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Toxic Masculinity In the Workplace

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Positive Masculinity Contributor - Cami Gregoire

Comedy Content Writer for Super Purposes, Professional Writing Major, and Freelance Editor

Working with others is never perfect. Humans aren’t perfect, after all. How can we expect teamwork to go flawlessly when every single team member has flaws? Unfortunately, differences with our teammates sometimes go further than disagreeing on a font point or which graphic looks better, some co-workers can act downright toxic.

A common type of toxicity comes from society’s notions of gender, specifically of masculinity. The New York Times explains that masculine-leaning individuals are expected to have a hard exterior. This means not showing emotions, hiding distress, and using violence as a sign of power. As you can imagine, forcing your emotions into hiding and not asking for help when you are in distress takes a toll on one’s mental health. But toxic masculinity doesn’t only hurt masculine people. This blog outlines how a father’s toxic view of masculinity led him to stunt his daughter’s emotional well-being and challenge their relationship. Toxic masculinity doesn’t just exist at home, however.

- How Toxic Masculinity Can Present in the Workplace

There is no room in the workplace for toxic masculinity, but often this toxicity is present. Toxic masculinity can manifest itself through lots of behaviors. Greenhill Recovery outlines many of these forms of masculinity; however, we are only going to focus on three key behaviors that are most likely to show up in the workplace: Anti-feminist behavior, hyper-independence, and discrimination against non-heterosexual people.

Anti-feminist behavior refers to a number of habits, all of which boil down to misogyny. Sometimes the actions are overt: talking down to feminine coworkers, vocally speaking out against women’s rights, and refusing to do tasks they see as “feminine”. But it can also be more subtle; small comments such as “That’s girl stuff” and “Women belong in the kitchen,” even when said in jest, indicate that a person holds these views. These comments and beliefs can be extremely demeaning. Imagine working in an office with someone who refuses to clean the break room microwave because that’s “a job for women.” You’re working hard when this co-worker comes up to you and asks you to clean the microwave; he’s not going to do it because it is “beneath him.” Through his action, he’s implying that your work isn’t as important and that you are beneath him. You, the reader, may not be fem-presenting, but I hope this example shows how irritating and unproductive this behavior would be for a fem coworker.

Hyper-independence is when a person refuses to cooperate with others. This stems from two core beliefs that toxic masculinity encourages. Firstly, it goes back to the anti-feminist beliefs that women are simply inferior. If a masculine individual believes that women are incapable of doing as good as him, why would he co-operate with them? Secondly, it comes from the idea that a “real man” deals with things himself, no matter how impossible or distressing they might be.” Not only does this mean that masculine employees may overwork themselves, but it can lead to disrespecting their coworkers. Imagine being in a leader’s position, and one of your employees simply doesn’t listen. He does what he wants when he wants to do it. When you tell him that he can’t do something, he argues with you and then goes over your head to get what he wants. He is positive that he knows better than you, and he’s going to do his own thing. Who would want to work with someone like that? How would it make you feel to have your authority mocked and your expertise disregarded?

Lastly, we will look at discrimination against non-heterosexual people. There is no place for queer identities within toxic masculinity. Homophobia and transphobia are so connected to toxic masculinity that a cis, straight man acting as an ally is seen as not masculine through the lens of toxic masculinity. Ridicule or complete silence about the topic is the only option if you want to be seen as a “real man.” Again, even comments said in jest like “That’s gay” or “What are you, gay?” are indicative of a greater held belief that is toxic for everyone involved. If you are not queer, imagine how any gay coworkers would feel. Not only is their identity being used as an insult, but they could very well be afraid. How are they supposed to know how deep these comments are? Not everyone who makes these kinds of jokes would commit violence against queer people, but everyone who would commit that violence probably does make these jokes. You can’t tell, and so queer workers are left with the horrifying question, “Are they just joking or do they violently hate my existence?”

- How to Deal with the Behaviors

If you have ever encountered one of these behaviors at your workplace, you might be wondering what to do. Is there anything to be done when toxic masculinity is so ingrained into our society? As a matter of fact, there is.

First and foremost, the one thing that must be made clear is that doing nothing is not an option. You might not feel threatened by certain toxic behaviors or feel that you can laugh them off, but many people, especially those who are directly targeted, cannot. Even worse, many are often too afraid of violent retaliation to speak out.

If you feel safe, you should start a conversation. Most of the people who exhibit the behaviors of toxic masculinity usually don’t mean any harm. Remember, toxic masculinity is not a singularly held belief but rather a systemic idea of how men should behave. Everyone has grown up with at least some level of this. Yes, even you. Every aspect of our lives, media, parents, and teachers have taught us that this behavior is not just okay, but right. There is a good chance that perpetrators don’t even know they are being toxic because no one has ever told them. That’s why a very simple and non-confrontational solution is to respond with, “Hey, why would you say that?” or “That isn’t okay.” Engaging with empathy might sound silly. After all, they aren’t being very empathetic towards you. However, it works a lot of the time. Here is an example. Imagine a coworker jokingly says, “Have you seen the new delivery guy they hired? I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman. Maybe we should stake out the bathrooms to see which one they use!” you can respond with “That’s a very weird thing to say. Why do you need to know what bathroom they use?” In this scenario, the person has to justify what they are saying, which they obviously can’t. They could make an argument that they just want to know what pronouns to use, but a simple “Why don’t you just ask the person then?” would work as a follow-up. Take the time to look at your own conduct, as well. Have you ever said things that could be considered toxic? The answer is most likely yes, but that doesn’t make you a terrible person. Look at your actions, adjust, and help others to do the same.

If you do not feel safe speaking to the individual or you tried the method above, and they continued with their behavior, your next step is to reach out to HR. The HR department exists to deal with these exact types of situations. They may ask the individual to stop the behavior or have them go to classes to teach them how to behave in the workplace. Unfortunately, toxic masculinity is systemic. There is a chance that an HR person could throw “man up” or “boys will be boys” back at you. In that case, you need to leave. You are a person of worth; if your workplace doesn’t deal with problematic behavior, then they don’t deserve you.

- Conclusion

Most workers are going to have to deal with toxic masculinity at one point or another. It is unfortunately too ingrained into our society; however, that doesn’t mean we can just let it continue. These behaviors hurt everybody, and they will continue to hurt generations from now unless people like you take a stand against them. It doesn’t have to be a war. You can approach the situation with empathy and teach people that they don’t have to be so harsh to themselves and others. Demeaning others rarely works, and if there is no compromise to be found, you need to move on for your own mental well-being.

About the author:

My name is Cami Gregoire. I'm a comedy content writer for Super Purposes, Professional Writing major, and freelance editor, and I was given the chance to write for Positive Masculinity. I didn’t truly understand what toxic masculinity was until I entered the working world, and now I want to help others face that beast!

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