This seem to be a hot topic lately, and there's a lot of misinformation out there-- not to mention a lot of man-shaming and misandry, which itself is based on those sources of misinformation. So I thought I'd to set the record straight...
What Even IS "Toxic Masculinity"?
In order to talk about something with clarity, we have to agree on definitions.
However, so-called 'Toxic Masculinity' is an invented concept, created by fourth wave feminists, and absorbed into the 'fringestream' (on the fringes of the mainstream-- see, I can invent words too!) without close scrutiny of its meanings and implications.
As a result, the term's meaning is frequently altered to suit the linguistic demands of the person using it. From my observations, these are just a few definitions I've seen thrown around for toxic masculinity, along with what I believe to be the pros and cons of each definition:
1) "It's when you get too much of a good thing [masculinity] and, in excess, becomes toxic."
PRO: This starts with the assertion that masculinity is inherently a good thing.
CON: It pins all bad behaviour by men down to an excess of 'masculinity', rather than other, more specific root causes. This is problematic, because it reduces the broad scope of causality down to a narrow slice of ALLEGED, OFTEN TENUOUS correlation (ie: just because someone with anger issues has "classically masculine" or even "hyper-masculine" traits, it doesn't mean those masculine traits are CAUSING the anger issues). Any behavior that's interpreted through the lens of "hypermasculinity" BECOMES hypermasculinity in the eyes of the interpreter-- and so the behaviours themselves are de-emphasised. "Oh, he didn't rape his wife because of his unhealthy fixation on control and aggression and his deactivation of empathy circuits, no, it's all toxic masculinity's fault!" This actually makes it harder for victims of bad male behavior to relay their experiences-- what's the point of delineating between actual causes when the jury of public opinion will just interpret everything through the lens of a single 'umbrella' cause?
2) "It's when men are socialised not to show weakness, talk about their feelings, or show their feminine sides."
PRO: This points out the fact that men do indeed struggle to show their vulnerable side (a subject we'll come back to shortly), and that socialisation can emphasise certain aspects of masculine nature, to the detriment of balanced emotional development. It paints "sub-optimal socialisation" as the culprit rather than "toxic men being toxic because men are toxic".
CON: For a society in which "toxic masculinity" is so allegedly rampant, it's worth noting that boys are denied access to adult male role models today more than any other time in history (with exception of wartimes, when the men would go off to fight and under-fighting-age boys would take up domestic roles). Now this is important. Because if 'unhealthy socialisation' is the culprit, then it stands to reason that boys are not only socialised by men/ other boys, but also are socialised by girls, women, the media, teachers, school faculties, government, social media, and a hundred other influencing agents. Socialisation doesn't happen in a vacuum of "toxic" men passing down their "toxic" life lessons to their soon-to-be-toxic kids. We're all socialised by the AGGREGATED, CUMULATIVE social environment, throughout our lives, but especially during our formative years. And all things being equal, more boys today are being socialised by female teachers and single mothers than ever. So if poor socialisation was equivalent to being indoctrinated by "toxic men", then one would think that any boy raised in a female-dominated environment would end up perfectly socialised. But the opposite is usually the case. Boys raised without fathers or strong, male role models are more likely to become criminals, to become violent, to lash out at school, to develop mental disorders, and to commit suicide. So if we're going to talk about "toxic socialisation", then let's talk about that, but let's not delude ourselves by making it a gendered issue with men as the sole forbearers of toxicity.
3) "It’s when men harass, abuse, or are socially and/or physically aggressive towards women”
PRO: Well, harassment and abuse are not good things… that should be self-evident.
CON: If you wanna talk about harassment, then say “harassment”. If you wanna talk about abuse, say “abuse”. If you wanna talk about aggression, then say “aggression”. The problem here is the same as in previous definitions: unrelated behaviours get lumped together under one alleged ‘meta-behaviour’, and therefore the lines separating them are removed. The logical endpoint of this trend can be observed on the most radical fringes of ‘victim culture’, fourth wave feminism, and the ‘far left’: anything a man does that is seen as offensive can, in the space of a single Tweet, be classed in the same category as the most heinous of violent crimes. These are the people who say “if you voted for Trump, you’re a nazi!” They’re the ones who try to get men fired from their jobs for pointing out differences between men and women. They’re the ones who cry “toxic masculinity” to instantly end any internet debate in which they’re losing. And make no mistake, these are the people for whom the first invocation of the term “toxic masculinity” was intended to benefit [see next paragraph]...
