nontoxic masculinity

We talk a lot about toxic masculinity.

It seems like people are starting to confound the meaning of the term. And I think they're doing it on purpose. Talking to you, trolls of 4chan.

"Oh, so you're saying that masculinity is TOXIC," they say. "That's SEXIST against MEN," they say. "MAN-HATING C**T," they say. And I don't abide that kind of dehumanizing talk. Call me what you will, but I am not a YOUNG MALE HORSE.

it's a colt
wait what were you thinking


If I said, "Woah, that's a rabid prairie dog," would you intentionally misunderstand me and yell at me for being a dingbat who thinks that ALL prairie dogs are rabid?

I didn't say that, bro.

When I refer to "toxic masculinity," I'm not labeling all masculinity as toxic. Just like when I say, "Oh shit, there's a rabid prairie dog coming at you," I'm not saying that all prairie dogs are rabid.

Also, if there were a rabid prairie dog bearing down on your ankle, would you rather I shout out the foamy little fucker, or announce that:

"There are SURELY non-rabid prairie dogs in this area! Scores of them! I once dated SUCH a non-rabid prairie dog. We still email sometimes."

we heard you alan

But I am saying that some prairie dogs are clearly foaming at the mouth, and something could be spreading through the colony, and sometimes you can't tell the sick ones just by looking at them.


No, not all masculinity is toxic.

But yes, some is. And when I talk about toxic masculinity, I'm not talking about your beard or your necktie, unless your necktie tried to feel me up or your beard punched a guy because it was sad and didn't know what else to do with sad feelings.

When I talk about toxic masculinity, I'm talking about:
  • Repression of feelings like sadness, fear, insecurity, and the related behaviors like crying, hiding, or talking about feelings. Ex: "Boys don't cry! Be a man!"
  • Overexpression of anger through behaviors that are violent, erratic, and intended to dominate. Ex: "What'd you say? You can't talk to me like that! (Punch.)"
  • Need to be strong, dominant, and alpha, and ensuing fear of expressing "weakening" feelings or behaviors like affection, vulnerability, tenderness, kindness, gentleness, grief. Ex: "My wife just had a baby. Whatever, let's close the deal.
  • Sexual entitlement and violence. Ex: "You know you want this."
  • Transference of responsibility for feelings, actions, and consequences to women. Ex: "You just made me so mad."
  • Mocking or rejecting men who do not adhere to these "dominant," "alpha male" standards of behavior. Ex: "Don't be a fag, Mike. Hey everybody look at Mike, he's all butthurt like a little girl."
  • Extreme fragility, because his sense of self is dependent on the idea that he is dominant rather than the idea that he is inherently valuable just for being who he is, therefore his worth is challenged by every situational shift and must be constantly reasserted.
  • Passing on these behaviors and attitudes to their kids. Devastatingly.

A real-life example:

About a month ago, I heard a grandpa at the climbing gym tell his 5-year-old grandson, who had just fallen off a wall while bouldering and knocked his chin on a hold on the way down: "B-N-E-C! B-N-E-C! You remember what that means?"

The little boy held his hiccuping breath and tried to hide his tears as he nodded.

"Well, what does it mean?"

The little boy recited in a shaking voice, "Boys never ever cry."

The grandpa nodded and gave the boy's shoulder a good shake, not a violent shake, just a "Good man, snap out of it," shake, and sent him off to do some push-ups.

Of course, because I'm me, I tore my face open, howled at the moon as a Feminist Werewolf, and then went over to the little boy with my own son.

"I saw what happened," I said quietly, casually. "You fell off the wall and bumped your chin. I bet that really hurt."

The little boy nodded.

"You know, I remember one time my husband, Chicken's daddy, he fell down and bumped his knee, and you know what? He cried. Chicken's grown-up tough daddy, he cried because it hurt to bump his knee, and that's what people do when they're hurt. They cry and feel sad or scared, everybody does. Boys, girls, grown-up men and women, everybody."

Listen, I know that might sound a little heavy-handed but consider the fact that my first draft script went something like this:

You know what, kid?
Fuck that guy.
Yeah, I said it.
He's emotionally constipated and he's probably gonna die real soon.

