Toxic Masculinity - Gourangi Verma

When do Ideal Masculine Behaviours Become Harmful for Society?

A study published not too long ago showed that ‘some men avoid green or eco-friendly

behaviour because they did not want to be perceived as feminine and/or gay.’

Ridiculous, isn’t it? What is the connection between responsible behaviour and

unmanliness? And, for that matter, between homosexuality and unmanliness?

This is one of the more transparent examples of gender norms – rules that categorize

behaviours into ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. But they are so deeply indoctrinated in us, that we

sometimes do not notice how nonsensical they are. Ever wondered why is it girly/gay to

drink iced coffee? Or wear floral shirts? Or, apparently, wear a mask during a pandemic?

Tough, strong, dominant, stoic, self-reliant – these words are the foundations of what it

means to be a ‘real man’ since time immemorial. These traits themselves are not harmful –

however, the unrealistic expectation for a man to fit into this caricature of an ‘alpha-male’ is

the problem here.

The problem is the exaggeration of traditional masculine traits – when asserting one’s

dominance entails physical violence. When being stoic, tough and strong means having a

lack of empathy or being emotionless. When being self-reliant means that showing emotions

or asking for support is a vulnerability (therefore, feminine).

So, while gender norms that dictate one’s taste in beverage and fashion are problematic,

there are more serious consequences that loom over men – when gender norms divide

emotions; and when men are conditioned to live by such beliefs. Is it girly/gay to cry (or

express anything other than anger)? To feel pain? Or to be a victim of abuse? Or be a single

parent? Or emote?

Normalisation of aggression and bullying of males by their male peers is often disregarded

because “boys will be boys”. Especially the ones that can only use violence to resolve


Misogyny, transphobia and homophobia are some even more critical consequences. (A ‘real

man’ is too straight to be okay with the existence of gay men or trans people). Such traits in

men contribute to and perpetuate sexual assault and domestic violence, thereby making

toxic masculinity harmful for all sections of society – not just men.

However, as with every idea for change to ever exist, there is always a set of opposing

voices – whether said voices put forth a good argument or contribute to the noise. A popular

way to be offended is to decide that the term is ‘a misandrist word to tower over all cis-het

men’. Of course, toxic masculinity does not mean ‘masculinity itself is inherently toxic’. It

means ‘only those ideas of masculinity which are regressive and/or harmful are toxic.’

Ironically, even though men are supposed to be tough, they are sensitive to perception of

their gender identity. If a man’s emasculation by behaving like a mentally sound human

being, is enough to get other men grit their teeth and call him names, we have to wonder

how strong these ancient foundations of masculinity really are – and whether they are

relevant in a modern society.