Walking from the gym towards the main entrance of my middle school for dismissal, I heard a group of boys nonchalantly having this conversation. I then saw my friends Jenna and Kristy walk by me, breaking into tears after hearing these objectifying comments about their bodies.
“Yo which: Jenna or Kristy?”
“Jenna’s boobs are better than Kristy’s.”
“But Kristy’s butt is better than Jenna’s. But yeah dude, Jenna’s got it too.”
By eighth grade, it had become almost second nature to hear boys rating girls, praising certain physical features of one girl, and criticizing those of another.
Why is it that from such a young age, girls are expected to be ok with being completely objectified by their male counterparts? And on the other side of the spectrum, why is it that boys have been taught that this sort of misogynistic attitude and behavior is at all acceptable?
The root of these issues comes from the toxic masculinity that infects societies worldwide. Toxic masculinity is essentially when societal definitions of masculinity, or what it means to “be” a man, are detrimental. Society has formed rigid norms of masculinity and “manliness”, which has resulted in the pressure for men to engage in destructive behaviors, such as behaving in misogynistic ways.
Although most commonly referred to as toxic masculinity, the APA officially defines it as masculine ideology. As defined in the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, masculine ideology is “a set of descriptive, prescriptive, and proscriptive of cognitions about boys and men” that often has tendencies towards “anti-femininity, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk and violence”.
Toxic masculinity negatively affects men in numerous ways. It pressures boys to engage in destructive behaviors that they are often praised for. One of the most common yet damaging examples is the well-known acceptance of “locker room talk.”
Locker room talk is unfortunately associated with men sharing demeaning views and opinions about women, and of course, it doesn’t only occur in a physical locker room setting. It’s wherever men gather together and share their crude opinions on women, often objectifying them and telling each other what they’d like to do to certain women.
There’s a fine line between the completely acceptable conversation about the girls they might find attractive and the toxic and potentially dangerous territory they enter when they begin to objectify women. Unfortunately, many men, and boys like the ones at my junior high school, do not know or simply don’t care when they cross the line.
One of the most disturbing instances of absolutely toxic “locker room talk” was between former United States President Donald Trump and radio show host Billy Bush. This conversation that had taken place in 2005 between the two was leaked in October 2016 when Trump was running for president. In the leaked tape, as reported by the Hill, Trump had made extremely misogynistic remarks, with some of the worst comments in this exchange:
Trump: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Bush: “Whatever you want.”
Trump: “Grab them by the p—y. You can do anything.”
Although Billy Bush was fired shortly after for his inappropriate behavior and has essentially had his entire career ruined, Trump was still able to continue on, becoming the next United States president, showing how many people in American society basically condoned this sort of toxic masculinity. In this situation, toxic masculinity was not only seen in Trump’s disgusting remarks, but also in the fact that Billy Bush was pressured and even encouraged to accept and contribute to the conversation.
The toxic masculinity seen here is that this sort of disgusting behavior is expected of men, which encourages this behavior and makes men, who otherwise could have been decent people, into monsters. Without Trump initiating and creating this environment full of misogyny and toxic remarks, would Billy Bush have even said the things that he did?
Considering the fact that he was extremely sorry for his actions, saying in a statement issued by NBC News in 2016, “It’s no excuse, but this happened eleven years ago — I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along. I’m very sorry”, it is very much possible that he wouldn’t even have said such things if it hadn’t been for Trump pressuring him into it.
Although it may be shocking, the toxic ideal of “manly men” is even advocated for by some women today. Candace Owens, an American author and political activist, is a perfect example of this. Many of her views and opinions are extremely controversial, such as her support for the continuation of toxic masculinity, tweeting outrageous remarks such as “I detest #metoo culture more” and “Bring Back Manly Men.” The #MeToo movement, which has gained popularity in the past years, is a social movement that advocates for women who have been sexually assaulted to speak out.
It is disturbing that Owens, a woman herself, detests a movement that helps other women to have the courage to share something so personal in an effort to heal the trauma. Though she may not support this hashtag, one that she has strongly supported is #BringBackManlyMen.
Owens started this “movement” of bringing back “manly men” as a reaction to world renowned singer Harry Styles’ sense of fashion. Styles has not only achieved wonders as a musician when he was a part of One Direction as well as through his two showstopping solo albums — he is an icon in the fashion world as well. Styles is the first man in Vogue’s 128-year history to appear solo on the cover of a Vogue magazine.
On the iconic cover, he chose to wear an extraordinary ball gown, which has led to unsettling amounts of controversy and hate, especially from Candace Owens. Owens, a woman herself, is actively attacking men that are trying to break the toxic stereotypes of what masculinity should be.
In order for change to occur, it is absolutely crucial that we, the rising generation, act against the toxic masculinity that infects our society. Now one may ask, how should I go about this? What can I do to make a difference?
One of the first steps is to simply reach out to male friends, acquaintances, and family members and ask them about their views on toxic masculinity and the stereotypes that come with it. Though this may seem insignificant, it can be eye opening to see another point of view or even just how educated on this topic the people around you are.
Another way you can make a difference is through calling out people speaking or acting in ways that impose toxic masculinity on others. Furthermore, educating those who may not even realize that their actions are hurtful or misogynistic is a crucial step in ridding our society of toxic masculinity.
Think of it in this way: asking around or educating just a few boys or men may seem insignificant, but when this happens in large numbers, it can easily make a huge difference. This is how the future will be changed and we can finally purge our society of the toxic masculinity that poisons us all.