Victim Culture & The Invention of “Toxic Masculinity”.
The term itself was created in the back-channels of the strictest adherents of a victim culture gone rampant. It’s a dog whistle term for “anything a man does that I don’t agree with”. It has its roots in an anti-male sentiment that is often lost on the everyday Joes and Janes who parrot the language in everyday parlance.
It’s not the only language borne out of this victim culture and anti-male rhetoric either. Like all effective dog whistles, it comes in many terms. “Microaggressions”, “mansplaining”, "male privilege", "implicit male bias", "the patriarchy", "inherent misogyny", and other such terms all refer to a central rhetoric— in their own, derivative, ‘localised’ forms-- about how “men are encroaching upon women by the fact of being a man, and must be stopped”. And therein lies the victim role: these people really believe that by painting men as the aggressors, then women (or rather, fourth wave feminists) can retain their protected status, and cast themselves as aggrieved victims.
The problem, then, isn’t that “men do bad things sometimes”, or that “certain men can be a bad influence on certain other men”.
The problem is that the entire linguistic framework of “toxic masculinity” is predicated on the perpetuation of a victim identity. Every time a second-hand user of the term deploys it in apparent good faith, they’re unknowingly playing into the hands of a victimhood narrative that only benefits a very vocal minority.
What To Talk About When We Talk About “Being Vulnerable”
My (rather long-winded) point here is actually NOT to do with toxic masculinity at all. The reason I’ve taken this circuitous route to our main topic is to point out the INADEQUACY of the language used around issues men face.
If your aim as a woman is to get a man to open up about his issues, you'd do well to avoid thinking in terms of "toxic masculinity" altogether. And instead, pay close attention to the specific circumstances of his suffering. Because if there's one thing that this whole furor over "toxic masculinity" has demonstrated, it's that women lack a linguistic and perceptive framework for confronting men's issues. It seems especially creepy to me that the very language used to perpetuate a female victimhood mentality... is, in the same beat, used in an attempt to coax men into "opening up". In other words, the onus is shifted entirely onto our shoulders. If we DO talk about our problems, then the feminist logic can "cure" all our ills by diagnosing them as toxic masculinity. And if we DON'T talk about our problems, then we're "just manifesting our latent toxicity by being socialised not to talk about our feelings". It's a no-win scenario-- unless the actual goal of the term is simply to show discord and distrust between the sexes-- which is itself the end-goal of fourth wave feminism.
But I'm not trying to convert any of the postmodern feminists to my cause. No, my message is aimed squarely at the decent, real-world women out there whom are trying to better connect with the men in their lives-- be it husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons, etc. My aim here is practical and utilitarian: to update the way you THINK and TALK about men's issues, so that you as a woman can have happier, more fulfilling relationships with the men in your life.
For this purpose, I will hereafter cease to talk about "toxic masculinity", and instead will talk more about "encouraged vulnerability"...
Other Men Are Not The Issue
Many women make a common error:
They think that men don't talk about their feelings or their problems because "other men socialised us not to talk about feelings or problems".
Now, in some circles, there could be some truth to this. Men do, generally speaking, expect other men to be strong and stoic, rather than weeping and blithering and weak. This is largely an evolutionary adaptation, but it can in some circumstances be exacerbated by external social and societal influences. Hell, even the adverts we expose ourselves to on a daily basis can shape our perception of "manliness".
But here's the truth of the matter, ladies:
Men socialise other men far less than you think.
For the most part, men don't care much what other men do in their own time.
Will we chastise each other for getting in the way of a group task with unnecessary displays of emotion? Of course. When we're focused on a collective task, there's no room for wanton, uncontrolled emotional outbursts. You don't see U.S. Marines or S.A.S. operators breaking down in tears whilst infiltrating deep behind enemy lines. (If they're shellshocked or traumatised from a violent attack, that's another matter altogether-- but generally speaking, our feelings are subordinated to the goal we're aiming at as a 'tribe'.)
But when we're not working together towards a specific goal, and are just going about our own lives, then most of us couldn't give a damn whether or not other men go around being vulnerable or emotional, or even 'feminine' for that matter. As the SJWs love to say, "it's 2019, get over it!" Well, we already GOT over it. Men can be emotional. Men can be vulnerable. Most men, when removed from the machismo displays of the 'hunting posse', have little to no issue with other men showing vulnerability.
