In 2019, the Internet rules the world, particularly in the realms of communication and current events. Thanks to popular platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, every political wave, social justice movement and hot button issue can often be reduced down to a hashtag. Whether it’s a tragically symbolic one, such as #MeToo, or an event turned meme, such as #RIPHarambe, these little internet words often become universally recognized. One such phrase is #NotAllMen.
#NotAllMen is frequently used as a rallying cry from “nice guys” who, rather than listen and empathize when women share their societal struggles, want to defend their own innocence. For instance, a woman might tweet about her experience of being afraid to ride alone in an elevator with a man at night. It’s almost inevitable that someone will chime in with “You probably didn’t need to be scared #NotAllMen!!!!!!” Another common use of #NotAllMen can be seen when critiques of rape culture or traditional patriarchal society are misinterpreted or seen as personally offensive attacks. The usage of #NotAllMen as a response to the phrase “toxic masculinity” epitomizes this trend.
Toxic masculinity (read: not “masculinity is toxic”) is a term frequently used in feminist rhetoric that describes the harmful effects of stereotypical manliness in a patriarchal society. This can include the demonization of emotionally sensitive men, the attitude that “real” men can never be victims of assault and the “boys will be boys” mindset that excuses the misbehavior and aggression of young males. While women have suffered historically from the impacts of toxic masculinity, all of these examples also show that the standards created by toxic masculinity are detrimental to men as well. Many people hear the words “toxic masculinity” and assume the worst: it’s just another way of saying all men are horrible.
This belief could not be more false. Toxic masculinity is the reason young boys are afraid to cry or be too “sensitive.” It’s the reason adolescent boys develop unhealthy attitudes about competing for girlfriends or objectifying their peers. It’s the reason school-age girls are held to unfair dress code standards. Being a confident man is good; being toxic in your masculinity is not. Any so-called “attack on masculinity” is likely a misinterpretation, and a dangerous one at that. Calling out toxic masculinity is not meant to be a condemnation of men and is vital in dismantling rigid, antiquated stereotypes that limit and hurt all genders. No one is saying that being a man is bad. We are saying that acting problematically and blaming it on “trying to be manly” is.
The purpose of this is also definitely not to say that it is better off for men to be feminine. However, describing this statement as “laughable” is a perfect example of toxic masculinity itself. If one truly sees men and women as equal, why would femininity ever have a negative connotation?
When confidence in oneself as a man relies on insulting women and maintaining a tough-guy attitude, it may be time to look in the mirror and think about the motivations and societal standards that have shaped one’s beliefs. It’s okay to be proud to be a man, but it will never be okay to ignore the reality of the privileged position that maleness gives you, and it will never be okay to use your definition of manliness to degrade, criticize and demean women and the issues we face everyday.