The Power & Prison of Toxic Masculinity

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toxic masculinity
toxic masculinity

Toxic masculinity has become one of those need to talk about topics, whilst also being one of those sensitive need to avoid topics. Toxic masculinity has some sort of ‘power’ which has been vital over the past but it is this same power that creates the prison that is toxic masculinity.

The topic is quite sensitive because it ends up painting men in a bad picture, whilst making women feel like victims to the atrocities that men are prone to bringing in the society. The term is largely attributed to the violent and sexist nature that come with men embracing their traditional norms and behaviors which have been deemed outdated and dysfunctional by the society we live in today.

“The crisis facing our boys today is not masculinity, rather it is toxic patriarchal hyper-masculinity. In many ways, our boys are constantly clashing within themselves between who they really are and who they are expected to be. The stress of guarding and protecting a false self creates a deep wound in the male psyche.”

― Melia Keeton Digby

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term used to refer to the condition in which one’s own belief system is contradicted by another belief. Lets say you like smoking but you also know that smoking is bad for your health. On one hand you know you want to be healthy but on the other hand you want to enjoy the sweet sensation of nicotine in your system.

In such a case, cognitive dissonance is considered to be present because your mind will try to fight off each of these beliefs with the intent of trying to achieve a sense of peace in one’s own consciousness. The result of which might be one of these two:

  1. You choose one belief to stick to and move on, or
  2. You continue having a mental struggle which may result into the deterioration of your mental and emotional health.

This is the same thing that happens to men as they struggle with toxic masculinity. We are raised to belief that men are meant/built to do certain things, that it is in our DNA, hence the phrase – boys will be boys, which has its very many demerits.

The burden of a man fighting toxic masculinity

On a constant basis, we struggle with the urge to follow our biology and societal conditioning whilst trying to adhere to the current norms and humane acts in the society. This means that even though we know fighting each other is wrong, we still feel the urge to do it just to show our dominance over our opponents. Even though we know going to therapy and dealing with our emotions is vital, part of us will still feel the need to avoid all of that under the fact that we believe showing vulnerabilities is a sign of a man’s weakness.

For a normal 21st century evolved man, this struggle between who we were raised to be and who we should be in this society is quite maddening and frustrating. We are often torn between trying to be our evolved selves and letting our animal instincts take over.

Toxic masculinity is a great problem when it comes to dating. Most women often find the ’emotionless robots’ or the stoic brooding man quite eye catching, countless novels and movies have been made glorifying this particular stereotype. Which explains why most men choose to suppress their emotions so that they don’t chase away their women of interest.

However, as much as women often find these stereotypical men attractive, they often find themselves in deep trouble when the relationships take hold. That is when they start seeing the downsides of having such a man. This makes it hard for us guys to really know what to do. If you choose to be stoic and a bit emotionless, girls will be attracted to you but later find you distasteful. And if you choose not to be, girls will take some time to really notice you. What to do what to do.

As men, we are biologically built to fit into situations that require strength whilst women are biologically suited to caring, nurturing and creating life, this is why these stereotypical norms and behaviors that we refer to as toxic masculinity began in the first place. As time passed by the society evolved for the better to recognize that even though we are biologically different, our human rights, safety, peace, emotional- mental health and comfort is being affected by the toxic masculinity.

This resulted in a deep conversation on why toxic masculinity is bad and why we have to get rid of it. However, people, especially women, have come to use the term in irrelevant ways. This has resulted in men feeling like women are being hateful of the man condition in general.

The meaning of toxic masculinity has been drugged through the mad to mean almost anything that women are opposed to in men. Which is why I’m writing this article to clear the air, so that the next time you use the term, you use it in its appropriate manner and context.

Social definition of toxic masculinity

People usually refer to toxic masculinity as the overly dominance and entitled nature of men in the society, this involves acts such as emotional unavailability, emotional repression, entitlement, social superiority and a love for violence. This are a few of the situations in which people might use the term to call out on a man’s behavior.

