What is toxic masculinity and how to tackle it

Understanding toxic masculinity and how to tackle it. 


What does it mean to be a “real man”? It means speaking and living your truth, whatever that may be. But that’s far easier said than done in a  culture where men feel pressured to adhere to outdated and damaging stereotypes of masculinity. 

Despite how far we’ve come in dismantling male gender norms over the past decades, men are still expected to act tough and aggressive and avoid talking about their emotions or mental health struggles. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017, respondents were asked which traits society values most in men. They ranked strength, toughness, leadership, and ambition among the top qualities, with respectfulness,  kindness, and empathy much farther down the list. 

See also: 5 Ways Young Men Can Cultivate Healthy Masculinity  

Here are some characterisations of toxic masculinity: 

  • Show no emotions apart from anger 
  • Show that you do not depend on anyone 
  • Do not show weakness 
  • Self-reliant, always rough, suffering without showing pain, independent 
  • Not engaging in household chores that could be considered feminine such as cleaning, ironing, caregiving, involved in parenting 
  • Risk-taking as part of showing masculine strength - careless driving, drug abuse, etc 
  • Aggression/tendency towards violence 
  • Need to dominate or control others 

See also: Act like a man box 

Practical examples 

‘No homo’ 

A man talks about how he’s concerned about his male friend, who seems to be going through a tough time. “I’m just really rooting for him. He’s such a nice guy,” he says, and then quickly follows up with “no homo” to let everyone know his words don’t mean he’s sexually attracted to his friend. 

The societal standard for masculinity requires attraction to a cisgender, straight woman. Anything that resembles something different, such as affection for a male friend, is seen as threatening their masculinity. 

This colloquial “joke” is a way to quickly dismiss that threat via heterosexism, one of the traits associated with toxic masculinity. 

‘I’m a guy; what do you expect?’ 

This often comes after conversations surrounding sports or cleanliness, but it can also be connected to more serious issues, like emotional regulation. Sometimes, for example, men are excused from doing introspection or controlling their anger in relationships. 

In reality, effective communication, including the ability to make a meaningful apology, is a skill that everyone needs. 

See also: Defining - and addressing - toxic masculinity 

Impact and Consequences 

As individuals, many men don’t recognise the inherited power or privilege they experience in their day-to-day lives due to their presented gender. Of course, there are levels of intersectionality, such as ethnicity, wealth, education and health, which influence the experience of male privilege in  society. However, with the institution of male privilege and the patriarchy comes societal pressures to conscribe to the ideals of what it is to be a  masculine man. Toxic masculinity refers to the rigid psycho-sociological behaviours that uphold the patriarchy and the ideals of masculinity. Toxic  masculinity robs people of their authentic expression of themselves, damaging themselves and others around them. 

See also: Impact and consequences of toxic masculinity

Ways to tackle toxic masculinity 


Listen and learn: Along with sharing your truth, ask others to share theirs, particularly people whose gender identities or gender expressions are  different from yours. How are they living their truth? How can you support them to do so? Do they have practical suggestions for how you can  shift your behaviour to avoid toxic masculinity? If so, consider them without being defensive. 

See also: Address toxic masculinity within yourself

As a bystander 

Whenever you encounter toxic behaviour, make sure you can talk to the person instigating it. The confrontation doesn’t need to be a monologue  about why it is bad. Instead, create the room to reflect and educate the person. 

See also: Tackling toxic masculinity as a witness

Team level 

Take a look at the case study from the Flying Rabbits (A club from Brussels), describing how they engaged in gender equity as a whole club and  team. There are many methods that can combat toxic masculinity and change a team's dynamics for a better atmosphere. The leaders (Coaches,  Captains, Gender Equity Captains) of the team should be made aware if someone feels affected by toxic masculinity. 

If toxic behaviour is not addressed, it can lead to actual harm (The pyramid of violence). Create a space where everyone is invited to talk openly  and think about how you can break the ice on uneasy topics (see Planning a Team discussion). You can already create such a space 20min before or after a practice. Depending  on its impact, you can always decide to make it longer or have additional sessions. 

See also: Introduction on how to call out people

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