Education, Features, Feminism

Why Colleges Should Stop Teaching “Toxic Masculinity”

On college campuses across the globe, young men are treated to lectures, workshops, and extracurricular activities that teach them their masculinity — an element at the very core of their identity — is dangerous, poisonous, and even toxic.

Every week, another news article is published highlighting this fact. A few examples are particularly insightful. This semester, an incoming freshman and his peers at Gettysburg College were ordered to watch a film on toxic masculinity during student orientation.

And at both Duke University and the University of North Carolina, seminars are now offered for men to deprogram themselves of their so-called “toxic masculinity.”

For every article published highlighting a case of students being taught this ideology, there are dozens of other instances that aren’t covered by the news.

As a college student myself, I find this emerging paradigm not just unhelpful, but terrifically harmful for both the young men and women exposed to this ideology.


Unlike other terms in the feminist canon, “toxic masculinity” was never formally defined in scholarly literature. And this is confirmed by a number of Women’s Studies professors I’ve spoken with.

Instead, it’s more of a grassroots term that has been used since the 1980s and 1990s. The term may have first been popularized by early forms of the men’s advocacy movements.  (Not feminist movements, as one might expect.)

For example, one book that seeks to raise awareness of issues that men face, titled “Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity” (1994), highlighted one of the earliest examples of toxic masculinity in the literature.

“Without a “father in residence,” [men] may go through life striving towards an ideal of exaggerated, even toxic, masculinity” the author of the book, Frank Pittman, said on the topic of young men without fathers.

But while the term seems to be first popularized by grassroots writers, particularly by men seeking to raise awareness of male-specific issues, the term has recently been co-opted by the feminist establishment as a way to scapegoat, blame, and denigrate men as a whole.


In the college classroom, toxic masculinity is presented to students as a reality that affects all men, and is harmful to all women.

Most often, this is in Women’s Studies or Sociology classes, and it reflects the broader patriarchal framework of viewing men as dangerous and women as helpless victims.

When this is taught, no counter arguments are given, and there’s never any mention that this is actually a theory about the manifestations of masculinity as opposed to truth.

Or, at least, that’s how it’s been presented to me in my own classes; other students I’ve talked from American Universities agree.

Teaching men that the core of their identity is somehow rotten isn’t productive. Many men have written to me saying that the term makes them angry, or confused, as many feel it lumps all men in with the rotten apples.

Furthermore, use of the term is likely to make gender-relations worse. One man I know described teaching toxic masculinity as “the mental castration of men” and suggested it was seeking to create a class of “males submissive to Marxist-feminist doctrine.” Another suggested it was “women’s way of stereotyping men” and that he felt “resentful of being viewed in that way.”

Not only does teaching this hurt men, but it hurts women too.

Many feminists enjoy the “toxic masculinity” framework, because it allows them to contextualize all of the bad experiences they’ve had with men under a broad umbrella.

For women, lamenting toxic masculinity is the best way to blame men as a class without directly pointing the finger.

But when women can blame all men for the bad deeds of another, it reinforces the oppressor-victim paradigm that helps to make women feel oppressed in the first place.

And if masculinity is really toxic, then what’s the remedy? “This PC gender politics thing — the way gender is being taught in the universities — in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness” said Camille Paglia in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Indeed, this does seem like the neutralization of maleness, as Paglia claims. Or at the very least, a way to undercut what makes men essentially men.

The feminist bureaucrats and apparatchiks lurking in the halls of the Ivory Tower may have good intentions, but good intentions don’t always translate to good policy, practice, and outcomes. Teaching men that the core of their identity is poisonous is a perverse and cruel way for feminists to try and settle the playing field.


Toni Airaksinen is a Junior at Barnard College in Manhattan. She is a reporter for Campus Reform and The College Fix and a former columnist for The Columbia Spectator. She Tweets @Toni_Airaksinen

Filed under: Education, Features, Feminism


Toni Airaksinen is a reporter for Campus Reform, The College Fix, and Red Alert Politics. She is a junior at Barnard College in Manhattan.


