Failure of Upbrining: Hegemonic/Toxic Masculinity

Apart from this above image I wasn’t really explicitly told what it meant to be a man in my childhood. You hear of the sex talk, but I don’t remember my dad sitting me down one day and telling me the birds and bees of manhood. So when I was sent a link to an article earlier this week on the ideas of toxic masculinity/hegemonic masculinity and the growing need for people to stand up against societal structured norms that contribute to delinquent behavior, I was dumbfounded at how I had and in some situations still am contributing to societies perpetuated norms of masculinity. This very same article would later explain that the extreme of this delinquent behavior, radical violence, is a direct result of the modern societal view (or value) of masculinity versus femininity in boys. It harps on the recent trial of the Steubenville rape of a 16 year old girl at the hands of two high school football players, and I’d like to walk through what I’ve learned about toxic masculinity.

According to psychologist Terry Kupers, “Toxic masculinity involves the need to aggressively compete and dominate others and encompasses the most problematic proclivities in men […]. Toxic masculinity is the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.” It’s not a small coincidence these very same traits are the leading motivations of sexual violence.

Kupers further explains that TM typically follows the stereotypes of jocks, bullies, and frats; essentially the boys clubs of our generation. It’s been noted that TM can also be perpetuated by overbearing fathers and other male role models and leaders in boys early childhood and adolescence. As former NFL quarterback Don McPherson said, “We don’t raise boys to be men. We raise them not to be women, or gay men.”

Doctoral student Dena Simmons first began noticing TM as a middle school teacher in the Bronx. She originally noticed boys needed to prove themselves socially as a means of status and protection. “Most of my male students had to be ‘hard,’ simply as a means of survival. They had to be tough enough to defend themselves and their friends. Some boys even talked about their sexual prowess to build themselves up. Others yelled sexual, inappropriate, and disrespectful comments to their female peers—already as middle schoolers!”

Although she initially thought it was condition of the male culture, too her surprise she soon found it was an accepted and expected social standard. “Almost all of my students, boys and girls alike, considered boys who were not manly enough (tough, aggressive, outspoken, confident, violent, and sexually experienced) effeminate and ‘gay.’ ‘Gay’ and ‘faggot’ were the ultimate insults for boys at the school and community where I taught, and that made me cringe.”

Simmons resolved to combat the stereotypes of masculinity and modify the current behavior in her school. She focused on eliminating the use of ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ as inflammatory slurs, and admits she was fairly successful. However, during the process she learned that in a 2009 national school climate survey, 33.8% of K-12 schools in the US did nothing to address incidents of harassment or assault targeting LGBTQ youth. “We must tackle gender stereotypes and redefine hegemonic masculinity so that boys are not bullied for not being manly enough, and so that boys do not feel the need to have multiple sexual partners, engage in homophobic bullying or in violent behavior, or hiss and holler at women just to prove their masculinity.”

Going a step further, the original article I was sent explored and challenged the roles men could personally take to the reverse TM. By starting with simply admitting a preference for typically feminine activities and accepting the social consequences, men can begin breaking the social constraints that bind them and the boys of future generations. Why would men be open to this? Simply because “toxic masculinity is damaging to men, too, positing them as stoic sex-and-violence machines with allergies to tenderness, playfulness, and vulnerability. A reinvented masculinity will surely give men more room to express and explore themselves without shame or fear.” Ambitious men who are open to changing masculine norms could join organizations like NOMAS or Men Stopping Violence.

Our societies urge to strengthen and encourage young boys has led to a hyper-competitive, belittling society of teens, young adults and men. Have you ever experienced or contributed to TM? Do you think it’s a solid issue for society to be concerned with? Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how to better raise young men?


Original article triggering my  initial interest

Article by Dena Simmons on Toxic Masculinity

9 thoughts on “Failure of Upbrining: Hegemonic/Toxic Masculinity

  1. I think that teaching boys to be masculine in this way is as harmful as teaching girls that they should be ultra feminine as it’s giving a specific way of acting as the “correct” way and condemning those who don’t fit the stereotype. I would hope that the best way to raise young boys is to let them decide what they would like to do – sports, dance, art or gaming, as they grow up.


