How Do We Define Toxic Masculinity

When we have conversations about sexual assault, they often center around the victims or the circumstances surrounding the assault. Alcohol, drugs, revealing clothing, flirtatious behavior, and regret are frequently held responsible for setting the precedent for sexual assault. But, a culprit that we too often hesitate to name consists of harmful societal expectations of masculinity.

There’s often an assumption that toxic masculinity is an attack on inherent masculinity, and the misapplication of this term has unfortunately led to the popular misperception that toxic masculinity is the belief that all ideas and associations surrounding manhood are toxic.

“I thought that toxic masculinity was just a term feminists used to exaggerate the negative qualities of guys,” said a male student.

However, the point of the term toxic masculinity is to draw attention to the narrow stereotypes that surround males, and how these stereotypes are further encouraged by the “boys will be boys” mentality and ultimately allow for misogyny.

Boys don’t need to be strong. Boys don’t need to hide emotion. Boys don’t need to hook up with numerous girls to prove their masculinity. Boys don’t need to objectify girls to impress their friends.
Some students participate in this culture of toxic masculinity. Another male student said that, “Toxic masculinity definitely exists here because sex is glorified. I hear guys talking about hook-ups and the objectification of girls all the time.”

Senior Eli Friedman said, “Toxic masculinity manifests in men who compete with each other to impress women, and at times put down other men who are into something not considered ‘masculine’ by the culture. There is a desire for domination with toxic masculinity. This could definitely result in sexual abuse, which is often carried out for power rather than sexual gratification.”

What we should take from toxic masculinity is that men need to refuse the “boys will be boys” attitude and hold other men accountable for misogynistic mentalities and behaviors.

If a guy is aggressively coming on to or flirting with someone at a party, we shouldn’t excuse this by saying that because boys are inherently aggressive creatures, their actions are understandable. If a guy sexually assaults someone wearing revealing clothes, we shouldn’t excuse that by saying guys are overtly sexual creatures who are naturally attracted to people dressed sexily.

A 2011 study by The Journal of Adolescent Health titled, “Time-Varying Risk Factors and Sexual Aggression Perpetration Among Male College Students,” followed more than 700 men through four years of college.
The research found that while alcohol use was always higher among men who committed more sexual assaults, the trend in assault itself wasn’t directly caused by alcohol use.

For men who committed more sexual assault and men who committed less sexual assaults, they reported drinking less by their senior year in college. But the men who committed fewer assaults also reported “falling rates of impulsivity, hostility toward women, and beliefs that supported rape. The men whose rates of assault were going up, in contrast, reported a growing sense of peer support for forced sex, peer pressure, pornography use, and hostility toward women,” according to FiveThirtyEight.

Thus, cultural expectations and social accepted attitudes about women and power are what ultimately contribute to sexual assault.

“There is a certain power dynamic created by the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity that allows for men to believe that women fundamentally owe them something, and that can be a huge factor behind sexual assault.

Toxic masculinity can sometimes warp how men, especially among groups of other men, perceive such violence,” said senior Will Thornton.

While there are many underlying factors that contribute to issues between men and women, societal expectations of masculinity and femininity could be at the root of a lot of our problems. Changing these perceived normalities will take time, but there is hope.