As is the problem with all politically charged language, Toxic Masculinity, is a concept that can be used in subtly different ways. Some seem to use Toxic Masculinity as a broad criticism of masculinity in general. They label all conceptions of manhood as toxic. A lot of people see this usage and totally write off the concept of Toxic Masculinity altogether. A reasonable position to take, if that was the only way to use the ideas. However, a more useful conception serves as a criticism of a specific corrupted type of masculinity. Let’s start by understanding where exactly this concept comes from. Back in the 80s, there was a group of male Jungians called the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement. Jungian psychology has an emphasis on mental archetypes. Particularly notable, are the archetypes that relate to gender. The MMM was concerned that masculinity was heading in a destructive direction, away from the ideal masculine archetypes. They coined this idea of Toxic Masculinity, in order to identify conceptions of masculinity that were… well… toxic. Some examples are masculinity that emphasizes violence in inappropriate situations. A tyrannical masculinity that abandons self-responsibility and seeks power and abuse for an irrational selfish gain. Michael Messner, a significant figure in this movement, once gave a lecture about how putting too much emphasis on the Warrior Archetype contributes to an epidemic of rape. This usage of Toxic Masculinity certainly has its merits. It helps us identify things that healthy masculinity should seek to criticize. It also prompts us to ponder the value in some of the Feminist criticism of male power in society. This isn’t the article to argue about the exact level of male dominance that is healthy. However, one can easily see where some institutions are incentivizing men to gain power through sociopathic means. Governments are the perfect example of this. A man who wants to gain political power over his community taps into dangerous tendencies. He learns to be dishonest and manipulative, wielding his masculine power of leadership in an unhealthy way.
For those worried that some people are completely abandoning masculinity, that’s a fine worry. The MMM was also concerned with men who lost touch with their masculinity and have became possessed by feminine archetypes. However, the language around Toxic Masculinity may just be the very thing that saves men from these negative behaviors. It is valuable to ponder on its use and ask what ways our own masculinity may be toxic.
For further exploration check out King, Warrior, Magicain, Lover, a book that dives deeper into masculine arehcetypes and healthy manhood.