Toxic masculinity can be dangerous to people of all gender identities, which is why it’s important we discuss and combat it.
In this stream, sex educator Q Wilson talks about how we can go from toxic to tender masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is performing the male gender to meet societal expectations. This implies a host of behaviors such as stifling emotions, asserting dominance over others or even acting aggressive or violent. It can mean expressing sexual potency, not communicating feelings, being afraid to be vulnerable, etc. These traits aren’t necessarily typical of people who identify as men, but can be typical of people trying to live up to society’s unattainable expectations of what it means to be a man.
Toxic masculinity creates unsafe spaces for pretty much everyone. A person who feels they must stifle emotions and act aggressively to assert power is likely not mentally well. This type of person can also present a danger toward anyone who isn’t cis-male. Instead of playing into society’s ideas of gender, we must define our own ways of being. That’s why Q suggests moving away from toxic masculinity and toward tender masculinity.
Tender masculinity can mean different things to different people. It could mean trying to connect with your feminine side more to neutralize your male gendered behaviors. Tender masculinity can also mean connecting with other men, going on “bro dates,” and sharing feelings with each other. It could simply mean being kind and gentle, and noticing when your presence is making another person uncomfortable and then creating a safer space for them — perhaps just stepping away, or communicating your intentions.
Tender masculinity can mean being unafraid to be vulnerable, communicative, and emotional. It can mean being more conscious of the space you are holding and taking away from someone else. Male-identifying people so often speak over female-identifying people or do not value their opinions as much. Work to create space for others, and notice when people with less societal power than you need your support. If you are taking away space and power from another person, recognize it, own it, genuinely apologize, then work to rectify the behavior.
“[Tender masculinity is] the willingness to be soft and vulnerable in moments when it would be easier to be hard and angry [...],” says Q. “I've learned that for me, anger is often really fear or hurt which is another thing. It takes a lot of work to be emotionally intelligent about yourself. It's hard work and it's consistent work — [It’s] something you will always have to work on and we're always growing ideally.”
As Q says, going from toxic to tender masculinity is not easy. It takes a large amount of introspection and willingness to work toward unlearning a lifetime of harmful societal messages about what it means to be a man. But if we can all just stop and pay attention to how our gender performance is hurting ourselves and others, we can start consciously moving away from toxic masculinity and toward being decent human beings.