However, some scenarios are ambiguous and using the term in those scenarios can play a big role in accusing men of bad behavior when it truly isn’t. In most cases, toxic masculinity is present when the behavior being portrayed results in physical or psychological effects on the man or the people around him, especially women.

Psychology definition of toxic masculinity

The real definition of toxic masculinity is – a set of cultural norms and behaviors that involve men who tend to be overly dominant in the society, violent and misogynistic. This masculinity is toxic in the sense that it promotes harmful behaviors such as homophobia, violence, emotional repression and sexual assault.

It is not to be confused with hyper-masculinity which is an exaggeration of men’s masculinity involving an emphasis on physical strength, aggression and sexuality. Hyper-masculinity involves three major traits according to Donald L. Mosher and Mark Sirkin :

  • callous sexual attitudes toward women
  • the belief that violence is manly
  • the experience of danger is exciting

The origin of the term

Toxic masculinity as a descriptive name came from the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s. The movement was a body of self-help activities and therapeutic workshops and retreats for men undertaken by various organizations and authors in the United States from the early 1980s through the 1990s.

Its aim was to eradicate the men stereotypes that had been groomed through societal conditioning and ages of men being considered superior in the society. For a long time, men were considered to be more superior than women in the society. This is even seen in the Bible where women weren’t even being counted when it cam to census or public gatherings.

Same thing goes for house chores, jobs and societal expectations. The woman’s body was largely considered weak and only meant for caring for children and taking care of the household chores and duties. Whilst the man was seen as more capable of handling more ‘complex’ duties.

This in turn bred a generation of men who are overly egotistic, entitled and more prone to violence and sexual assault since it was seen as a sign of power and dominance. Even though the society has changed and become more evolved, parenting and societal conditioning still encourages these behaviors.

“By far the worst thing we do to males — by making them feel they have to be hard — is that we leave them with very fragile egos.” 

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author

The root cause of toxic masculinity

A sound psychology must take into account the embodied manner in which human beings develop habits and addictions, but it must also acknowledge the power of choice and conviction in motivation.

  1. Cultural norms – the society we live in can sometimes tolerate or even encourage toxic masculinity. This involves positions of power, male dominance in certain positions that make them feel more superior, women’s discrimination and jokes being played on boys on how they are like girls when they show weakness. The list is endless.
  2. Parenting – “we are our fathers’ children”, a bad tree is bound to bear bad fruit. Yes, people end up choosing to stick to these norms when they grow up, however, it should be noted that it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Once some customs and behaviors are instilled in children when they are young, they end up sticking for a long time if not forever.
  3. Ego and pride – ego is part of every man’s core personality. Men are more aggressive and bound to protect their ego at all costs according to psychology. Women are more open minded and susceptible to reason than men. This is why men will more often resort to violence to protect their ego and pride when they are faced with failure or rejection. Part of me believes that women have cooler heads because they have had to be calm and calculative because of the toxic masculinity men portrayed over the years.

Here are 9 examples of toxic masculinity

  1. Any sign of misogyny in a man can be attributed to toxic masculinity, this includes behaviors such as cat calling, treating women differently from men, discriminating women, acting superior to women and even treating women as objects.
  2. Emotional repression – this is a big one, it basically involves men trying so hard not to feel or express their emotions and feelings in any form or way that is helpful.
  3. Homophobia – men have over the centuries attributed homosexuality to girlish/feminine behaviors rather than a normal sexual orientation. This is largely attributed to the belief that any behavior that is somewhat feminine is a sign of a fragile being.
  4. Violence and aggression – toxic men often resort to violence, anger and aggression to show their dominance and superiority over another man or just to impress women. Which is sad, because some women love men who exhibit some sort of aggressive strength and nature to them which often encourages toxic behaviors in men.
  5. Unnecessary risk taking – experiencing danger is both a scary and exciting feeling. However, a love for danger especially when its risky and unnecessary can be seen as a sign of toxic masculinity.
  6. Social dominance – if a man acts like he is more important, that his needs and wants are more important and superior to that of any woman, then we can consider that to be toxic masculine behavior. This involves work superiority, dating life and any form of belittling women.
  7. High Competitiveness – this is where the phrase, ‘boys will be boys’ came from, it involves unnecessary and unwarranted competition among men and even women that is aimed at showing dominance and superiority of one man over another.
  8. Self reliance – This is where the phrase, ‘no man is an island’ becomes ironical. Even though we believe that we all need each other, the society has conditioned some men to believe that they truly have to vend for themselves and not allow anyone to help them, It makes them feel powerful, however, it becomes hard for them to really get helped when they go through tough times.
  9. Sexual promiscuity – We call this the playboy syndrome. We live in a society that sometimes encourage men to become ‘conquerors’ whilst at the same time it shuns women who end up doing the same. The gender discrimination in this aspect is crippling for women and encourages men to view themselves superior to women or at the least dominant to them.