So if it's not other men who are stifling our emotional vulnerability, then what is?...
The Overwhelming Male Fear Of Female Disgust
Men can often feel terrified that; if showing vulnerability to their woman, they would be rejected, humiliated, and abandoned.
That's a bold statement. But it's the truth.
We're wired from the inside out to be hypersensitive to female approval and disapproval. In nature, the male primates make mating displays to the females, and the females judge the males at their leisure, eventually selecting the 'optimal' mate from multiple would-be suitors.
It's no different in modern humans. Every woman who's been around the block once or twice knows the power they can wield with a disapproving sideways glance, or a strategic eyeroll, or simply "shutting down" and blanking a man's attempts to engage.
See, when a man is rebuked by another man, he might feel some social embarrassment and wounded pride, but it's only short-lasting, and even if his pride compelled him to resort to physical violence, they'd likely go back to being friends after the dust is settled. Overall, men can handle criticism from other men far better than is portrayed in modern popular media.
But when a man is rebuked by a woman, it pummels us somewhere far deeper in our psyche and in our 'gut brain'. It stays with us, and we'll do just about anything to be rid of it.
Now, this brings us to the matter of vulnerability.
Depending on your man's prior experience, he more than likely has some residual memory of being vulnerable with a woman... and her appearing disgusted by his "weakness". Even if not an actual memory, then the fear may be imagined nonetheless.
In a man's eyes, invoking disgust in his woman as a result of his vulnerability is only a few steps removed from being cheated on, cuckolded, left for another man, rendered useless to any other woman, and his whole existence torn apart at the seams.
Now perhaps we don't instantly jump to those images. But the implication is clear. In our minds, female disgust = loss of respect for the man = more proclivity to hypergamous/ extramarital/ man-shaming behaviour = losing the woman entirely, and the life which has been built up alongside her.
So the stakes are pretty high.
My point here is that there's a fundamental asymmetry between how men perceive 'rejection by other men' versus 'rejection by women'. We care less if other men disapprove, so we're less careful about what we "let slip" to other men, except when there's work to be done. But female disapproval is symbolically synonymous with death itself. So we tend to regress to self-protection, and hide our vulnerabilities/ perceived weaknesses from women whose esteem we depend upon.
How To Get The Men In Your Life To Be More "Vulnerable" With You
But there's a simple way out of this maze!
Because men are hypersensitive to female disgust, we're ALSO hypersensitive to female ENCOURAGEMENT and REWARD.
Ladies, I'm sure you've experienced this if you've ever encouraged a man to open up with success: it's like opening the floodgates! Once we feel "safe" with you to open up, we may come out with things you never expected us to say in a million years. We can stun you with the manifold nuances of our inner emotional lives. A man being in true, uninhibited vulnerability with a woman can be a real sight to behold.
And it doesn't even take that much!
Men, generally speaking, are STARVED for female encouragement and reward. For the most part, we're expected to "have a handle on things" without much in the way of adulation or motivation, even if in the following beat, our partners complain to their girlfriends that "we don't open up with them".
But all that's needed is to encourage vulnerability, and to encourage it in a particular way.
To be capable of being vulnerable, you must establish with your man-- in explicit or implicit terms-- the following facts:
1) That if he is vulnerable with you, then you won't lose respect for him, but in fact will respect him even more for being brave enough to speak out;
2) That you would never leave him or go looking at other men as a result of something that comes to light from his confessions in vulnerable discourse;
3) That you're both a team, and that you can lend him strength where he feels weak, and vice versa;
4) That there's nothing "feminine" or "not masculine" about borrowing strength from his woman in his hour of vulnerability or crisis.
Once these facts are established-- both in the moment, and throughout the thread of your relationship-- then you'll find the man/ men in your life become more open to sharing their vulnerable side.
This is especially true to the degree that you avoid the victim-based linguistic framework of "toxic masculinity".
Because what most women will find-- when exposed to enough of their man's vulnerabilities-- is that the problems we as men face are infinitely more nuanced than "toxic masculinity" could ever hope to encompass. And that our potential for compassion and devotion towards a woman who makes clear the above facts is far greater than the man-shaming feminist ideologues would have you believe with their claims of "ingrained misogyny".