Toxic masculinity is so hot right now.
From adverts for razors to billion-dollar grossing films about dolls, it seems like you can’t look at your phone these days without hearing about all the ways toxic masculinity is harming both women and men.
And look, I get it. I took a gender studies elective too.
But as any honest feminist will tell you, there’s a difference between toxic masculinity and regular masculinity. Something doesn’t become toxic just because a man does it.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of gender essentialism here, but there are some things men do that I find positively endearing.
Maybe you do too.
If your man shows the behaviors listed below, it’s not because he’s some horrible misogynist toxic male monster the way your Twitter feed wants you to believe.
He might just be a guy, doing guy things.
1) He takes charge
Okay, let’s be honest here.
I’m a modern woman, and the last thing I need – or want – is a man telling me what to do.
At the same time, is there anything less masculine and more juvenile than a man who can’t take charge when he needs to?
To be clear, I’m not talking about being controlling of other people. I’m talking about a man who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go after it.
Look, sometimes it’s nice to have someone else make a decision, whether it’s about something simple like where to go for dinner or something big like what he wants to do with his life.
Maybe it’s because I can be a little bit bossy myself, but I respect a man who can be a leader.
And being a leader doesn’t mean telling people what to do. It means helping the people around you be the best that they can be.
Real leaders and real men lead from the front. I wouldn’t have any other way.
2) He’s brave
It’s still a dangerous world. But not as dangerous as it used to be. At least for those of us in wealthy countries, the last major war is outside living memory, and we are very unlikely to run into dangerous animals while out foraging for berries the way our distant ancestors did.
Maybe that’s why bravery isn’t valued as highly as it used to be.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have value. And it doesn’t mean a modern man can’t be brave, even if he isn’t out there clubbing tigers over the head on a regular basis.
Bravery doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means feeling fear but not letting it control your actions.
It means standing up to hatred and defending the people you are responsible for. It means defending your own views and your own value, no matter what the world around you says about it.
3) He speaks his mind
Isn’t it funny how so many of these supposed traits of toxic masculinity end up just being traits of toxic people in general?
For example, mansplaining, which I prefer to call by its original name, being a condescending jerk. Being inconsiderate is gender-neutral.
Personally, I prefer when people speak their mind, whatever gender they are. I’d rather spend time with someone I actively disagree with who is honest about themselves and can express their views in a polite and reasonable way than with someone who pretends to agree with everything I say.
Now, of course, there’s a time and a place for this. Spouting out your unwanted views on every subject under the sun, regardless of whether they want to hear them, is not a positive quality.
But the man who is afraid to speak his mind, because he is too caught up in what other people think of him, is a man who could benefit from more masculinity, not less.
4) He’s passionate
Are you surprised to see passion listed as a masculine trait? If so, maybe you need to think a little harder about your definition of masculinity.
Men are deeply passionate. If you don’t believe me, go to a sports bar on a weekend, ideally when there’s a big game on.
Yes, you’ll see many of the traits commonly associated with toxic masculinity. You’ll also see men completely lose themselves to something bigger.
It’s not just sports, either.
Just about every man I know is deeply passionate about something. I’m talking about guys who spend their lives working on a classic car or converting their garage into a woodworking shop or devoting hours of time to mastering poetry.
Maybe it is an example of toxic masculinity that guys often try to hide their passionate nature. But it’s really endearing to see men follow their passion – whatever it might be.
5) He sacrifices himself
Similar to bravery, this idea often seems to be old-fashioned. But it shouldn’t.
Men are built to protect. And it’s always endearing when you see that biological drive manifesting itself in the world today.
Whether it’s your boyfriend giving you his jacket on a cold night or your husband making sure everybody else in the family has enough to eat before he sits down to dinner himself, men can be amazingly self-sacrificing. And it’s beautiful to see.
6) He defends his values
If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.
A mature man will think carefully about what he values and make up his mind based on the evidence as well as his own experience. But once he has made up his mind, he will defend his position.
Not aggressively. Not obnoxiously. But calmly, in the firm belief that he knows his own mind.
That’s a trait we could all use a little more of.
7) He embraces pain
A real man knows that pain is the soil of personal growth.
Pain exists for a reason. Whether it’s physical or emotional, it’s there to tell us that we are heading down the wrong path, and that we need to change something.
True masculinity requires not only the fortitude to stand up to pain, but the wisdom to know when something needs to be changed. Men who know this are the opposite of toxic.
8) He controls his emotions
Toxic masculinity is often blamed for men being unable to express their emotions.
On the other hand, emotional control is a sure sign of an emotionally mature person.
That’s because there’s a difference between suppressing and ignoring your emotions and feeling them yet keeping them under control. It’s the second thing that real men do.
There’s no question that men feel things just as deeply as anybody else.
But many men don’t believe in pushing their feelings onto others. That means they try not to burden other people with their emotions and do their best not to make decisions based on emotion, but prefer to use reason and rationality instead.
Children react to their emotions, lashing out or falling apart when they don’t get their way. Masculine men control their emotions to protect the people they care about.
9) He relies on himself
Lots of people – especially men – are in love with the idea of the lone wolf. Therefore, self-reliance is a quality lots of men value very highly.
There’s nothing toxic about that. As cynical as it may sound, sometimes, in this world, the only person you can rely on is yourself. And cultivating the ability to be your own best friend and mentor is never a bad thing.
After all, the one thing that can’t be taken away from you is your self. Masculine men develop skills so that when things get tough, they know they can rely on themselves.
10) He respects women
Men love women.
Not all of them, of course. Scour the Internet, and you won’t have to wait long to find examples of men who despise women, just like you’ll find women who feel the same way about men.
But a normal, emotionally healthy man will have tons of examples of women in his life that he loves, from his mother to his spouse.
Men like this know that women are their equals in every way, and just as deserving of respect as they are.
Ultimately, seeing the world as a kind of conflict between men and women is not only an incredibly juvenile way to look at things. It’s also self-defeating.
If you write off half the population of the world, you’re poisoning your own life and rejecting so many opportunities for growth and happiness.
Masculinity isn’t toxic
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of bad men out there.
But the trouble with toxic masculinity as a concept is that it can easily change from “some behaviors traditionally associated with masculinity are harmful to both women and men” to “men are trash.”
And I don’t know about you, but that’s not my experience.
If your man displays some of the behaviors listed above, embrace his masculinity just the way you would want him to embrace your femininity. Because sometimes, it’s the differences between us that make us happiest.