Toxic Masculinity. A topic we always refer to when discussing how gender norms placed on men negatively affect behaviour and society. For a massive time in our society, the idea of referring to traits that are heavily rooted in gender norms is toxic, especially in regards to femininity and acting more “feminine.” So I’m going to break down Toxic masculinity in regards to femininity in 2 different ways.

  1. The History Toxic Masculinity and the Dislike of Being “Feminine”
  2. Toxic Masculinity vs Feminine Men in Action

History of Toxic Masculinity and the Dislike of Being “Feminine”

Just for our sake, providing a functional definition of toxic masculinity that we can refer to at any point is always helpful.

Ideas about the way that men should behave that are seen as harmful, for example, the idea that men should not cry or admit weakness: 

The idea that “men are just naturally violent” is a manifestation of toxic masculinity.

Definition via the Cambridge Dictionary

Although this definition is good at explaining toxic masculinity very easily, it does not address the origins and reasons why toxic masculinity even exists in the first place and why being “feminine” in the eyes of masculinity is so frowned upon.

The term “toxic masculinity” was first coined by psychologist Shepherd Bliss in the 1980s, a man from the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement (MMM). Ironically a term made in the movement when men were feeling “powerless” due to the growing feminist movement that was occurring at the time.

Toxic masculinity in itself, though, refers to many issues misogyny, greed, a need for domination, homophobia, and more specifically, what will be discussed here; an adherence to society’s gender norms, especially regarding acting “feminine.”

Although the specific term wasn’t coined till the 80s, the actions and mindsets behind toxic masculinity have been present for generations. They support the idea of what gender norms exactly are. Men are meant to be the breadwinner, while women are mean to be the household’s caretaker. In today’s society, it would be ignorant to say we have not progressed since our typical 1700s ideal of gender norms; however, lingerings of the past remain today, especially regarding femininity.

Toxic masculinity attacks the idea of being a feminist or feminine. Men are more likely to receive ridicule when they identify or obtain more apparent “feminine” attributes, whether this is a mindset held or the way men showcase themselves in more “feminine” wear.

Why does being a man been you have to be “masculine”? Because they are not synonymous with each other. The same goes for women and being “feminine”; again, they are not synonymous. So then why is it that society in itself and specifically regarding toxic masculinity do we view a man being “feminine” as not being “manly”?

Toxic Masculinity vs Feminine Men in Action

Considering the brief historical context of toxic masculinity regarding femininity, contextualizing the information will really allow you to see the amount of progress and the backlash that is apparent hen regarding this topic.

In the latest news, I assume many of you are already aware, whether through Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, or even Snapchat and Reddit, of the backlash Harry Styles has received over wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue magazine. Specifically backlash from a woman named Candace Owens, a leader in the Black republican movement.

This was the tweet that sparked the conversation:

via Twitter

This comment is obviously rooted in the idea of gender norms and toxic masculinity, but here is a further explanation she gave via her Instagram. But here are some direct quotes that really stood out to me and were key to her nearly 7-minute long video.

It was an attack on vogue and the culture in general and this culture in general of turning women into men and men into women, has been a move on the left.

If is see a man in dress, I think he’s a crackhead. I would never allow my kids near a man that’s wearing a dress. Its completely not normal to feminize men.

There is no society that can survive without strong men.

I think it is wrong for out society to keep preverting things, to keep putting in the forefront things of preversion.

Women should be nurturing. Women should think about how we protect our children. they glorify killing babies. they glorify men in dresses

Do you think these people were happy? They were all drug addicts.

Everything the left touches is about destroying basic values that work, a nuclear family. A yin and yang in the household. Having a feminine and a masculine figure who raise solid kids with good values.

And for all of you guys running around saying”oh she’s doing this for attention” I wasn’t the person that put on a dressing went on the cover of vogue, that would be for attention.

We can talk about men being mean and women being women and I’m so tired of societies attack on masculinity.

Vogue Cover featuring Harry Styles

Although this one of the biggest examples that we can think of, many people who broke the stereotypes of genderized fashion in the past have faced backlash, and many of them dealt with hate to a much larger extent than Harry Styles did. For example, we have men like Prince, who pushed the boundaries of feminine and masculine to the limits. Being viewed as one of the most influential male artists ever to exist while simultaneously being seen wearing makeup, heels, and other items that would be considered as “feminine,” but Prince flipped that around. 

Prince himself was known for bending the typical “societal norms” of what is feminine and masculine. He, a black man, was one of the first to push the societal norms of “gender” as a social construct, specifically regarding when the typical black man was seen as ungraceful and aggressive. Those stereotypes still exist today, but Prince was one of the first to normalize going against toxic masculinity and toxic gender norms, resulting in the perception of the “black man” to shift.

via Fuse

Another man trying to defy the gender norms in today’s society is none other than Young Thug. Having to deal with backlash as a black man, people claiming that he was “gay” or “queer” as well as being told that he wasn’t masculine enough, allowed for Young Thug to push open the boundaries of what he refers to as being “Gangsta”. Young Thug claims that you can be anyone in a dress or pants or whatever, again pushing away the idea of toxic masculinity determining the set of clothing that have to be worn for you to be seen as “masculine.” As a successful young black artist who pushes the idea of gender norms in clothing and fashion, he was an essential move in normalizing men wearing clothing that would typically be considered “feminine.” And to be honest, in my opinion, his JEFFREY dress that was done by Alessandro Tincone was a stunning piece of couture.

via BET

Toxic masculinity isn’t all about the massive Hollywood music stars that exist and are pushing the boundaries but also in our current content that we are exposed to every day. TikTok is one of the biggest pushers of targeting toxic masculinity in its own community; what is now being referred to as the femboy movement; a movement that exists for male and male-identifying individuals to push against the narrative that being “feminine,” whether that is wearing nail polish, shorter shorts, dresses, skirts, and crop tops, does not affect the amount to which an individual is “manly.” 

@spencwuah on Instagram

There are notable mentions who have either in the past or are still combatting the idea of what masculine fashion is.

  • David Bowie
  • Billy Porter
  • Jaden Smith
  • Yungblud

Toxic masculinity in itself when regarding femininity should be seen as a direct insult of women. what does dressing more “feminine” or “more like a girl” means about women itself. Why should that mean that men are less manly? It seems odd that we refer to ancient stereotypes that have caused generational trauma when viewing what is normal. The fact that we have individuals who can step out and do as they choose; because as an individual being able to step out and do as you choose as well as pursue what you want to pursue is what makes us human. And obviously, there are many aspects of toxic masculinity and gender norms that we are still attempting to break down, but movements and people being normalized for their outfits and choices of being “feminine” while still being a “strong male” is incredibly empowering.

About the Author

Hello!! I’m a first year Psychology major at UAlberta. I love putting my voice out there and being able to advocate or open up a dialogue about anything I’m passionate about. I’m so excited to create and work on new pieces that (I hope!!) you will all enjoy. Some of my hobbies are creating new Spotify albums and Pinterest boards while watching any docu series I can get my hands on.