It’s Not Toxic Masculinity: It’s Just Toxic

Tracey Folly

As we move toward a gender-neutral world, let’s stop trying to specify the difference between toxic masculinity and just plain toxicity. by Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash

Toxic masculinity is everywhere these days, not just the concept but the phrase: toxic masculinity. Is it accurate? Sometimes. Not always.

Does its inverse, toxic femininity, exist? Yes? No? Maybe? It gets confusing. That’s why I believe it’s time to stop trying to specify the difference between toxic masculinity and just plain toxicity. We simply don’t need to break bad behavior down by gender. It’s irrelevant.

If a man exhibits toxic behavior, we call it toxic masculinity. If a woman exhibits toxic behavior, then should we call it toxic femininity? Sometimes, we do. It's a phrase I've heard as of late. It's rare, but it's out there.

What if we’re talking about a person who identifies as nonbinary? Is it toxic non-binarism? I don’t think so. At that point, trying to qualify toxicity seems a bit — toxic.

Toxicity has no sex or gender.

If a person exhibits toxic behavior, then that person is toxic. Their masculinity, femininity, or other identity have nothing to do with it.

Throughout my long and varied career in retail, customer service, and banking, I have dealt with more toxic bosses, coworkers, and customers than I care to remember. Not all of them were male. In fact, I’d say it was probably split fifty percent male and fifty percent female, with none of my former work associates identifying as transgender, non-binary or other.

The manager who blocked a doorway with her body and refused to let me pass was a woman; when I said, “Excuse me,” she responded, “There is no excuse for you.” She was leering at my body as she said it. If she were a man, I’d call it toxic masculinity.

She was a woman. So I just let it go.

That’s not fair. I should have called her out on her actions. Instead, I gave her a free pass for no reason other than because she wasn't a man.

If the manager had been a man, we would be having an entirely different conversation. That shows me that I've been guilty of separating bad behavior depending upon the sex or gender of the person exhibiting it. It's time for me to stop doing that. Isn't it time for everyone else to stop as well? I think so.

Toxic is toxic, regardless of gender, and so is sexual harassment. Likewise, with gaslighting, gender shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

All inappropriate behavior is gender-neutral.

My first bully was a little boy who called me fat. My most memorable bully was a girl who also called me fat.

One boy. One girl. Both equally toxic. Both with the same tired, old insult. You’re fat.

The little boy had trapped a group of girls behind the bushes in the courtyard at school during recess during our first day of kindergarten. He eventually let the other girls go but chose to keep me because I was “too fat” to let escape.

I once referred to my first bully as a toxic male, lamenting that “toxic masculinity starts earlier than we think.” I’ve come to change that opinion.

The little girl had asked me for a sip of my Coca-Cola straight from the can. I was already a budding germophobe when she asked me for a drink of my soda. So I said, “No.”

“That’s why you’re fat,” she replied.

I think of both of these children, who are now very much fully grown adults with children of their own, as equally toxic.

It isn’t toxic masculinity when a male bullies a female; it’s just toxicity.

Let’s resist the urge to break it down further.

We don’t need a special term to describe a male bullying a female, or a male bullying a male, or a female bullying another female, or a female bullying a male, and so on and so forth. That’s not the purpose of gender identity.

Some things such as bullying and toxic behavior don't need to be sorted and measured. They just need to be stopped.

We shouldn’t use gender identity to help us sort and measure our bullies. Gender identity is far more personal and important than that. Let’s not misuse it.

Why do people feel the need to sort things into categories and sub-categories and sub-sub-categories?

We like to label things and put them inside neat boxes, but what if the boxes aren't so neat? We aren't doing anyone any favors in that case.

In the case of so-called toxic masculinity, it seems to be a way to judge a man for acting a certain way. I almost wrote that “it seems to be a way to judge a man for acting like a man.”

That brings us to another problem with the phrase toxic masculinity. It implies that a man behaves a certain way for no other reason than his being a man. In that case, toxic masculinity is implicit simply for the perceived sin of being born male. That’s not fair either.

I am not defending men or absolving them of their part in making toxic masculinity such a popular and trending phrase. Men can certainly be toxic, and they frequently are. They’re simply not alone.

When you call out someone for being toxic, consider the person on his/her/their own merits without bringing masculinity or femininity into it. Otherwise, you risk taking the focus away from the real problem of toxicity.

I'm not arguing that men are good or bad, and I'm not arguing that women are bad or good. That's the point. By assigning sex or gender to the concept of being "toxic," we are implying something about the essence of being male, or in the case of so-called "toxic femininity," being female. Does that make sense?

Is bullying any better or worse depending upon the sex or gender of the person perpetrating it? Absolutely not. What do you think about it?

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Writing about relationships online since 2009.

Boston, MA

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