Unlearning toxic masculinity can be difficult. Here are a few role models who can help.

We talk a lot about toxic masculinity.

It seems like people are starting to confound the meaning of the term.

"Oh, so you're saying that masculinity is TOXIC," they say. "That's SEXIST against MEN," they say.


To them I say: Stop being willfully obtuse.

If I said, "Whoa, 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.

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

Same thing with men.

So listen up:

No, not all forms of masculinity are toxic. But yes, some are.

Here's what can look like:

  • Repression of feelings like sadness, fear, insecurity, and the related behaviors like crying, hiding, or talking about feelings. Example: "Boys don't cry! Be a man!"
  • Over-expression of anger through behaviors that are violent, erratic, and intended to dominate. Example: "What'd you say? You can't talk to me like that! *punches*)"
  • Need to be strong, dominant, and alpha, and fear of expressing "weakening" feelings or behaviors like affection, vulnerability, tenderness, kindness, gentleness, grief. Example: "My wife just had a baby. Whatever, let's close the deal.
  • Sexual entitlement and violence. Example: "You know you want this."
  • Transference of responsibility for feelings, actions, and consequences to women. Example: "You just made me so mad."
  • Mocking or rejecting men who do not adhere to these "dominant," "alpha male" standards of behavior. Example: "Don't be a fag, Mike. Hey, everybody, look at Mike — he's all butthurt like a little girl."
  • Extreme fragility, because a man is told 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.
  • Passing on these behaviors and attitudes to their kids. Devastatingly.

But again, not all masculinity is toxic. So what does this nontoxic masculinity look like?

It's harder to figure out how to be something if you don't know what that something looks like. That's why, today, I want to talk about role models for the next generation of young male feminists.

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

They are …

1. Terry Crews/Terry Jeffords

He's masculine ...

GIF from "Friday After Next."

... but nontoxic!

This man is a mountain of dancing muscle. He looks like someone's "Ultimate Tough Guy" drawing come to life. His character on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Terry Jeffords, is ripped, shredded, and doesn't take shit. He's a boss.

GIF from "Conan."

He's not violent. Terry the character is fearful of violence and isn't afraid to express it. He shows love, affection, vulnerability. He's into his family and farmers markets.

And Terry the man has trusted us with the story of his own sexual assault.

Talk about strong. Talk about brave. Talk about vulnerable. Talk about empathetic. Talk about emotional availability.

2. The "Queer Eye" crew

They're masculine ...

GIF from "Queer Eye."

... but nontoxic!

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.

GIF from "Queer Eye."

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, but they do it anyway. It's incredibly beautiful to see.

3. Lin-Manuel Miranda

He's masculine ...

GIF from "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

... but nontoxic!

Rich, powerful, and successful, Lin-Manuel, creator of "Hamilton: An American Musical," is a rapper from NYC, a father of two, and a certified genius.

GIF from "The 2016 Tony Awards."

Dude, you can't find a clip or a tweet of this guy not feeling all the feelings. He cries more than I do. 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 never his punchline.

4. Chris Evans/Captain America

He's masculine ...

GIF from "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

(Uhh ... no explanation necessary.)

... but nontoxic!

GIF from "The Hollywood Reporter."

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 dick in a show on Broadway, and he did exactly what a nontoxic male ally should do: acknowledge that it's hard to learn and emphasize the importance of shutting the hell up when it's not your turn to talk.

And so many more!

Mr. Rogers. Barack Obama. The coach from "Friday Night Lights."

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 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-Manuel, and so many others, and be a man who is strong, brave, kind, good, sweet, gentle, sad, weepy, fearful.

Be human, is what I'm saying.

Your full humanity is available to you. Right now. Your identity as a man is inextricably linked to the full breadth of your human experience. You just have to be willing to let it out.

Your worth isn't dependent on being stronger than everyone else in the room. You're the person who decides its volume, its integrity. 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 OK to cry. I cry, too."

Choose nontoxic masculinity.

It exists. Some pretty kickass guys are rocking it really hard — right in front of you.

This story originally appeared on The Good Men Project and is reprinted here with permission.

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