Toxic Masculinity

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, February 4th as part of the “Raise Your Hand” column in the Insight section.

By Aaliyah-Marie Arredondo, Radford High School, c/o 2026

Whether or not men should be expected to conform to traditional definitions of masculinity is a topic of ongoing debate today. Harry Styles, for instance, expressed his perspective, stating, “I think there’s so much masculinity in being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be feminine, and I’m very comfortable with that.” The term “toxic masculinity” has been popularized on social media, sparking both support and criticism. While there are a myriad of opinions surrounding the term, it is crucial to educate oneself on its meaning.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “toxic masculinity” is defined as a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and society as a whole. Some individuals on the extreme end have appropriated the term to express their disdain for men, twisting the true meaning of the term. Meanwhile, others, often men, have dismissed the term entirely because of its perceived threat to their masculinity and ego. In fact, the term was coined during the mythopoetic men’s movement in the 1980s by Shepherd Bliss, who argued that men need to gain control over their masculinity which society had distorted.

After speaking to my peers, I found that many young men are oblivious to the term "toxic masculinity.” The majority of male students who were aware of the term did not believe it harmed them or the female students around them.

However, women are surely affected by toxic masculinity. Men who exhibit traits associated with "toxic masculinity" are more likely to demonstrate sexual aggression towards women. Traumatic events of that nature leave lasting impacts on women, causing them to question their worth. Regardless of one’s opinion on the term, men must remain vigilant of their actions, recognizing that behaviors they perceive as "funny," such as catcalling, unsolicited explicit messages and images, and physical harassment, can cause irreversible harm to women. Refusing to engage in these actions does not diminish one’s masculinity. True masculinity is shaped by inner qualities, some of which may not conform to traditional masculine stereotypes.

Being masculine is either frowned upon or exalted, depending on the person you are speaking to. But my definition of masculinity acknowledges that it, like femininity, has a unique meaning for each individual. The “toxic” element comes into play when men or women create caricatures of men — either positively or negatively — when, in reality, there is no one “correct” way to be a man. We all share a collective goal of making our society a better place. While we can't ignore all negativity and prejudice, as individuals, we have the power to improve ourselves. Rather than feeling beholden to stereotypical gender standards, men have the opportunity to redefine their understanding of what it means to be a man by questioning societal norms, practicing empathy, and valuing their masculinity on their own terms.

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