    1. That’s a good point, young girls experience social pressures to perform a certain way just as often as boys do. I think girls actually receive a lot more pressure, particularly as they get older and into their teens than boys, but I also think the pressure on boys is swept under the rug or even considered a part of the status quo more often than girls.
      I also agree with your last statement. Nothing has brought me joy and hope in our society’s future openness quite like two different stories where the parents of a young boy have supported and encouraged their son to do as he pleases, and in these situations it was to dress as a girl. Open minds breed open discussion which reevaluates long accepted and misguided social norms.


  2. This was a thought provoking post! I really enjoyed reading it, and reflecting on my perceptions of men based on the ‘power’ characteristics they might portray. I think women play a hand in TM, in the sense that some of this behavior might stem from a young age when boys are trying to pursue women and show their status among other young boys. Perhaps if young girls, and women did not feed into this ‘manly’ stereotype of stoic, aggressive and tough men being attractive, they would not put up such an exterior.


    1. Thanks Devyani! That’s an interesting thought; I would really like to see the results of a survey regarding perception from multiple grade levels on what it means to be attractive and desirable to boys and girls, and what they thought of each other. I’m sure the desire to be seen and be noticed is pretty primal, almost like peacocks and other animals, the one with the better display wins the affection of the female, but I wonder if rather than it being naturally inherent it’s actually socially learned?
      I think socially we’re making greater strides to break away from the “Prince Charming” or “White Knight” stereotype but I’m not sure how we can break the initial acceptance of the stereotype in young boys and girls alike?


  3. This is a great post and I definitely agree with it. The quote, ““We don’t raise boys to be men. We raise them not to be women, or gay men” really stands out. Growing up, boys are scolded or mocked if they do something that is considered “feminine.” These instances stay with people throughout their lives. In addition, middle school is a very unaccepting environment. As a male, you really do have to conform and act as “manly” as possible to avoid ridicule.

    I suppose the positive is that this becomes easier as one gets older. I personally care far less about what people think of me now, and I know many others feel the same. In most circumstances, people acting the same way they did in middle school is considered to be the real taboo. However, you mentioned “grown up boys clubs” such as fraternities, which still do perpetuate these juvenile norms. The behavior that is engrained into us growing up is hard to shake–even when we know better.

    What hurts even more is that there is still a large segment of society who are not willing to accept homosexuality. Thus, they feel that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to act and that ridicule for transgressions are warranted.

    What can we do? I think the best idea is to change the idea of what “being a man” is. Standing up for other people, being confident in yourself, and being kind and accepting are not mutually exclusive from “masculinity.” In fact, they are core tenants of what it means both to be a good “man” and person. What should actually be valued in a person are qualities that have nothing to do with how “masculine” or “feminine” a male acts.


    1. Thanks so much! Yes, it was very eye-opening for me insomuch that I finally could give a name to the pressure I remembered feeling in middle to high school. I’m glad you liked it!
      I agree, it’s gotten much easier to reflect and laugh at how much I cared about personal presentation, appearance and how people perceived me, to now being comfortable just doing what I want to do.
      And in response to your last paragraph: YES! Perfect summary of what I would like to happen and contribute to!


  4. I am really glad you wrote this post…while I know that my own take on the Steubenville rape case was wrapped up in thinking about the survivor, I do consider the rapists victims of this “toxic masculinity.” While I think women (especially mothers) can do a lot to fight against this, I also think it is ultimately a battle that can be won by men – they are the ones who enforce and teach “normal” masculinity to one another – whether they are concious of it or not. Men like you and jgrand are a VERY important piece of the fight agasint rape culture in this country.


  5. So looks like I’m a little late in commenting here, but in the last 4 months there have been a video and a blog entry posted online that I feel like explain a lot of what this article covers; I found the blog entry to be very enlightening, and the video to also be somewhat enlightening but kind of ugly and shocking as well.

    Here’s the blog entry. It’s called “How Masculinity Fails Men”:

    The video is at some Greek/party weekend at FSU, but it really highlights how the attitudes of both men and women really force men in certain crowds to act in the hypermasculine described in this article or risk exclusion and humiliation. Some quotes from the women in this video include:

    “Nice guys don’t last at FSU. You can’t hang here if you’re nice.”

    “We’re in Tallahassee — it’s all about the douchebags.”

    “Oh my god, a nice guy? What are you gonna do, buy me coffee? No, you have to get me drunk and then we’ll do something.”

    “Dear nice guys. Fuck you.”

    Here it is:


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