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Toxic Masculinity: What it Is and Why It's Harmful

The word toxic sounds bad and it is.

Toxic waste, toxic shock, toxic hazardous materials, toxic debts, are just a few of the things that come to mind with the mention of the word. It basically means poisonous or very harmful.

Masculinity sounds good because it is good.

Strong men are important in many ways. The strength doesn’t necessarily need to be physical, though. Character, integrity, honesty, and a gentle spirit are exceptional qualities found in a strong man.

The combination of the two words means pretty much what you might think – a man’s behavior, or attitude of entitlement, to display harmful behavior (mainly toward women).

An image comes to mind of a cartoon caveman carrying a big club with one hand and pulling a woman around by her hair with the other. It’s a terrible depiction of a man, but sadly, some men treat women in abusive ways and vice versa.

This is nothing new. We’ve always struggled with sin from the beginning of time. Even in the garden of Eden – it was easier to blame someone else instead of taking responsibility for the actions that brought all of us down. It’s easier to point a finger at someone worse than we are than to take a good look in the mirror at our own bad behavior. 

One example of a man suffering from toxic masculinity in the Bible is Nabal. He’s described as surly, mean, and wicked. He hurled insults and was an abusive husband to Abigail. We don’t see specific physical violence toward her in 1 Samuel 25:1-44, but she has nothing nice to say about him when she speaks with King David.

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name – his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. 1 Samuel 25:23-25

Soon after this, the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.

David is the complete opposite of Nabal, and was a man after God’s own heart. He wasn’t perfect but humble and honored God with his life through obedience.

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22 

The difference between Nabal and David is striking. God takes the life of the wicked, surly man and gives his wife to the obedient man. Something to consider regarding how God feels toward an oppressive, wicked, and selfish.

Here are three truths about toxic masculinity:

1. The root cause is not the root of the problem.

The root cause of toxic masculinity goes back to a time when men needed to use their brute physical strength for survival, dominance, and hunting. Survival of the fittest and all that. Strength was necessary to get what one wanted.

Times have changed, but some of the toxic attitudes haven’t changed. We no longer live in the stone age. Men no longer need to be aggressive or show dominance for survival. They’re no longer cavemen. Thank goodness. Nowadays, this attitude of toxic masculinity is generally learned and poisonous, just like its name.

The world needs strong men, but the root problem is human flesh.

What’s in a person’s heart eventually comes out of their mouth. When we’re around other people spewing toxic venom, it doesn’t take long for it to have an effect. Especially if we have no spiritual defense and if it’s been ingrained by our upbringing or peers.

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Matthew 12:34

A person’s thoughts determine how they feel and eventually lead to the same type of behavior. When a person believes he must act a certain way to gain man points, then the world has more influence over him than the One who created him. He cares more about what people think than what God thinks. He’s been influenced by those around him and allowed them to shape his attitudes and poison his heart.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:7

2. Toxic masculinity is abusive.

It’s one thing to have a bad attitude. Everyone does at times in life.

It’s a whole other thing when destructive, toxic masculinity affects others. Some form of abuse may result. It’s extremely damaging to the one on the receiving end and completely unacceptable.

Sadly, a person in an abusive relationship with a toxic person may not even know it. They can grow accustomed to being abused, and it can feel normal. Especially if they grew up in a home where abuse was present.

Physical abuse is usually obvious. But other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse, can be tricky. We may not realize what we’ve experienced is emotional abuse. Especially if it’s the norm. We may just think something isn’t right.

If we question our relationship and whether it is abusive, it could be. We can extend grace to them as God lavished grace upon us but that doesn’t mean we continue to allow ourselves to be abused.

We can love without being involved. Seek God and help from wise others.

He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. Psalm 72:14

3. Toxic masculinity reflects the heart.

A person displaying toxic behavior doesn’t realize the real problem. Maybe they don’t even think there’s anything wrong with their behavior. But the truth is their heart is the problem.

They need is a new one.

A spiritual heart transplant can only come through Jesus Christ. Surrendering to Him and deciding to stop doing things the wrong way and start doing things God’s way. True change will come through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Then they will change though it may take time.

The truth is we can’t make another person stop being toxic. Only God can.

We can change ourselves and our own offensive behavior but not the behavior of others.

Sometimes, we must make hard decisions when we have a toxic person in our life. We can stop the poison from affecting us by keeping them at a distance. Allow them to work on themselves and most importantly, allow God to have His way in the toxic person’s life and that may not include our presence.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13

Truth be told, we’re all a bit toxic. We’re all poisoned with sin. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else. Eventually, we’ll become familiar with what’s within us that’s slowly killing us and reach out to the only One with the true strength to heal and save us.

Jesus.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

***If you are in an abusive relationship, please get help: https://www.thehotline.org/

The national domestic violence hotline hours are 24/7. Call 800-799-7233 or Text START to 88788.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/wildpixel 


Melinda Eye CooperMelinda Eye Cooper grew up in the Missouri Ozarks but lives near Nashville, Tennessee. She and her husband have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and three beautiful granddaughters – and a spunky dog named Lincoln!

Melinda writes articles and devotions. She also writes fiction and is currently working on a middle-grade fantasy novel. She grew up in a large family, and many of her devotions and stories are inspired from her childhood.

Visit her website here. You can follow her on Facebook here or Instagram here.

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