In the world of blogging, vlogging, editorial, web, and copywriting, buzzwords are everything. They define the success of an article or blog post. But they can also turn a reader off.
There are certain words and phrases that people just can’t stand, for one reason or another – and no matter how well-intentioned a piece might be, when that word comes out, the reader turns off or tabs out. Tension words, let’s call them.
In discussions surrounding sexual assault, these words or phrases are often branded with political leanings or radical connotations: victim, rape culture, toxic masculinity, to name a few.
So Why Use Them?
In many cases, writers will try to find ways around words like this. But when discussing issues like sexual assault, we often don’t have that luxury. Using specific language is one way we make sure to accurately transfer sensitive and controversial information – we simply can’t afford the uncertainty in meaning that often comes with euphemisms and metaphors.
Because of this, we have decided to tackle the misinformation surrounding these words head on. In this miniature series, “Gone Viral,” the editorial team will choose a word which we think is both unavoidable and problematic, and try to demystify it.
This term has been thrown around on social media and blogs for several years now, drawing polarized responses from political writers. The debate, in my opinion, is fueled by one part semantics and two parts miscommunication.
Let’s get the “two parts” out of the way: toxic masculinity is not masculinity. They’re two different terms. Masculinity isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s simply a categorization. A way to help organize traits and behaviors. It also has a solid definition: “qualities or attributes typically regarded as characteristics of men.” If we have an argument about masculinity, we can go look it up in the dictionary and come to an agreement fairly easily.
This isn’t really the case for toxic masculinity though. Unlike terms like rape culture, the toxic masculinity isn’t borrowed from sociology or any official feminist theory. Its colloquial birth was too recent for it to have solidified amongst social scientists. The term, when properly used, describes acts that reinforce harmful, hyper masculine behaviors.
Close, But Not Quite…
There’s some additional confusion because of the way that toxic masculinity resembles a sociological term, hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is behavior which reinforces and perpetuates the dominance of men over society – specifically over women. This is where things get muddled.
Many times, toxic masculinity is used in place of hegemonic masculinity. It’s done so incorrectly causing men to react as though their personal identities are being attacked. But toxic masculinity is directly harmful to men, since its purpose is to make sure men express only stereotypically masculine traits.
If someone who identifies as male doesn’t measure up, toxic masculinity is used by other men to peer pressure them into getting back on the bandwagon. It stops men from defining their own selves.
Know It When You See It
For instance, stoicism – the absence of outward emotion or feeling in the face of pain, physical or emotional – is a typically masculine trait which is not inherently bad. The typical response, though, when a young man doesn’t display this trait is an example of toxic masculinity – “Man up,” or “Real men don’t cry.” The term itself really isn’t self-descriptive, and that’s a problem. When used in context and not well explained, it is very easily mistaken for an attack on masculinity itself.
Allowing terms like toxic masculinity to go on being misused, or not to clearly define the way that our editorial team uses them, would be irresponsible. By defining them we can more precisely craft language to suit our thoughts and beliefs, while avoiding offending potential readers in the process.
Be on the lookout for more installments of the “Gone Viral” series in the near future.