It is apparently defined as the expressions of masculinity that are detrimental to men themselves and to society in general. Violence, domination, detachment. The kind of traits that you see both in the conqueror, the violent offender and your average college jock. Recently, I have seen a lot of men talking about it. But the general discourse around this toxicity is a bit weird. I don’t disagree with the notion that certain traits usually associated with men are sometimes really annoying or even dangerous. Young men are after all, the most volatile part of society. They are the ones who break cars, slash tires, burn trash cans and rape women. They are the part of the population who get agitated first during political unrest. and it is mostly young men join the ranks of terrorist organizations. Masculinity can be quite dangerous.
However, even if this part of masculinity is dangerous, I don’t think it is to be changed. What characterises men is the tendency to go toward the extreme and it is a force that we have. The metaphor I have for that is Cúchulainn, the Irish Hero. He is known for the tale of his fight against the giant coalition of four Irish kingdoms, alone, to defend Ulster. One characteristic of this hero is that, in certain circumstances, he would be transformed through a process called “Riastrad” (or warp-spasm). He would then assume a monstrous form, putting him at the paroxysm of his power and granting him the strength to destroy entire armies. Here is a description of his transformation:
The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front… On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child… he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane couldn’t probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull; the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his lungs and his liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram’s fleece reached his mouth from his throat… The hair of his head twisted like the tangle of a red thorn-bush stuck in a gap; if a royal apple tree with all its kingly fruit were shaken above him, scarce an apple would reach the ground but each would be spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.
(translated from Irish by Thomas Kinsella)
This fact about Cúchulainn always fascinated me. He is presented as a beautiful young man in most of the text and he is also really young (he dies at the age of 17). There is even a passage in the “Cattle Raid of Cooley” where right after being admired by a group of young women, he transforms into a monster to kill a group of men from a foreign country. Despite all that, Cúchulainn is the defender of Ulster in the tale. Both as a beautiful young man, able to weep and mourn the death of his best friend (whom he defeats in a dual after desperately trying to dissuade him from fighting) and as a monster able to single-handedly defeat an army. Sure enough, this is only a myth, but myth tell something about society. Violence, toxicity, these things are not absolutely bad. Even if there is such a thing as Toxic masculinity, even a toxin has a purpose. Snakes use neurotoxin to defend themselves and we make use of sharp tools in our day-to-day lives.
Toxic masculinity is a part of masculinity. It is not something to be excised but something to be consciously controlled and used by men for the sake of society.