Toxic Masculinity and Christianity

by Matt Slick
1/23/2019
 

Toxic masculinity has been making the news lately. Apparently, its bad to be male.  The APA (American Psychological Association) has published an article "How masculinity can hurt mental health."1 The news talks about the foils of dangers of masculinity,2 and the Gillette razor company produced a commercial denouncing it3 - though not without an outcry in response. So what is toxic masculinity?  Let's take a look at a couple of definitions.

  • Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away."4
  • Toxic Masculinity:  "A social science term that describes narrow repressive type of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth. Also suggests that men who act too emotional or maybe aren’t violent enough or don’t do all of the things that “real men” do, can get their “man card” taken away."5

Alright, so toxic masculinity is bad. After all, its 'toxic.' It is aggressive, violent, unemotional, with an overemphasis on strength and sexual prowess. The problem is that "toxic masculinity" is still masculinity (with a focus on the bad parts) that has not yet been separated sufficiently from what it means to be a guy. Notice the term is not "toxic behavior," but "toxic masculinity." The attack is on masculinity as a whole and has been going on for a long time in the media. Just look at how men are portrayed on TV. They are buffoons, aggressive, stupid, ignorant, and need women to civilize them and instruct them. Psychology Today said it well.

"There has been a relentless ideological attack on masculinity, stemming from radical feminism, the most recent example of which is the bogus term “toxic masculinity.” It literally seeks to pathologize masculinity in ways that are profoundly harmful to the existential sense of self of young men."6

Is there bad masculinity? No, there is not.  Let's take a look at some definitions of masculinity.

  • "having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man"7
  • "pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men.  Having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness."8
  • "Having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men."9
  • "having qualities traditionally considered to be suitable for a man."10

Hmm, interesting.  Masculinity is not bad or good.  It is just...masculinity.

So, back to the topic at hand. "Toxic masculinity" is a couplet that associates toxicity with masculinity. This is prejudicial and unfair. After all, bad behavior exists among both males and females. If there is toxic masculinity, then there is also toxic femininity, and toxic adolescence, and toxic childhood. Every aspect of our human lives is filled with good, bad, improper behaviors, mistakes, successes, and acts of goodness. To take one aspect of something and use it to represent the whole is wrong. But, do men sometimes behave badly? Yes, they do. But, it is not masculinity that is bad. It is sinful behavior that is bad.

Another quote from Psychology Today is too good to ignore.  It deals with masculinity and what women apparently want from men.

"In no culture ever studied have women repeatedly preferred to mate with pear-shaped, low-status, tepid men possessing high-pitched, nasal voices. In no documented culture do women’s sexual fantasies revolve around granting sexual access to unemployed, unambitious men who occupy the lowest stratum of the social hierarchy. Instead, women are attracted to “toxic masculine” male phenotypes that correlate with testosterone, and they are desirous of men who are socially dominant, who are strategically risk-taking in their behaviors, and who exhibit patterns of behaviors that will allow them to ascend the social hierarchy and defend their positions from encroachers. Of course this does not imply that women are not attracted to intelligent, sensitive, kind, warm, and compassionate men. The ideal man is rugged and sensitive; masculine and caring; aggressive in some pursuits and gentle in others. Think of the male archetype in romance novels, which is a literary form almost exclusively read by women. He is a tall prince and a neurosurgeon. He is a risk-taker who wrestles alligators and subdues them on his six-pack abs, and yet is sensitive enough to be tamed by the love of a good woman. "11

Uh oh, if I'm not a six-pack-ab-packing neurosurgeon who is in touch with his emotions, is caring, and can wrestle alligators, then I'm in trouble.  Wait!  I'm autistic (aspergers), have one ab, and am afraid of alligators.  Yikes, I'm obviously somehow ... wrong as a man!  But wait, I did get misty eyed when I had to put my cat down. 

Behavior arises from the heart

We behave based on what is in our hearts. The great benefit of Christianity is the indwelling of God within the hearts.  This results in us seeking to follow the command to love God (Matthew 22:37) and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39).  But in secular society, God is removed from the equation and the result is an increase in bad behavior. Does anyone think our society is getting better? Bad behavior is amplified by our natures when the curtailing influence of truth and God's presence are reviled.

The result of God being removed from the heart is that our natures are free to act in accordance with their most basic desires.  This does not mean that we will be as bad as we can be.  In general, men are naturally physically stronger and more aggressive than women so bad behavior will manifest in a manner that is consistent with those strengths. But women, who are generally more emotional than men, tend to be kinder, more patient, and emotionally expressive.  But, they can also misuse their strengths and even manipulate emotional connections and relationships for their "toxic" purposes.

I heard a preacher once say, "We fall in our strengths as well as our weaknesses." I agree with the truth in that statement. Men are full of strengths, but without the inner guidance of Christ, their strengths can become weaknesses that manifest in sinful behavior.

Christ, the perfect example of masculinity

According to Scripture, Jesus is God in the flesh (Col. 2:9) through whom the world was created (Col. 1:16-17). Being divine he had all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) and with his authority performed many miracles. But, Jesus was also a man. So, how did Jesus exemplify his masculinity? Quite simply, he did so in a variety of ways.

  • Jesus loved (John 11:36)
  • Jesus taught (Matt. 5:1-7:27)
  • Jesus wept (John 11:35)
  • Jesus healed (Matt. 21:14)
  • Jesus welcomed children (Mark 10:13-16)
  • Jesus taught that we ought to honor and serve God (Matt. 4:10)
  • Jesus overturned the temple tables (Matthew 21:12)
  • Jesus defended righteousness (Matt. 21:12-13)
  • Jesus called people harsh things (Matt. 7:4; 23:33; John 8:44)
  • Jesus promoted self-defense (Luke 22:36)
  • Jesus condemned unrighteous behavior and beliefs (Mark 12:38-40)
  • Jesus sacrificed himself (John 3:16; 12:32)

 

Masculinity is not bad.  It is good.

God created both masculinity and femininity. But both are best expressed through the revelation of God's love and wisdom that are found in Scripture. As far as masculinity goes, it is best exemplified by Jesus and we ought to emulate his words, deeds, and motives. He is good, the perfect man who was loving yet strong, kind yet tough, forgiving yet forceful. There is no toxic masculinity with him. But there is great strength in his teachings, his actions, and his love.

 

 

 

 

 

  • 1. apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/men-boys-health-disparities.aspx
  • 2. 1) cnn.com/2019/01/15/opinions/traditional-masculinity-apa-berlatsky/index.html; 2) cnn.com/2018/12/12/success/toxic-masculinity-workplace/index.html; 3) usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/10/17/toxic-masculinity-america-trixie-mattel-column/1599975002; 4) nytimes.com/2019/01/18/learning/what-is-your-take-on-gillettes-ad-critiquing-toxic-masculinity.html
  • 3. foxnews.com/lifestyle/gillettes-toxic-masculinity-ad-draws-counter-ad-from-watch-company
  • 4. tolerance.org/magazine/what-we-mean-when-we-say-toxic-masculinity, underline added
  • 5. urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Toxic%20Masculinity, underline added
  • 6. psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201803/is-toxic-masculinity-valid-concept
  • 7. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/masculine
  • 8. dictionary.com/browse/masculine
  • 9. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/masculine
  • 10. dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/masculine
  • 11. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201803/is-toxic-masculinity-valid-concept
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.