  1. William says

    As an American male, I learned long ago educated American women consider men who show them casual social interest are sexual predators; unless the woman has preconceived romantic interest. And the man will usually be considered a sexual predator ex post facto if she or he breaks a relationship. The solution for American men is to find educated women for romantic relationships and marriage from cultures which do not consider men inherent sexual predators; women who understand men intrinsicly want loving relationships, women who enjoy the attention of men. Such American educated women became extinct 30 years ago; college education has much to do with the extinction.

      • Quite a vast generalization, I don’t think this ideology has fully penetrated the students in our universities quite yet. It’s certainly the only vocalized ideological doctrine coming out of universities today. I think that it’s still hedonism being the significant ideology of the student body it’s just that a growing portion of them are under the influence of this ideology that are trying to become an authority on how people are seen and how people should act when they’re pursuing pleasure.

        It’s always interesting when someone like Ben Shapiro is invited to speak at one campus or another, and we get to see the dogmatists of feminism and social justice try to no-platform him, it seems that they’re afraid that they will have to compete for the minds of the student body.

        It’s certainly very concerning that some universities are at the point of making workshops like these mandatory, never mind just having them in the form described here in the first place, I’m not aware of anything like this at my university though.

    • Whilst I wasn’t very aware of the situation being as you describe it at the time, in my university years I found myself quite frustrated with my female peers and their worldviews regarding such relations. In the end I did exactly as you suggest and married someone from what might have been considered a less PC-infested culture and things have gone well ever since.

      • Micha Elyi says

        Less taxpayer funding for colleges and their fees, fewer female dilettantes around to feed toxic colleges.

    • Dude your comment made me wanna do push ups and cut down trees. Thank you for making my week

    • Eddie says

      You know why hassle with American women as you what is expected outcome. Thai Malaysian Korean Japanese Javanese and Indonesian. So much the better option.

  2. This is a minor issue so long as there are spiders, mice and snakes in this world.

  3. Perhaps I have misunderstood what I have been taught, but the idea of toxic masculinity is much more tame and reasonable than taking it literally as ‘masculinity is toxic’.

    Toxic masculinity describes the cultural phenomenon to over exaggerate the traits of one side of the human sex, and the detriment it can have on those exhibiting it.

    Some examples:
    1) The ‘masculine’ trait that ‘Real Men Never Cry’, and the damaging effects it can have in interpersonal relationships and the emotional developmental traits it is known to cause in young boys.

    2) Men must be interested in sex and want to have sex all the time. If not, there is something wrong with the man. This can extend into assumptions about the man’s heterosexuality. Obviously potentially damaging to any man incapable of sex or not interested in sex.

    Anyways, my understanding was not that ‘masculinity is toxic’, but that ‘expected masculinity can be toxic’.

    The pervasive nature of the expected masculine stereotypes can cause real damage to the young boys and men in society subject to them.

    • “Real Men Never Cry’, and the damaging effects it can have in interpersonal relationships and the emotional developmental traits it is known to cause in young boys.”

      1) That sentiment means male friendships are more stable. It improves their ability to cooperate in large groups. It means they are less vulnerable. Trade-offs. Compare, for example, female co-rumination and anxiety. (You may want to take a look at the drama surrounding this election, especially its results.)

      2) “Men must be interested in sex and want to have sex all the time.” Silly exaggeration. And again, valuing status, performance, and success has advantages.

    • Let’s take your #2, as it’s interesting.

      Universities are making men taking these classes with the implication that all men are like this. Further, they are reinforcing that stereotype with women. It’s nothing more than bigotry.

      Let’s flip the script and see how it sounds, shall we?

      Let’s pretend universities were making women take classes on toxic femininity. In this class women are told that gold digging and false rape accusations are unacceptable. Mind you, at some universities, this is a required course.

      Are you starting to get an idea about how offensive and bigoted these requirements are?

      • “In this class women are told that gold digging and false rape accusations are unacceptable.”

        I was taught it with the idea being ‘toxic ‘ is to teach that the stereotypical qualities of “manliness” or “womanliness” can cause damage to those in society that do not feel the need or want to match up to stereotypes.

        In that vein, I thought it was a damn good lesson, and that we should look at the stereotypes present in society about the sexes and do away with them.