Walk with me into the future, my child.
There is nothing wrong with you, your feelings, or your tears.
There is no reason to fight with your body.
You are perfect exactly as you are.
Your feelings will not hurt you, and they can't break anything. Feel them. 
Fuck your grandpa. 
And fuck your daddy, too, if he talks like your grandpa.

Toxic masculinity feels like it's everywhere - on the bus, on your Twitter, on the news, in your kids' cartoons, at the dinner table, at the g-d climbing gym for rockin' tots.

We spend a lot of time trying to identify toxic masculinity out loud, because we're praying that awareness will make a difference. We hope that awareness is the problem. We hope that all you need is a heads-up.

That you could be aware and willfully poisoning the air we breathe is not an alternative that we want to consider, not when you're our fathers, friends, and sons.

So we say, sometimes gently, sometimes furiously, "LOOK! Right there! There it is! The thing that we keep talking about that hurts everyone and is the root of so many devastating wounds!"

We spend a lot of time identifying what toxic masculinity looks, sounds, and feels like. And let me tell you, it's SUPER rewarding and SO MUCH FUN!

my uncle just told my boyfriend
that he's "so gay"
because he offered to rub my back
where i'm sore from having cramps
omg omg omg
i can't wait to tell him
that's homophobic toxic masculinityyyyyyyyy
here at grammy and pop-pop's 50th wedding anniversary party


Like, remember the last time you popped a zit that was like right on your nostril, in the hot zone of face agony? Remember the last time you found yourself at the crossroads of "allow this festering sore to linger because you know how much it's going to hurt" or "lance it with shaking hands in eye-watering agony because you know that's the only way it'll heal"? SO FUN, RIGHT?

I don't want to talk about toxic masculinity right now. Seriously, I'm tired.

Today, I want to talk about nontoxic masculinity,
which exists, too!

shout out to
geeks gone wild
for the meme

I want to talk about role models for the next generation of young male feminists.

These are role models who NOT ONLY would never tell a little boy to stop crying, but who would turn to that grandpa and instead of punching him in the face to prove their dominance, they'd say, tenderly, "Who hurt you, Frank? You're safe now. They can't hurt you anymore."

They're strong. They're brave. They're kind. They cry.  They are...

Nontoxic Masculine Role Models!

1. Terry Crews/Terry from Brooklyn 99


This man is a mountain of dancing muscle wrapped in brown skin and a shaved head. He looks like someone's "Ultimate Tough Guy" drawing came to life. He puts the m, a, s, c, u, l, i, n, and e in masculine. His character on Brooklyn 99 is ripped, shredded, and doesn't take shit. He's a boss.

... But Nontoxic!

He's not violent. Terry (the character) is fearful of violence and isn't afraid to express that fear. He's sweet. And gentle. He shows love, affection, vulnerability. He's into his family and farmer's markets.

And Terry Crews (the man) himself has trusted us with a story of his own sexual assault. Talk about strong. Talk about brave. Talk about vulnerable. Talk about empathetic. Talk about emotional availability.


There's an argument to be made that the reason that Terry (the character) has the luxury of being open about his penchant for vulnerability, yogurt, and farmer's markets because he's physically imposing and carries a hypermasculine appearance. Nobody is about to bully this guy.

But you know what? I think that Terry (the character) creates an even greater expectation of what we'd consider to be "masculine" qualities and behavior BECAUSE of his super macho appearance, and the fact that he's a person of color. So he is flying in the face of a pretty strong wind when he builds his daughter's doll house in the evidence room and pops the top on his strawberry yog'.

And Terry (the man) is flying in the face of the same strong wind when he comes forward about his own sexual assault, challenges power structures that want him to remain silent, and admits feeling small, feeling afraid, feeling dominated.

2. The Queer Eye Crew


These guys are physically fit, very strong, healthy, sexually expressive, and socially confident. They travel in a bro posse and Bobby Berk rebuilds entire suburban homes in like 20 minutes, nbd.

... But Nontoxic! 

They're also empathetic, physically affectionate, emotionally available and vulnerable, supportive, verbally kind and tender in a way that risks something. 

When they express their love or support for the men they're making over, they're risking being rejected, and they do it anyway. It's incredibly beautiful to see. 

They're also silly! And affectionate with each other! 

When was the last time you saw bros snuggling on the couch? Do you think it's because men don't want snugs? 

