Toxic vs. True Masculinity

Toxic Masculinity

The American Psychological Association recently published a report rightfully indicting traditional (toxic) masculinity. “Thirteen years in the making, they draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.”

“The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful. Men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors.”

You can read an overview here, and the guidelines here.

While these findings came as no surprise to me, it did get me thinking about how Jesus modeled manhood, since he is our ultimate example. These are just a few references off the top of my head – in no way an exhaustive list, but perhaps a good springboard.

True Masculinity

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52

“I am gentle and humble in heart.” Matthew 11:29

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 9:14

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

“He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.” John 13:1

According to Jesus, being a “real man” includes submission to God, growing in wisdom, relating well with others, valuing the overlooked/marginalized/downtrodden, being compassionate, being humble, being vulnerable, being emotionally open and honest, being servant-hearted, and generally living a life that is not about you.

We also know that Jesus was no pushover. He spoke truth to power, subverted religious and political systems, redefined winning, confronted the forces of darkness, and ignited a revolution that turned the world upside down. Being only meek and mild doesn’t get one crucified after all.

So yes, there was grace and truth in Christ; weakness and strength. But the way Jesus chose to do ministry and model manhood was rooted in and expressed through love.

The Takeaway

Consider the following questions as they relate to toxic vs. true masculinity:

  1. Which version of masculinity did you inherit from your father?
  2. What messages about masculinity are you passing on to your kids?
  3. How does your definition of masculinity compare and contrast with what Jesus modeled?
  4. What toxic paradigms do you need to dump?
  5. What true paradigms do you need to adopt?





One thought on “Toxic vs. True Masculinity”

  1. Thank you for your post, Dave. I have been following with interest the media coverage of the APA Guidelines since they were released. As with everything else, I’ve seen many liberal and conservative media outlets retreat to their tried-and-true talking points without actually wrestling with the issue, which is unfortunate given the serious problems boys and men are facing today. I think, in some cases, these guidelines can be helpful for practitioners. However, one thing I take issue with in the guidelines and in much of the research behind it is equating toxic masculinity (or hegemonic masculinity) with “traditional masculinity.” When the APA labels it “traditional masculinity,” many readers would reasonably understand this to be referring to masculinity in its most basic and elementary form. It is common on both sides to believe that traditional masculinity defines masculinity, period. Therefore, the thinking goes, because “traditional masculinity” has been shown to be harmful, masculinity as a whole must be harmful and should be discouraged. Whether the APA has done this on purpose or not, I’m not sure, but it has the effect of maligning the entirety of masculinity, when in reality, only a very small subset of masculinity is to blame for the negative health and social effects. The APA admitted as much. After facing criticism in the conservative media for its guidelines, the APA issued a statement clarifying that:

    “When we report that some aspects of ‘traditional masculinity’ are potentially harmful, we are referring to a
    belief system held by a few that associates masculinity with extreme behaviors that harm self and others. It is the
    extreme stereotypical behaviors—not simply being male or a ‘traditional male’—that may result in negative
    outcomes. For example, people who believe that to be a ‘real man’ is to get needs met through violence,
    dominance over others, or extreme restriction of emotions are at risk for poor physical, psychological, and social
    outcomes (e.g., increased risk for cardiovascular disease, social isolation, depression relationship distress, etc.).”

    So, in other words, the guidelines are really about the negative effects of a belief system held by a “few” that associates masculinity with “extreme” behaviors. I think it is a stretch and misleading for researchers to call this “traditional” masculinity. (The questionnaire that the researchers use is a big part of the problem). The guidelines themselves make it very clear that there are many different iterations and subsets of masculinity, depending on age, socioeconomic status, race, politics, etc, but for some reason they do not differentiate between traditional masculinity and the extreme, anti-social masculinity that they are really trying to address. Some may think this is just an issue of semantics, but by not being careful with their words, the APA has created controversy where it did not need to and made it more improbable that a productive conversation can be had.

    The concept of masculinity has been present in some form in virtually all cultures for literally thousands of years. Masculinity certainly varies between these cultures, but there is also a surprising amount of overlap. It is these areas of overlap that should form the definition of “traditional masculinity,” not the extreme version of masculinity that is held by only a “few.” I believe that masculinity is by and large a very good and necessary thing, but like any good thing, it can be corrupted and taken to the extreme. These guidelines are addressing that extreme, nothing more.

    Liked by 1 person

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