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What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is a term which became prevalent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The original meaning was a hypermasculine stereotype: stoic, workaholic, macho, aggressive, unapologetic, and rugged. As used at first, toxic masculinity criticized the suggestion that those were the qualities of a "real man." It was not meant to suggest that everything male is inherently bad. Rather, those using the term were attempting to defend less caricatured expectations for men.

Today, unfortunately, the term toxic masculinity has been re-interpreted into something redundant; it is often used with assumption that to be masculine is, itself, to be toxic. Scripture decries poor conduct, including behaviors more often associated with men than women, but it nowhere hints that all things male are evil. Rather, the Bible provides healthy examples of manhood which are vital for a culture's health.

The initial target of toxic masculinity is worth criticizing. Men should not be pressured to suppress emotions, to refuse to admit failure, to "fight like a man," to be domineering with women, or to only engage in "manly" activities. That perspective is a caricature of what a healthy, legitimate male persona is like. Early use of the phrase especially attacked misogynistic attitudes and promiscuity, as well as character flaws such as bullying or posturing. So far as those ideas are concerned, the term toxic masculinity makes sense, and is a reasonable criticism.

Over time, however, people began to apply the label of toxic masculinity to behaviors which were simply associated with men, not necessarily with badly-behaved men. Examples such as chivalry, bravery, competitiveness, the desire to provide or protect, debating an opinion, or an interest in manual labor have been sneered at as toxic masculinity. In this case, the phrase is being used as an attack on the idea of men being male, rather than being socially gender-neutral.

The worst uses of the term toxic masculinity in the modern world are a blatant form of misandry. Anything remotely boyish or manly can be attacked using this phrase, in which case the critic is implying that because something is masculine, it is toxic, by definition. Obviously, this attitude has a profoundly negative effect on boys, who now find that many of their natural—and not necessarily bad—tendencies are being treated as serious mistakes.

For example, modern schools, public accommodations, and even churches may actively discourage things like noisiness, risk-taking, roughhousing, and competition. They simultaneously mandate equality of results, communal behavior, and emotional transparency. In short, rather than focusing on applauding positive male-ness and correcting truly "toxic" attitudes, the modern understanding of toxic masculinity treats boys like malfunctioning girls in need of re-programming.

The end result is a culture suffering from something similar to "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." If being competitive, chivalrous, or emotionally reserved is lambasted as toxic masculinity, there's no higher criticism to throw at truly heinous problems like promiscuity or bullying. Culture becomes worn out and indifferent when everything is shouted at maximum volume.

Henpecking young men for being protective of women does nothing to discourage other young men from being sexist. Leaving typical males without any safe expression of their natural personalities doesn't make them change. Rather, it creates an environment where men are encouraged to hide themselves. And, it drives them to seek acceptance from those who also feel isolated—they turn to negative influences and antisocial attitudes instead.

Scripture says all things are created with some good purpose. That includes the "typical" expressions of masculinity and femininity seen in human beings. It's good to criticize behaviors which are toxic, but unhelpful to attack anything simply because it's masculine. Instead, culture ought to be encouraging positive expressions, including those which are stereotypically "male." When boys and men are applauded for expressing manhood in a godly way, it empowers them to challenge males who exhibit truly toxic behavior. It also enhances their respect for women, by reminding them that God has given females their own unique and valuable personalities.

In other words, the modern concept of toxic masculinity does nothing more than encourage "boyish" boys to become hardened to criticism, and to develop even more negative behavior. And it demeans the value and uniqueness of femininity, at the same time.

Christ, as always, is the best example of human behavior, but also the ultimate example of godly manhood. He drove corrupt liars from the temple (John 2:13–16), but openly shared emotion (John 11:35). He was caring (John 6:5–13) and compassionate (Mark 1:40–41), sensitive (Luke 10:38–42), forgiving (Luke 7:44–50), and humble (John 13:1–16). He was also brave (Mark 11:15–18; Luke 22:39–46), self-controlled (Matthew 4:1–11), willing to be confrontational (Matthew 23:13–36), judicious (John 4:15–18), and even loud (John 7:37) and playful (John 1:47–48).

Scripture encourages all people, even men, to be loving (John 13:34–35), open (Galatians 6:2), gentle (Galatians 5:22–23), bold (Ephesians 3:12; Titus 2:15), peaceful (Romans 12:18), strong (Ephesians 6:10), brave (1 Corinthians 16:13), and respectable (Titus 2:7; 1 Timothy 3:7). This corresponds to the Bible's rejection of behaviors that are not masculine, they are simply sinful. These include domineering (1 Peter 5:3), greed (Hebrews 13:5), workaholism (Genesis 2:3; Mark 6:31), promiscuity (Romans 13:13), selfishness (Philippians 2:3), arrogance (Romans 12:3), and revenge-seeking (Romans 12:19). When something is masculine, but not a sin, it is unhelpful and wrong to refer to it as toxic.


Related Truth:

What is a man of God? How can I be one?

What does the Bible say about being a godly man?

Does the Bible say that men and women are equal?

Does the Bible really teach gender equality? Why has gender inequality been the norm?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?


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