No fucking way. 

Everyone wants snugs. You know how I know? Because bros snug their dogs but they're scared to snug their friends. All this to say these guys are MASCULINE and also THEY GET SNUGS! It's 2018 and ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE FOR YOU, CHAD!


When it comes to toxic masculinity's impact on the LGBTQIA+ community, I am not a primary source. Certainly, there are unique iterations of toxic masculinity that particularly affect queer communities, and while I can't speak to that, Jeff Leavell did in Vice and it is WORTH YOUR TIME.

3. Lin-Manuel Miranda


Rich, powerful, successful, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a rapper from NYC, a father of two, and a certified fucking genius.

also he raps about sportsball

... But Nontoxic!

Dude, you can't FIND a clip or a tweet of this guy not feeling ALL the feelings. He cries more than I do. Well, that's not hard to do. But he cries more than Ryan does, and that's a high hurdle.

He's emotionally accessible, loving, inclusive, positive, gentle, creative.

He sings and dances. He tweets about his wife and kids with so much tenderness. His family is a source of joy and humor, but is never his punchline.

4. Chris Evans/Captain America


I mean:

I just...


sweet baby jesus

... But Nontoxic!

Captain America is a principled, sensitive, deeply empathetic former dweeb whose years of experience on the bottom of other people's shoes has given him the ability to use respect and kindness as a means of human connection rather than social currency to purchase his own domination.

Chris Evans recently spoke to an interviewer about playing a total fucking dick in a show on Broadway, and he did exactly what the fuck a nontoxic masculine ally should do: acknowledge that it's hard to learn, but emphasize the importance of shutting the hell up when it's not your turn to talk.

the new york times

There are so many more, you guys. So many more.

Mr. Rogers. Barack Obama. The coach from Friday Night Lights. I'm planting a flag in the ground for Bob Newby from Stranger Things, who was courageous and smart, and also a kind nerd who learned to love himself without needing social dominance to do so.

All I'm saying is this: Guys, you don't have to look to pro athletes who beat up their wives and girlfriends. You don't have to admire homophobes and you don't have to follow your grandpa's fucking rules anymore.

It's 2018!
Come with me into the future,
where the expression "like a man,"
 doesn't mean hard, violent, stony, carnivorous. 

Join Terry, Lin, the guys of Queer Eye, Chris, and so many others, and be a man who is strong, brave, kind, good, sweet, gentle, sad, weepy, fearful. Be a human, is what I'm saying. Your full humanity is available to you. Right now.

The best news? The very best news of all? Is that your masculinity already is strong, brave, kind, good, sweet, gentle, sad, weepy, fearful. Your identity as a man is inextricably linked to the full breadth of your human experience. You just have to we willing to let yourself stretch out again.

Your worth isn't dependent on being stronger than everyone else in the room. Your worth doesn't care about context. It doesn't care about competition. Your worth is untouchable by other people. You're the person who decides its volume, its integrity. And it's been there since you were born and it'll be there when you gather your grandson in your arms and say, "It's okay to cry, babe. I cry, too."

And then I'll start crying... and then you'll cry harder...

like a man

Choose nontoxic masculinity.  It exists. Some pretty kickass guys are rocking it really hard, and right in front of you.

THAT WAS A TEST. Did you make the obvious joke to relieve your discomfort? Do you understand now that joke is rooted in your own fear of losing a sense of your own worth if we expand the definition of masculinity to include all kinds of guys?

OK! So. Keep working on it.

That's your homework. It's due yesterday.

This is my work.
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with Ronit Feinglass Plank


  1. Are you saying ALL prairie dogs are rabid???? Oh wait... no, that was your whole point.

    Though in defense of so much of the "toxic masculinity" defensiveness, I do see an awful lot of "toxic" and "masculinity" being treated as though they just automatically go together - so for that reason, I have a double-appreciation for your article both for the men who go overboard on misinterpreting what is being said... and for the people who are doing some overboarding on what they're saying. Thank you x2

  2. It's my hope that once society can wrap its collective head around non-toxicity, we can begin reclaiming the Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine.

  3. Thank you for giving actual examples people can relate to. And yes those examples are comic book characters, and television characters and Broadway stars but it's a start. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that as I follow you into the future we will see examples in politics, academia and social media. Bravo for highlighting first and foremost how toxic masculinity harms men.

