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The History of the Term ‘Toxic Masculinity’

In his book Of Boys and Men, researcher Richard Reeves notes that until around 2015, the phrase “toxic masculinity” was just mentioned a few times in academic articles. But by 2017, there were thousands of mentions, mostly in the mainstream media.

The term is almost never defined, and is instead used to simply signal disapproval. Lacking a consistent definition, the phrase now refers to any male behavior that the user disapproves of, from the tragic to the trivial. It has been blamed, among other things, for mass shootings, gang violence, online trolling, climate change, the financial crisis, and an unwillingness to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lumping together terrorists and delinquents, the phrase ultimately poisons the very idea of masculinity itself. The book contains interviews from dozens of adolescent boys about what they like about being a boy. Most boys couldn’t even answer the question. One college sophomore told the author, “That’s interesting. I never thought about that. You hear a lot more about what is wrong with guys.”

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