        If the opposite of what I’ve quoted is what is truly being taught in Universities in the US, my goodness, that’s just fucking terrible.

        • altair says

          Notice how Mitchell evaded the question about whether a class teaching women not to be gold diggers or make false accusations would be OK.

          Would it be OK to teach girls and women that toxic femininity is making false accusations of rape, being gold diggers and throwing babies in dumpsters, Mitchell?

          • huh? Toxic femininity would be the idea that if you love to wrestle or you don’t want babies then you’re not a REAL woman. And it’s fine to use that term – women are put under pressure like that all the time. The toxic aspect is about putting people in a box when they shouldn’t have to be. It’s damaging because there is lots of evidence that if you repress stuff or don’t act like your natural self it can be unhealthy – you take it out on yourself or on others. You’re a straight guy who wants to grow a beard and chop trees? fine, whatever, go do it. You’re a straight guy who wants to wear skinny jeans and sew theater costumes? fine, whatever, go do it.

            Really unclear as to where the gold diggers and dumpster baby thing came from.

      • John M says

        Implying women are taught to be gold diggers and falsely accuse men of rape is definitely dumb. You reinforced his point.

    • THANK YOU. Toxic masculinity is not that the effects of masculinity are toxic, it is that the preconceived idea that you must adhere to strict guidelines is.

    • Thank you… it was getting frustrating seeing this misconception repeated in the comments. There is masculinity and then there’s TOXIC masculinity. Two separate things. Masculinity is great. Toxic Masculinity is damaging. The point is… each man should define masculinity for themselves. Every man is a REAL man.

    • Men have been allowed to cry since I was in junior high back in the 90s, and the sex thing has been on a downward trend for a long time. Face facts – those are two cliches that are being mined in the name of social justice, and they’ll be continued to be mined as long as boys can said to have a higher sex drive or aren’t demonstrating enough emotional fragility. It’s sick.

      • Taylor says

        “Toxic femininity” as you put it is easier for women to see than toxic masculinity is for men. As women have been historically oppressed and have grown from that past, they can generally see the gender norms and expectations that they’ve had to deal with (such as not being allowed in STEM fields or to wear pants). Men, however, are not as aware because they generally haven’t had to fight off oppression in the way women had. Thus, they can’t see the self-imposed oppression of toxic masculinity nearly as easily. So to answer your question, I don’t think toxic femininity workshops would be necessary because women in general are already aware of the toxic expectations placed upon them and have been fighting to thrown them off (example: essentially any feminist movement/campaign). But as toxic masculinity hasn’t been as oppressing to men as toxic femininity has been to women, men haven’t recognized toxic masculinity on the scale that women have recognized toxic femininity. Essentially, both toxic masculinity and toxic feministy stem from gender expectations, which, as men have historically held positions of power, have been enforced by men.

        • Taylor says

          I think I was wrong here on my understanding of toxic femininity and toxic masculinity. I was thinking more on the terms of gender expectations as a whole, but I now think that toxic masculinity and toxic feminity are expectations imposed and propagated by one gender on itself (though probably influenced by the other gender to some degree)…so the examples that men shouldn’t cry, be nurturing, etc, would work as examples of toxic masculinity under this understanding, but examples of it for women would be more along the lines of emotional manipulation and physical appearance expectations (body image, makeup). Personally, I’ve attended seminars about how women treat each other and create enviornments that could be considered examples of toxic femininity (such as high schools or workplaces).

  4. styrgwillidar says

    Women’s studies and sociology departments today are teaching material as fact which is pure conjecture, with no factual basis or research to validate the conjecture. Most of it generated to pad C.V.s in the ‘publish or perish’ paradigm of modern academia.

    Most of it the conjecture of the mentally unstable, if not outright deranged.

    Any young man contemplating college should be going for a specific degree to achieve specific career/life goals. Avoid the identity politics intellectual desert other than mandatory requirements and view it as the intellectual desert that it is.

    Focus your efforts on your core courses, preferably in STEM, and be grateful for the sanity and intellectual basis for them. A very interesting contrast with the lunacy you will have observed in the identity politics indoctrination courses.