  4. I enjoyed this very much, thank you. Sending to my ‘gently’ sexist 74 year old father. It’s too modernly written but who knows.

  5. Just curious, but is there a requirement somewhere that a modern feminist must insert the f-bomb into a blog post a required number of times? No doubt a woman who encounters a man using profanity thinks less of him, perhaps considering him "toxic." But it's okay for a woman?

    1. Hello, Dave. This isn't going to be nice.

      1. Modern feminists don't give a fuck what "the requirements" are for their blog posts. Modern feminists give a fuck about expressing themselves in accordance with their own values, moods, thoughts, and with goddamn panache. This modern feminist in particular doesn't give a single solitary fuck what you think about her syntax, diction, pronunciation, or use of alliteration.

      2. Please point out to me the place where I suggested that the use of profanity is a contributing factor to toxic masculinity.

      3. You can't.

      4. Cuz I didn't.

      5. Cuz "no doubt," you don't know what a woman thinks of a man who says fuck. I think most women would agree that our judgment of men isn't dependent on the use of a single f-bomb, or even a baker's dozen. If I heard a guy say, "You're a fucking cunt," I would think he was an asshole. But if I heard a guy say, "Oh fuck, I have to go to the fucking bookstore to get a copy of fucking "I Dissent" for my neice who's turning 6 fucking tomorrow," I'd be like, "That's a really thoughtful gift."

      6. I can only assume that you're uncomfortable with the topic of nontoxic masculinity so instead of engaging on the topic at hand, you've decided to pick a fight with me about my choice to use profanity in my blog, which is neither the New York Times nor The Motherfucking Bible, and is a perfectly appropriate place to use a conversational, colloquial, and profane voice. You feel that it's more likely you could win this fight with me because you can always fall back on "reverse sexism against men," or "it's just not good writing," and other adorable Chaddisms that are just, like, your opinion, man.

      But I have absolutely no intention of entertaining your critique, such as it is, because it's quite clear that you're whatabouting a blog post that's about positive male role models who are secure enough in their masculinity that they don't need to engage in toxic behaviors, some of which DO include: policing women's speech, mansplaining feminism to feminist writers, and some of which DON'T include: saying "fuck," writing "fuck," giffing "fuck," or flipping an actual bird.

      7. If your core takeaway from a blog post that was designed to fucking LOVE YOU was a presupposition that I choose my language in an effort to meet some feminist societal norm and you felt it was your duty to let me know that I displeased YOU, and that I therefore failed to meet a societal norm that you think is MORE IMPORTANT than the feminist societal norm, then you're fucking hip-deep in the toxic shit river and you need to grab this tree branch that I'm holding out to you instead of getting mad that I'm not smiling on the fucking shit river bank.


    2. Katie, I fucking love this. I fucking love you.

    3. I loved your response to this as much as I did your original blog post!! So much love and respect for you, girl!!!! THANK YOU!

  6. You’re awesome and hilarious and gave me the feels and the thoughts and some nice reference points for getting out of the shit river of toxic masculinity. Thanks!

  7. What about women who suffer from this and are also trying to recover? Where do they go to heal and not spread the toxicity?

  8. This is a hard concept to grasp for a lot of guys, and I'm convinced that the root problem is insecurity. Guys who are ACTUALLY SECURE don't need to dominate, or compete. But all of human history is full of guys competing. You put two toddler boys together, and they'll start arguing over whose toy truck is bigger. That's not to say this is an unachievable goal, and I love the examples you gave. But self-esteem is a bitch. I struggle with it, and that ends up with me being meek and unassertive, even though I truly believe women have every right to be assertive and strong. For guys, insecurity often means posturing, which is the kind of dickish behavior I think you're addressing. I'm only saying this because I think it's important to consider that aspect of this struggle. I love the examples you gave (and respectfully submit Hugh Jackman as another one - dude's the nicest guy, AND Wolverine). In addition, though, we need to be giving these guys another option. If they can't prove their manly worth the way they used to, how can they do it, now? Because there IS a need to prove oneself, which I do not believe is a bad thing. You can prove your worth by rescuing animals after a hurricane, for example. That's fucking HOT.