxic masculinity comes into play when you consider all of the cultural ways men keep the status quo.

Sexist comments, inappropriate touching, taking a light-hearted view of violence among boys, approving of sexualised banter and so-called man-splaining are all examples of toxic masculinity. Of course, few people would state that these sorts of activities have been eradicated entirely. That said, as the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and the more recent ‘Me Too’ movement have shown, they are not merely continuing in pockets but are still a big part of our culture. All too often, the proponents of toxic masculinity are not corrected or punished, let alone challenged.

Bear in mind that although high-profile cases, like Harvey Weinstein, have centred on male attitudes towards women, toxic masculinity also extends to men’s attitudes to other men. A case like that of Kevin Spacey would indicate that male toxicity is not something that entirely revolves around gender issues. Given these and other cases have made male toxicity a talking point, so brands and institutions have increasingly realised that they need to take action to improve their public image. Whether you like the term or not, the concept behind it that has driven it to the fore has been borne out of deep societal change and the desire for more such change. As such, it is a term that looks like it will be around for a while.