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  6. Would have been interesting to compare and link (the concepts, rhetorics, and manipulation of) “toxic masculinity” and “fragile masculinity”,

  7. Jonathan says

    The Catch-22 is: one cannot simultaneously be a man and care what feminists believe. The very act of obsessing about, or seeking the approval of, those who propagate the “Toxic Masculinity” theme, is emasculating.

    Do not live in conformance to feminists, and don’t live in rebellion against them. Be politely but firmly oblivious to them and keep on keeping on. Find male role models whose behavior you admire, then seek to emulate them in any way that makes you a better man.

    • To say men are not men if they care what feminists believe is quite fallacious. Ideas about masculinity are certainly important in defining a gender roll that will keep society in balance, but the flagrant, all out attack on the simple concept of masculinity is what is going to cause utter chaos and confusion in so many men.

      It would be acceptable if they were preaching against bad ideas of what it is to be masculine possibly including attributes such as violent, domineering, arrogant etc. But they are not.

      What they are doing is acting as an ideological movement in constant need of media attention, stirring up controversy (which the media happily exploits for more viewers and thus bigger profit margins), coming up with contrived illogical justification for extremist attitudes that only serve to polarize men and women. The focus should have changed long ago to defining good ideals for femininity that would contribute to a healthy and stable society, whilst being mature and of equal responsibility to men. What seems to be occurring is the attempt to redefine the masculine role to something more subservient to the feminine.

      Also notice that where these same feminists do try to reach any consensus on defining what feminine ideals should be they practically never succeed, only reaching a conclusion of complete permissiveness except in situations where posed ideals contradict disunity with men. They generally see any union with a man where there are agreed rules placed on what each partner can do in the relationship as something that the man is imposing on the women and thus sexism rather than something each individual has volunteered to commit them self to.

      I’d implore any man as disgusted as I am of what the feminist movement has become to see that to attempt to become the ideological opposite will only feed a fire that could end up tearing apart the relationship men and women can hold with any sort of stability and thus the stability of our society as a whole.

      What would be interesting is what would happen if level-headed men started vocalizing what qualities they see as the ideal feminine, in a manner that didn’t implicate them as sexists in any way at all to the rationals person but provoked outraged from this crowd of extremist feminists. The public discourse might quickly turn if pulled off successfully, but I wouldn’t be surprised if character assassinations, misquotes and hyperbole made that near impossible, the media generally takes the sides of the feminists regardless of the rationality, or irrationality, of their arguments.

    • Donald says

      To declare something “emasculating” other than having your junk physically cut off, says more about the weakness, and narrowness of your ideas of manhood than about whatever mere words “emasculated” you.

  8. Agree with Mitchell – to talk about toxic masculinity isn’t necessarily to imply that all masculinity is toxic, even though there are plenty of people who use the phrase in that way.

    It’d be great to see more emphasis on the varieties of masculinity that are worth emulating. It’s become a liberal trope to talk about “masculinity in crisis”. If the media outlets flogging that particular horse switched to emphasising male role models who are kind, inclusive, strong, autonomous, supportive, etc, I feel they could have a genuinely positive effect on their male readership.

  9. Can we stop calling it toxic masculinity? The term is Machismo. Perfectly describes the behavior without alienating the gender that needs to cautioned about it from the get-go.

    • altair says

      What about toxic femininity? If the male term is Machismo, would the female term be Feminismo? Femaleismo?

      What parts of femininity should we caution women about? Perhaps teach them not to make false rape accusations or throw babies into dumpsters?

      • I would consider things like seeing other women as lesser because of certain traits would be something that could be denominated as toxic femininity.

      • Taylor says

        Toxic [femininity/masculinity] is the harmful side of gender expectations, such as men being expected not to cry and to “man up” or women being expected to be submissive or less capable than men in certain fields.

        Additionally, I think the issue of false rape accusations is a lot smaller than the issue of rape (smaller as in number of times it occurs). If women were never raped, then rape accusations and thus false rape accusations would never be an issue.

