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When Traditional Norms Become Toxic

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Positive Masculinity Contributor - Dominique Lewis

Content Writer for Positive Masculinity, Technical Writer in the medical device industry

It is often common to confuse traditional masculinity for toxic masculinity, although there are distinct differences that can lead to the root cause of one or the other. When traditional is compared or contrasted with toxic, it’s important to identify whether the traits are native to the ancestry of masculine individuals or something that’s become more harmful. In a society where unhealthy, traditional masculinity is normalized, the population suffers as a result of the destructive traits that began as traditional norms. The psychological damage of learned traditional traits point to the evidence that masculine individuals suffer as a result of escalated traditional traits that became toxic. The differences between traditional and toxic masculinity will become more evident as they are explored in this piece.

- Traditional Masculinity

Traditional masculinity demonstrates generational traits of masculine leadership, a breadwinner mentality, and maintaining a stoic demeanor. These traits mostly follow in the footsteps of ancestral masculine authorities that can be familial or otherwise influential in a male’s childhood. For those who grew up with their father, that influential role could be their father as well as an uncle or brother. In the absence of familial male influences, some traditional male traits could pass on from masculine coaches, leaders, or friends. As a result, there are common themes attached to traditional masculinity that have influenced the past generations and those to come.

In the book Positive Masculinity Now, McGregor mentions, “Traditional masculinity is more old-fashioned thinking about gender roles”. He emphasizes how the label “masculine” in a traditional society appears as: “specific jobs around the house are more for one gender”. This connects to the breadwinner mentality that traditional masculinity entails. If masculine roles traditionally surround the job of provider for the family, then most non-breadwinning tasks are geared toward the non-masculine without reasoning. While attempting to be the masculine leader due to traditional expectations, a masculine individual can downplay or demean their non-masculine counterparts as well as overwhelm themselves with mental, physical, and societal pressures to appear successful. These traditional pressures could also overwhelm masculine individuals and make them undervalue themselves outside of their breadwinning role. Most male layoffs cause the masculine to feel self-doubt and hopelessness due to the burden of being the main or sole provider in the household. In both cases, the leadership role and breadwinner mentality are traditions that are played out, causing the masculine and non-masculine to suffer.

Another aspect of traditional masculinity is keeping a stoic and stable demeanor; it’s demonstrated when masculine individuals don’t seek assistance as needed. This can be a learned traditional trait from one’s ancestors and we see that a lack of communication doesn’t help improve the situation. In most cases, masculine individuals suffer silently with mental illness, substance abuse, and other psychological concerns due to repressing their emotions and keeping a stoic demeanor. This stoic mask causes the masculine to suffer as it doesn’t allow those who care about and surround these individuals to help them.

- How Traditional Turns into Toxic

Toxic masculinity exaggerates traditional traits and displays them very often, at times as aggressively dominant behaviors and repressed emotions.

McGregor describes toxic masculinity as “a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status, and aggression”. This is the limit at which boundaries are crossed and the masculine use their leadership to harm others in various forms. Traits that are traditional or generational for the masculine such as leadership toxically become dominance of those in “lesser” roles or non-leadership positions. The tradition of believing that masculine roles are leaders can become toxic if masculine roles portray masculine leadership roles in a demeaning manner and do not allow non-masculine individuals to be leaders in any task simply due to their gender.

The traditionally masculine idea that individuals must maintain emotional stability, can be burdensome and can trigger them into emotional overload. This could manifest itself in multiple toxic instances such as lashing out in aggression or shutting down in repression. Mishandling personal feelings can cause others to feel the penalty of an individual’s built-up anger. These repressed emotions prove to be detrimental to the mental health of all parties involved. In some instances, the masculine becomes verbally abusive, a toxic behavior that may display itself by putting others down in order to feel superior.

- A Call to Action

The issue of toxic masculinity remains disadvantageous while society suffers and longs for a resolution to end this cycle. There are various consequences of allowing traditional traits to acclimate and turn into dangerous toxic behaviors. Traditional traits taught for generations will only be passed down if we allow them to, and examining if these traits are beneficial or borderline toxic to our environment and family is necessary. Additionally, being accountable to a mentor, psychological professional, or positive masculine group can help steer our masculine population in a positive direction. This guidance can help improve their quality of life as well as important relationships with family and friends. As traditional masculine traits become toxic, so will our reaction to the issue if we do not look to improve the epidemic of toxic masculinity with acknowledgement, community, and change.


McGregor, M. S. (2022). Positive Masculinity Now: A Heart-Led Guide For Growth Toward a Conscious, Emotionally Intelligent & Inclusive Masculinity [Review of Positive Masculinity Now: A Heart-Led Guide For Growth Toward a Conscious, Emotionally Intelligent & Inclusive Masculinity]. Kindle/Amazon.

Focus for Health. (2019, October 23). How Toxic Masculinity Harms Men and Society As A Whole - Focus for Health. Focus for Health.

Johnson, J. (2020, June 22). Toxic masculinity: Definition, common issues, and how to fight it.

Iwamoto, D. K., Gordon, D. M., Oliveros, A., Perez-Cabello, M. A., Brabham, T., Lanza, A. S., & Dyson, W. (2012). The role of masculine norms and informal support on mental health in incarcerated men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 13(3), 283–293.

Here’s What Healthy Masculinity Looks Like, According to a Therapist. (n.d.). Retrieved July 3, 2022, from

Sheppard, S. (2020, November 12). The Dangers of Toxic Masculinity. Verywell Mind.

Neilson, E. C., Singh, R. S., Harper, K. L., & Teng, E. J. (2020). Traditional masculinity ideology, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity, and treatment in service members and veterans: A systematic review. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 21(4).

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