The prison and effects of toxic masculinity

Poor emotional and mental health

Men who stick to the stereotypical destructive norms of male masculinity end up having more psychological problems than men who don’t. This is majorly due to emotional repression and high expectations that are placed on the heads of young men. More men are prone to avoid therapy than women and more men are prone to committing suicide than women.

Toxic masculinity encourages men to ignore their problems and act strong even when they undergo stress and depression. Men often fear the society looking at them as weak people if they opt to go for therapy or share their negative feeling with someone. The society, even today, believes that men don’t cry. And if the society believes it, why should men even try to. They will be seen differently.

Most of us can attest to the fact that our fathers encouraged us to be stoic and show less emotions so that we can be seen as strong independent men, who can take care of ourselves and in so doing, take care of others.


In a recent survey, it was found that 90% of women and 85% of men believed that society makes it difficult for men to open up about their feelings. However, it was noted that 95% of women answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘do you think women prefer men who are open with their emotions?’, while only 84% of men answered the same way.

That’s right: despite women overwhelmingly establishing that they prefer a man who is open about his emotions, a massive 16% of men (around 1 in 6) who wrongly believe that women find emotional men less attractive.

So, does the society hate an emotional man or is it a mentality that men have? I guess you have your answer now. Its mostly men who instill this mentality upon themselves. That is why men don’t talk about their feelings among themselves that much.

Poor social functioning

With negative impacts of toxic masculinity such as homophobia and misogyny, the society has woken up to openly shun this behavior. Toxic masculinity has resulted in a society that has men who would rather resort to violence and aggression rather than common sense reasoning.

It should however be noted that some societies encourage such behaviors. Pornography is a major part of the problem due to its constant objectification of women, this is dangerous because most, if not all, teenage boys watch pornography. If teenage boys are introduced to their sexuality through online objectification of women, then it will be hard to truly combat the stereotypical masculine male.

The solutions to toxic masculinity

  1. Good parenting – that encourages equal treatment of both boys and girls. Parenting that showcases the importance of emotional expression and emotional intelligence when it comes to failure, rejection and just any negative feeling. The parenting shouldn’t promote violence or high competitiveness in boys or even girls so as to deter the need of protecting one’s own ego and pride over actually doing a good job. Oh, and put in measures to stop children from watching porn, or if they do, educate them on what is right and what isn’t.
  2. Breaking off the stereotypes – the community should really put in a lot of time to show the truth about toxic masculinity, and really go forward to truly describe who a man is. The more people know that the aggressive, violent and dominant man isn’t the actual man that exists or should exist, then we will be one step closer to eradicating him.
  3. Avoid the blame game/victim mentality – more women than men are against toxic masculinity. This is because women are the ones who are largely affected by the behaviors. However, it should be noted that it is counterproductive if men end up becoming the accused and seen as the oppressors. Not that they aren’t, but because it creates this defensiveness in men that will result in retaliation rather than a logical analysis of the cause and treatment of the problem. This is evident in the video below from Jubilee, check it out for more insights on how the fight against toxic masculinity and for feminism can be counteractive.
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About author
I'm a psychology enthusiast and a fried chicken lover. I write bite sized articles unpacking the complexities of the human mind. The mission is to advocate for what's more important in life - the pursuit of the truth and the highest good one can do with that truth - for themselves, the people around them and the society as a whole.