        • DaveyC says

          Actually it’s not. ‘Equality’ is the cure for any form of gender-derived “toxicity”. Calling anything toxic automatically categorises it as an incurable smite on humanity whereas the machismo/feminism ideologies, whilst extremely negative in their rightful places (historic/modern), are the true enemies of progress and gender-blindness. Labelling one as inherently pernicious and the other as progressive suggests a toxicity in itself. Personally, replacing male support-structures with a framework that suggests “you are toxic because you’re male” will promote suicidal tendencies rather than emotional growth. The terms that must be used MUST suggest positivity and only then will progress be made and cross-gender respect be promoted.

  10. nicky says

    It is quite simple. Males will generally do whatever females want in order to copulate.
    However, (again generally) the young males that buy into the feminist rethoric do worse in that field than the macho ‘douchebags’. In other words, it is rethoric and not real, since most females go for the moderate -and not always that moderate- macho. Hence ‘toxic masculinity’ (whatever the precise meaning) is a little plant grown by female choice, not by feminist ideology.

    • Yeah Nope says

      “Hence ‘toxic masculinity’ (whatever the precise meaning) is a little plant grown by female choice, not by feminist ideology.”

      Well said, but feminists will never admit this reality. Male activity and male traits are the direct result of thousands of years of men doing whatever was necessary to gain access to women. This paradigm has not changed, it drives the seeming incongruity of women continuing to engage with men, that based on the feminist narrative should be genetic dead ends, and the ’emotionally open’ men feminists deem superior, yet are virtual vaginal desiccants.

      The paradigm only appears incongruous until it’s accepted that the traits feminists have deemed ‘toxic’, are the very traits which gain men access to women, because those are the traits to which women are attracted. Stoicism (control of emotional state), dominance (social and physical), aggression (physical and sexual), etc. These are not ‘social constructs’, they are not products of culture as feminists claim, but are evolutionary traits, which are actually restrained by society and culture.

  11. N says

    Oddly people are upset that boys are not flirting chasing or coupling. When you teach boys they are essentially hated and girls it is OK to bad mouth all men all the time, you have to ask what was expected. Hate is hate and well boys have every reason to see all women as to not be trusted because that is what flows.

  12. Malloreigh says

    I never realized womens studies or how their renamed these days, gender studies were a course requirement at any university, never mind all of them! but wow, yeah point to one example of a video you don’t disagree with being played at one freshmen orientation and say men are being taught to hate themselves and this feminist indoctrination has got to stop! sure yeah right buddy.

  13. Insidious_Sid says

    Masculinity is not toxic. But feminism and their regressive liberal SJW pals… they’re not just toxic. They’re cancer.

    Signed A guy.
    Gender: Male
    Sex: Male

    PS Call me ‘dudebro’ and I’ll come to your safe space with my Trump shirt on while eating a baby-seal meat sandwich.

  14. TomTiTom says

    Obvously, the author didn’t really try to understand what “toxic masculinity” is supposed to mean.
    He is just using the world to bitch about feminism.

    ‘Toxic masculinity ‘is about stereotypes that can cause real damage to boys and men. I.e. that men have to prove that they are real men by showing no feelings, having hard sex, not understanding woman etc.
    Like, when the guys in my scholl beat up the queer kid to show how manly they are.

  15. kwill016 says

    Toxic masculinity doesn’t even exist. There is not even evidence to even suggest it might. What people call “toxic masculinity” is really the result of natural selection, personality differences and higher levels of testosterone. Why are we shaming men for who they are?

  16. Bunny says

    As someone who was beaten up and used as scapegoat by a misogynist father,told I could not take shop because I was female, sexually harassed at after school job, , told I should just get married and have kids by the head of the physics department I was studying at, survived having passes made at me by professors, I also survived an assault by a roidhead hopped up on grain alcohol at a restaurant near campus. You want to talk the ENTIRE CULTURE is based on toxic are soaking in it. ..I don’t even consider myself a feminist, but I can see how women are viewed as objects, especially on screen. We live in a very sick culture..if you can even call the pathetic over sexualized marketing product we are inundated with a “culture”.

  17. The focus of the conversation should be on misogyny, not the nature of the man himself. It is misogyny and misogynist thought that leads to all of the above problems.

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  19. Tom Golden says

    Great article Toni. It did tickle me that many in the comments assumed you were a man. lol Oh, those terrible men just trying to brush away toxic masculinity. Thanks for your clarity and courage.

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