From A to Z: Sugar, Salt, and Toxic Masculinity

A: “Hey, have you heard of this concept of toxic masculinity?”
Z: “Oh, yeah, I have, but I’m not really sure what it means. I’ve seen on Facebook people talk about it. Some folks are like, ‘It’s when boys are told that they shouldn’t cry.’ But then I see other folks say that it’s trying to shame men for being men.”
A: “Yeah, I’ve seen that too. I’ve been thinking that people aren’t on the same page when they talk about it. I think it’s because of adjectives.”
Z: “Adjectives? What do you mean?”
A: “Well, when some people hear ‘toxic masculinity’, they think that people are linking the two together. It’s like saying ‘sweet sugar’. All sugar is inherently sweet. So in the same way, it sounds like ‘toxic masculinity’ is saying that all masculinity is inherently toxic.”
Z: “Huh, OK.”
A: “But I think other people are saying ‘toxic masculinity’ is a type of masculinity, different from other types. So it’s like ‘salt’. There’s many different kinds of salt. There’s table salt, bath salt, Epsom salt, road salt. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a salt. Salt of Saturn is a salt that can cause lead poisoning. If you use the wrong kind of salt in cooking, you can kill people.”
Z: “So you’re saying that when some people are saying ‘toxic masculinity’, they’re saying that not all expressions of masculinity are bad, but that some are?”
A: “Right. So there’s ‘toxic masculinity’, which is like ‘salt of Saturn’, and can poison people. But then there’s good kinds of salt, like table salt.”
Z: “In that case, when someone uses the phrase, ‘toxic masculinity’, what do they mean?”
A: “It really depends. Some may be saying that all expressions of masculinity are bad. Others may be saying that some, but not all, expressions of masculinity are bad, like those that lead to men sexually assaulting women. You can’t really tell which one someone is using unless you ask them what they mean.”
Z: “Then if someone uses the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’, I should ask them ‘What do you mean by that?’ before reacting?”
A: “Yeah, I would say so. That’s generally a good idea in conversation, anyway.”

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