The term toxic masculinity has been around for years but has truly reached its zenith in 2019. Enter Meryl Streep.
On one hand, having a national conversation about what we're teaching our boys about manhood is far overdue. But there has been a sizable backlash to the term as well.
Some people have perceived it as an attack on all things masculine while others have pointed out the potential irony of having women explain the proper expression of masculinity during a time when overbearing men are being criticized for "mansplaining" to women.
But for those paying close attention, it's clear there's a positive path forward that has nothing to do with shaming men. In fact, it's about saving them. And saving all of us from the fallout of dangerous and unhealthy behavior.
The distinction is perhaps best illustrated in Gillette's viral video in January, addressing toxic masculinity doesn't have to be about shaming men. Instead, it's about showing men how to be their best selves while honoring what it means to be a man.
However, things got a little bit complicated when acclaimed actress Meryl Street recently weighed in on the debate, saying she doesn't think the term is helpful.
"It's toxic people," Streep said while promoting her latest film, Suffragette.
Streep said she sees two underlying problems with the term toxic masculinity. First, she's concerned that it's an unhelpful label to broadly paste onto an entire gender, saying, it's "less helpful" than constructive dialogue.
"Sometimes I think we're hurt. We hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity. I do, she said." "We're all on the boat together. We've got to make it work."
However, her more controversial remarks came when Streep seemingly equated the bad behavior exhibited across gender lines, when she added, "Women can be pretty fucking toxic."
Does Streep have a point? Surely it's a noble goal to address all forms of harmful or toxic behavior. But to some people, she was missing the point entirely, much like when there was a conservative backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement centered on "All Lives Matter."
Regardless of whether or not you agree with Streep's comments, she's nudging people toward a deeper understanding of what toxic masculinity really means. It's not an attack on men. If it were, I'd be pretty foolish to be writing so many articles defending the movement toward more positive and constructive definitions of masculinity.
At the same time, there is value in Streep's point of view. It's a safe bet that if someone broke down the true definition of toxic masculinity, she would agree. Those on the far right who are looking to her as a new spokesperson against evolving cultural norms are going to find themselves very disappointed when they learn what Streep truly values.
And calling out toxic masculinity doesn't negate toxic behavioral patterns from women or any other gender.
It simply means men are often victim to and far too often become the perpetrators of toxic cultural conditioning that can lead to everything from health problems to real-world violence.
No serious voices in the discussion are asking men to stop being men. And no one in their right mind wants Meryl Streep to stop being her excellent self. Let's have a discussion about toxic masculinity that isn't afraid to get uncomfortable when necessary. We'll all be better off for it.
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