Toxic Masculinity in Literature

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Gender is a socially created construct. Alongside the ideals of gender are the societal expectations associated with each gender role. Masculinity refers to a set of qualities, behaviors and expectations associated with being a man.. On the other hand, femininity refers to the qualities associated with being a woman. The standards of masculinity and femininity are both constructed by society and can vary across different cultures. The American ideal of “manliness” refers to men’s superiority, strength and control. While women are expected to be subordinate, obedient and child barriers. These expectations are negative to society, as people with different views from others in the culture do not fit in and are considered social misfits. Gender expectations have oppressed people of both genders as it is destructive towards individuals, which can lead to the hatred towards one’s own gender. For instance, Paul Theroux has always disliked being a man, and he wrote an essay analysing the different reasons he loathes his gender. “Being a Man” consists of Theroux’s thoughts about living under the pressure of society’s expectations for men based on masculinity and their definition of being “manly.” Theroux argues that being a man in the american society is not a privilege, but rather a burden. In reality, both men and women are suppressed by their gender roles, but the expectations identified with masculinity provide men with more of an advantage than women in the american society.

From a young age, boys are setting up a front that shows that they are manly, which leads to the tendency of masking over their real selves just to satisfy society’s expectations, fitting into social norms. Societal expectations of masculinity place immense pressure on men starting from an early age. In the film “The Mask You Live In,” the expectation of masculinity is prominent in the daily lives of men. At a young age, boys perceive the characteristics of manliness and conform to these expectations. Men are expected to be the superior gender and possess dominant attitudes. Masculinity dimissess all forms of weakness, as men are expected to have strength and control. Men need to be physically and mentally strong, only allowing expressions of manly emotions, such as anger, and required to show strength and power through the expressions. Men hide away their fear and tears, especially in front of other men, because these emotions are considered feminine. As boys become men, more become less expressive with their emotions due to the actions association with femininity. More boys feel alone and scared to reveal their emotions as the expression of emotions is closely linked to women, therefore an unmanly action. The constant struggle with the appropriate expressions is emotionally damaging to men. Men are taught to reject feminine ideas and womanly expressions. Anti-femininity enlarges the difference between men and women, and creates a greater gap between the two genders and more extreme expectations.

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Toxic masculinity is the base of the issue with society’s expectations of men based on their gender roles. It restricts the emotions that men are allowed to express due to the possibility of showing weakness which is considered unacceptable as it’s considered “feminine.” Due to the expectations of masculinity, men often act based on the “manliness” of their actions instead of acting like their true selves, and disowning their identities. In Junot Diaz’s story “How To Date A Browngirl, Blackgirl, White Girl, Or Halfie,” toxic masculinity is expressed throughout the story. The main character in a teenage boy that goes through different date scenarios with different girls depending on their race, which ties in ideas of intersectionality. The goal at the end of each date is sexual intercorse which exploids how some men view women as tools used for their own satisfaction, and their presumptuous superiority to women. The girls listed in the story have no name, signifying the dismissive nature men have towards women as women are viewed to be subordinate to men. The girls were differentiated by their race and therefore the different likelinesses of the main character’s chance of sexual intercourse. Other male characters mentioned in the story appear as approval for the boy’s choices and actions, and they refer to the girls alongside the main character as objects. Society views women as objects and are used to satisfy men’s desires. Demeaning a woman’s life to serve by a man’s side.

Masculinity embodies rigid expectations of society that men are forced to conform to. Theroux uncovers the different expectations that men and women receive due to the different gender roles they are assigned. He wrote that “Femininity—being lady-like—implies needing a man as witness and seducer; but masculinity celebrates the exclusive company of men.” Both gender roles require some form of approval from men, as the male gender is considered superior. Women are supposedly dependent on men, and in need of their assistance to succeed in life. Due to women’s subordinate position to men, their words and opinions do not affect men as much as other men’s words. Men control the standing of other men, as women have no interference with a man’s status. The “exclusive company of man” affiliates with the ideals of patriarchy, as being a man is defined by other men through a patriarchal lens. Patriarchy is exclusive to men and amplifies male dominance through men’s pride and ego. In an idealistic patriarchal world, men are in control and all aspects of masculinity would be required to be expressed through men. Violent behavior is used to prove oneself among other men in the society, and encouraged as it expresses the strength, control and dominance of an individual which demonstrates main characteristics of masculinity. Women are inconsequential in the society as they play minor significance to a society dominated by men. Femininity places women in a subordinate position making it harder for women to succeed in a society heavily influenced by gender roles. Women have much of a burden from the expectations of femininity as their actions need to be approved by men.

Though men are suppressed by the expectations of masculinity, women are further pressured to conform to society’s expectations of femininity. Due to gender role’s impact on society, as men are expected to be the superior gender, they are placed in higher roles which is an advantage that women do not experience. Society places men on a pedestal, which provides a lead for men at the starting line, and women are left behind as due to the subordinate expectations of femininity. Though men are also burdened with societal expectations based on their gender, some of masculinities characteristics provide men with more advantages than women in society. Both genders are under constant pressure from societal expectations, which is negative for the society as a whole. Genders should be treated equally, with the same expectations for every individual, and no specificity based on gender.

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Toxic Masculinity in Literature. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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