What is Toxic Masculinity, anyway?

The York Theatre’s season kicked of on Tuesday, October 2nd, with the critically acclaimed Testosterone by Kit Redstone. This darkly comic, physical theatre piece by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company takes the opportunity to explore the meaning of gender, identity, and masculinity all through the eyes of someone who has experienced life on both sides of the gender fence.

Specifically, Testosterone asks the question “What does it mean to be a man?”

This seems like a simple, face value question, and I think if you’d asked it ten years ago, maybe even two years ago, you’d have received a simple, face value answer. But, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the ever present conversations around gun violence and reproductive rights, the stubborn and rigid form of masculinity has begun to crack and a whole new can of (slightly phallic) worms has been pried open.

So, what is Toxic Masculinity? And how do we recognize it in the world around us and within ourselves?

Toxic Masculinity was coined by Psychologist Shepherd Bliss during the Mythopoetic men’s movement in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but became more widely used – predominately on Social Media – when the Weinstein Scandal emerged. To quote ABC “The term toxic masculinity has become a catch-all to describe male feelings of entitlement, anger, and vulnerability, and the urge to dominate and intimidate, through either overt or covert means.” Of course there are some glaring examples of this, I’m sure we could all name several, but is Toxic Masculinity really just the male archetype that occurs far too frequently in Hollywood, and recent political campaigns?

Jonathan McIntosh puts it in a nut shell for us: “Toxic Masculinity is not something that men are, but rather, it’s something that some men do.” McIntosh lists these behaviors as:

  • Emotional Detachment
  • Hyper-competitiveness
  • Aggression
  • Intimidation
  • Violence
  • Sexual Objectification
  • Sexually Predatory

McIntosh also insists that these behaviors are not inherent or biological traits of men. Sure, I guess that’s true, but I do think it’s very fair to say that a lot of these behaviors have become normalized within society and are often expected of men. Maybe this isn’t a nature situation, but it definitely is a nurture one. Boys are prevented from expressing their emotions because boys don’t cry, aggression on the playground is justified because boys will be boys, young men are humiliated for not pursuing and harassing women because what? are you gay? (you know, because being gay makes you less of a man?). Masculinity in the male sex is instantly compromised if they show any traits that are deemed “feminine”.

Who does Toxic Masculinity affect?

The answer to this question is, obviously, broad, and maybe the easier question to ask (or at least the easier question to answer) is, who isn’t affected by it? We are all affected by Toxic Masculinity, some of us more so than others, but everyone in our society is somewhat living their lives in a way that is directly affected by toxic masculinity.

Probably the first answer we think of is women. Women are, without question, victims of toxic masculinity. 1.3 million women report being physically assaulted by an intimate partner, annually. Due to male privilege in the workforce, women still make 73 cents to every dollar that men make, and it will take another 151 years in Canada for the number of women in middle management to equal that of men.  The #MeToo movement saw thousands of women come forward, finally being able to give voice to the coercion and harassment experiences that occur within their lives everyday and stems back generations (probably since the rise of mankind). From the extreme, which has led to the fall of empires, to the completely normalized, uncomfortable, sexual encounters where women just go through with it so the whole thing can end. And it wasn’t until women began talking about it that we realized that “just getting it over with” wasn’t actually okay.

With that said, it’s very easy to skew Toxic Masculinity as a term that damns men, defames them and denounces them as violent, sex and power mad, monsters. But really the primary victims of toxic masculinity are…men. This ridiculous concept that we drill into little boy’s brains that they must be brave, that to be attractive a man must be strong and silent, that they cannot wear certain colours or smell like flowers or cry when they get hurt or get their hearts broken. This stifling society ensures that men must work themselves to the bone so that they can single-handedly provide for several other people whilst giving them no healthy means of expressing their frustration.

Really, all toxic masculinity is, is a gender confine that we force everybody to conform and submit to. As much as it is second nature for men to dominate and control women (and other men), it is equally ingrained in women to put a man’s pleasure first, to report to him, and to fear him. Society has created this insane and ridiculous battle of the sexes where we are put into boxes that we don’t really fit in. Like my 6 foot 2, 200 pound friend who, when he’s walking toward you on a darkened street, you’d probably cross the road to avoid, but who prides himself on his flawlessly applied sparkly purple nail polish. Or my male friend who’s a professional dancer and prides himself on not submitting to gender norms but who can’t help but cut me off when I’m telling a story, silencing me so he can tell his own. Because women are taught to avoid men in the dark, and men are taught that their louder, deeper voices are more important and have more right to speak.

Testosterone by Kit Redstone, explores these ideas and ideals of masculinity. As someone who has lived as both male and female, Kit has to face what he thought it meant to be a man, and what it actually means to be one, and where, in between all that, he fits in. Testosterone challenges male stereotypes and openly deconstructs the concept of Toxic Masculinity in the most masculine of places – the locker room. It is a “bold, breezy dissection of what makes men men.”

Testosterone plays at the York Theatre from October 2nd to 13th, tickets can be purchased right here

By guest writer and outreach intern: Charlotte Wright

All photography provided by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company

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