You’re hearing it everywhere. It’s filling up your social media feeds and being used in razor commercials; toxic masculinity. But what does that even mean? Have men suddenly become the monsters of society? Does it even exist? In an age of information, how has it become so difficult to get a straight answer? If you’re feeling confused know that you’re not alone. toxic masculinity has existed in many different forms and notions and it’s only recently that researchers, activists, and psychologists have banded together to talk about this prevalent issue.

What is Toxic Masculinity?

According to the American Psychological Association, toxic masculinity is a set of notions about what it means to be a man, which can have negative effects. Specifically, toxic masculinity tells boys and men that their masculinity is dependent upon certain actions. Namely, to be a man one must a) be emotionally distant/stoic; b) never demonstrate emotional or mental illness; c) be heterosexual; and d) believe, to some degree, that men are inherently the dominant sex.

How Does Someone Identify Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity has the burden of being one of those things that’s easy to identify but difficult to describe. It’s important to remember that generally activities and interests are not sources of toxic masculinity. Just because a man enjoys grilling, watching sports, hunting, and has a beard doesn’t mean that he is toxically masculine. Sets of beliefs, interpersonal relationships, and interactions with the opposite sex are better indicators of toxic masculinity. E.g. look at how a many treats women, LGBTQ+ folk, and men who deviate from “traditional masculinity”. If their treatment is harsh, judgmental, aggressive, or even violent then this is a pretty good indicator of toxic masculinity.

Sadly, Toxic masculinity isn’t something that happens in a vacuum. It requires support systems, performance, and encouragement to grow. The running joke is that if it looks like a frat house, talks like a frat house, and smells like a frat house then it’s probably toxic masculinity. Simply put, places where men tend to gather in large numbers and feel pressured to perform their masculinity, are places where toxic masculinity is most often found.

Isn’t it Just a Liberal Attack on Conservative Men?

To be sure there have been hiccups and missteps with how people have approached the concept of toxic masculinity. Often, rather than using it as a teachable concept, it’s has been used aggressively. Especially recently. But just because some people misunderstand the purpose of talking about toxic masculinity, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. We see this evidenced by movements like #MeToo. Additionally, it becomes difficult to talk about toxic masculinity without touching on feminism and religion, which are—of course—politically charged subjects.

Don’t Ads Like the One Gillette Made Depict Masculinity as Bad?

Simply put, no. Masculinity and toxic masculinity are two separable concepts. Masculinity isn’t about dominating women or being sexual successful with them, but rather about men treating their partners with respect. It doesn’t rely upon stoicism or the idea that men must “go it alone” or be “lone wolves” but acknowledges and takes pride in a realistic measure of self-reliance and independence. Masculinity doesn’t demand that men “bring home the bacon” but that they work with their partners to provide the emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of a family or partnership. So, ads like the one created be Gillette aren’t seeking to attack masculinity but to juxtapose what society has long accepted as how men should behave, with our growing understanding of what it really means to “be a man”.

Why Aren’t We Talking About Toxic Femininity?

This is a lengthier topic but the quick answer is power dynamics. It’s widely acknowledged that women have an unequal societal standing; they are paid less for the same amount of work, they aren’t afforded the same opportunities to advance, and historically haven’t had the same access to government leadership positions. So, talking about toxic femininity—whether it exists or not—is like talking about your favorite type of donut when trying to decide which gym to go to: not terribly relevant.