Brendan Kwiatkowski, who is a Ph.D in Education, talks about how the term 'toxic masculinity' is more harmful than it is solution-oriented.
"Toxic masculinity" is a term that despite being seemingly helpful is also thrown around casually without much thought to what it defines. Brendan Kwiatkowski, a Ph.D. scholar in Education, takes to his TikTok account to share that the term used to define toxic male behavior shouldn't be "toxic masculinity." He suggests a pre-existing term that is more relevant and can be used to accurately define what falls under the bandwidth of "toxic masculinity". In his TikTok video, Kwiatkowski, the gender and education teacher, spoke about the correct way to approach conversations regarding gender expectations, keeping in mind the societal pressure that is put on young boys.
Kwiatkowski in his video, went on to add the reasons why does he not like or use the term "toxic masculinity." Before going ahead, he explicitly stated that he doesn't dislike this term because he is personally offended by it. For him, it is the fact that this term does not identify the root problem clearly and in fact, makes finding a solution for the same more difficult. On his website Re:Masculine, he states that "masculinity is not inherently harmful. There is nothing wrong with men liking stereotypical masculine things. However, some beliefs and behaviors associated with masculinity are harmful. It is harmful if the masculinity you embody is rigid and disconnects you from your emotions, ignores the need for community, and seeks to control others."
He broke down the problematic aspects of masculinity into three subsets. He said, "We have restricting your emotions, needing to be self-reliant, and needing to be dominant." Kwiatkowski further added, "Is it safe to say that these three things are toxic? No, not all the time, especially the first two. I'm happy to concede that the third one is pretty consistently problematic, so I'm not gonna defend that." He then said that while people do not generally do things that are harmful by choice, they can choose to do so as a means to adapt to their surroundings, In fact, it can also be because such things are protective to them in nature. During his research with young boys and teens, he realized that they often restrict their emotions or become self-reliant as a means of survival or protection. By doing so, they end up putting their own needs second.
Contrary to this, his research also showcased how the masculine self-reliance in some boys ended up helping them "reject other masculine peer pressures." He said, "So I think the label 'toxic masculinity' obscures all of this important complexity. The better question to ask is, when can some behaviors and beliefs associated with masculinity be harmful? My simplest answer is when it disconnects you from your authentic selves or dehumanizes others." And that is why, he prefers the term "restrictive masculinity." Coined by Dr. James O'Neil in 2015, Kwiatkowski finds this term to be more inclusive and solution-oriented. He believes, "The term identifies what can be harmful and offers a clear path forward toward less restriction.
As per Kwiatkowski, using "restrictive masculinity" shifts the focus away from "demonizing masculinity as a whole and identifies certain limitations or constraints placed on men." While some attributes associated with toxic masculinity include leadership qualities like confidence and assertiveness, only when used with empathy and inclusivity will these attributes break stereotypes and walk a step towards betterment.