This term has been seen as problematic by men, but it is an important topic to discuss in how it relates to the workplace just as much as personal life. While we have all heard the phrase, do we fully understand the meaning behind it? Let us break down it down and see what it means. The first word ‘toxic’ is the key word here. The dictionary defines it as meaning “poisonous, very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way”. The word masculinity itself is not a problem, it is the quality of expressing one’s masculine gender identity. But when combined with toxicity, does it go too far?

Toxic masculinity seeks to understand and explain tendencies of the masculine socialization that can be considered harmful to others, but also the individual caught in its trap. Think of your childhood in school. There were likely moments where it felt like you either had to conform or be left behind and ridiculed. This is the wolf pack mentality, and the intangible rules of masculinity is the alpha. For example, boys were told not to wear pink they must have sex to be considered true men. If a boy decides to challenge these all powerful “rules of manhood”, he is considered weak, feminine, and inferior. But why? Why is femininity considered inferior to masculinity? The answer is human history. But are we not more advanced as a society and have risen above those outdated attitudes?

Some see masculinity as something that is defined by others and not the individual, and if challenged, that masculinity can be taken away like the proverbial “man card”. The mentality that men are the superior gender is part of the problem. Men are afraid to lose that standing among other men, so they conform and feed the stereotypes, which perpetuates the toxicity. But men should feel proud of their individual thoughts and expressions. The individual defines their own masculine expression, not some supreme entity. Weakness is not being able to acknowledge and address one’s emotions and feelings. It is strong to know oneself so well that no force can shake that foundation.

The workplace can be a breeding ground for toxic masculinity. Ask yourself, how do you treat the employees above or below you in the company hierarchy? Do you respect their opinions as much as your own? Do you respect your female coworkers equally, or do you notice sexist and homophobic jokes running rampant around the office at their expense? 

One of the many ways toxic masculinity rears its ugly head in the workplace is overworking for prestige. Lots of industries pride themselves for working 60+ hours each week, while simultaneously looking down on others for working 40 hours. But why? Working long hours does not make one person better than another. Home/life work balance is important.

So, what can we do about it? Here is a list of ideas to contemplate and even discuss that can help affect positive change in the workplace:

  • Offer support to your peers to openly discuss their feelings and emotions, whether about work or home life.
  • Minimize the importance of aggression as a necessity to succeed.
  • Encourage self-reflection, talking about feelings and emotions is not weak, it takes strength to know oneself.
  • Reinforce that the individual defines their own masculinity, it’s not a one-size-fits-all.
  • Include everyone equally regardless of gender.
  • Do not participate in but rather call out sexist, homophobic, and transphobic jokes as inappropriate.

Toxic masculinity is a tough nut to crack, but there is a remedy to the poison, and it comes from greater self-acceptance and self-respect. Let’s make work comfortable for everyone.

Check back each week for more workplace topics each Workplace Wednesday.

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