The History And Health Consequences Of Toxic Masculinity In The U.S.

Hey everyone, I hope you’re doing great. Toxic masculinity is a ubiquitous subject in the U.S. today. A U.S. Navy pilot drew a giant penis in the sky over Okanogan Highlands, Washington in November 2017. And the list of infamous men who have been accused or charged with sexual harassment, misconduct, or rape in the U.S. over the years seems to grow each day.

Some of the names include, but aren’t limited to; Roger Ailes, Eric Bolling, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, John Conyers, Louis C.K., Bill Cosby, Andy Dick, John Edwards, Blake Farenthold, Al Franken, Trent Franks, Morgan Freeman, Newt Gingrich, Eric Greitens, Mark Halperin, Dennis Hastert, Dustin Hoffman, Jim Jordan, Brett Kavanaugh, Garrison Keillor, Alex Kozinski, Matt Lauer, Danny Masterson, Les Moonves, Roy Moore, Larry Nassar, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Oreskes, Jeremy Piven, Charlie Rose, Eric Schneiderman, Russell Simmons, Kevin Spacey, Elliot Spitzer, Morgan Spurlock, Jeffrey Tambor, James Toback, 45, Anthony Weiner, Harvey Weinstein, and Leon Wieseltier.

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is mostly defined by what it is not. In short, toxic masculinity is insecurity about being vulnerable and emasculated. Wikipedia defined the term as “traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.”

“Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.”

Aggression, humiliating others, excessive pride, and personal insecurity fall within the broad definition of toxic masculinity. But for this blog, I’m going to define masculinity to be toxic when a man disrespects someone else, and they believed they wouldn’t suffer the consequences of their behavior or didn’t suffer the consequences because of their status in society as a man.

Toxic Masculinity In U.S. History

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in the 19th century, “tis not in death that men die most.” I think what she meant is that masculinity shortens men’s joy of life and their overall life expectancy. I will analyze this more below.

Toxic masculinity has a history and tradition in the U.S. I use tradition here because toxic masculinity is a social construction, it is learned, crafted and reproduced through social interaction over time just like bigotry, racism and sexism. Social constructions don’t exist in nature but that doesn’t mean toxic masculinity isn’t real — it is — or that it doesn’t have real consequences on society — it does — as we will soon find.

U.S. history is full of examples of toxic masculinity. Prideful men have dueled out their disagreements with knives, guns, and engaged in scandalous behavior in this country for hundreds of years. One infamous example of early toxic masculinity in U.S. history involved a horse race bet gone wrong between Charles Dickinson and Andrew Jackson in Logan, Kentucky on May 30, 1806. Dickinson had insulted Jackson and had challenged him to a duel in the May 1806 issue of the National Review. Dickinson shot Jackson in the chest, Jackson returned fire and killed Dickinson. And Jackson later became the seventh president of the U.S.

Another example of early American toxic masculinity can be found in Robert Potter, a politician who was so violent, he beat Jesse Bynum with “swords, pistols, knives, and clubs” in 1825 and 1826 after Bynum won a local election. Potter later defeated Bynum in a race for a seat in the North Carolina House of Commons and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1831, where he subsequently pulled a pistol and knife on another representative over a card game. But the strangest part of Potter’s reputation is how “potterizing” someone came to be associated with castration: Potter had once castrated two men whom he believed had slept with his wife.

One last example of the history of toxic masculinity in the U.S. came from twenty-ninth president and U.S. Senator from Ohio, Warren G. Harding. Harding had an affair and fathered a child with Nan Britton while married to his wife Florence. He paid child support to Britton each month until he died of a heart attack in August 1923. He also had an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips whom he paid $5,000 per month so she would remain silent about their relationship. Harding once said to the press, “It’s a good thing I’m not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can’t say no,” when he was president. He also said “there isn’t one iota of affection in my home relationship” when describing his marriage with Florence, “It is merely existence, necessary for appearance’s sake.” Harding was a reported Klansman as well.

For more on the genderization of violence in the U.S., continue reading here.

Health Consequences Of Toxic Masculinity On Men In The U.S.

Now that we have established a history of toxic masculinity in the U.S., let us analyze the consequences that toxic masculinity has on men’s health. Remember, men benefit and suffer from toxic masculinity, they are also active agents who choose or refuse to reproduce and enforce this system. However, masculinity doesn’t mean the same thing to every man and men can unlearn toxic behaviors.

The CDC compiled a list of the Leading Causes of Death for Males in the U.S. in 2014. Some of the CDC’s leading causes of death for men are behavioral such as unintentional injuries, suicide and chronic liver disease and fall within the scope of toxic masculinity. For the purposes of this blog, I focused on alcoholism, illegal drug use, workaholism, violence in gun homicides and gun suicides and not seeking mental health treatment as contributing factors to men’s causes of death. Yes, my list is more subjective than the CDC’s but it is more specific to the definition of toxic masculinity that I am aiming for.

Life Expectancy: Men have comparatively shorter life expectancy than women which is consistent in nearly every country in the world, but the degree of that life expectancy varies depends mostly on the country. Male and female life expectancy in the U.S. is 73.4 years and 80.1 years respectively, a difference of 6.7 years. In contrast, men in the U.K. live 5.3 fewer years than women while men in France live 7.8 fewer years than women. Men live 12 fewer years than women in Russia but in India and Bangladesh, there is less than a one year difference between the sexes. The difference in men’s and women’s life expectancy in the U.S. increases into old age too: after age 85, women outnumber men 2.2 to 1 and by age 90, women outnumber men 3 to 1.

Alcoholism: Men are more likely to drink alcohol excessively than women. Approximately 23 percent of adult men report binge drinking with 8 drinks per night at least 5 times per month. Men are also almost twice as likely to binge drink than women.

Excessive drinking is connected to short-term health and safety risks which increase with alcohol consumption. Safety risks like drinking and driving, driving too fast and driving without a safety belt contribute to lower male life expectancy. Men also have consistently higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations than women.

Male drivers are almost twice as likely than female drivers to have been found intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration level greater than 0.08 percent in fatal motor-vehicle traffic crashes. Excessive alcohol consumption also magnifies the drinker’s mood and increase the likelihood that the drinker becomes aggressive and physically or sexually assault someone.

Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon in men. Alcohol consumption can also interfere with testicular function and male hormone production resulting in impotence and infertility. Excessive drinking increases the chances of engaging in risky sexual behavior including unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners or sex with a partner at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

“An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.”

Illegal Drug Use: Men are more likely abuse illegal drugs than women. Nearly 12 percent of American males age 12 and older have used illegal drugs in the last month compared to just 7.3 percent of females in the same age group. Multi-drug use is also more common among men than in women and men are also more likely to begin using illegal drugs at an earlier age, abuse drugs more often and in larger amounts than women. 47,055 men died from drug overdoses in 2014: opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin were the main sources of overdose deaths.

Workaholism: Men work on average 52 minutes more per day than employed women, accounting for differences in full time and part-time work. This would not be a big deal but researchers at Harvard University found that workaholics were “12 percent “more likely to become heavy drinkers” and experience greater sleeplessness, depression, diabetes, heart disease, increased absenteeism, turnover and higher health insurance premiums than those who didn’t.”

Gun Homicide Victims: Men are six times more likely to be gun homicide victims than women. There were 15,872 gun homicides in 2016 when men’s gun homicide rate was 19.3 per 100,000 and women’s rate was 3.2 per 100,000. At these rates, 13,615 men died from gun homicides in 2014.

Gun Suicide Victims: Men are less likely to commit suicide than women in the U.S. but men are four times more likely to die from suicides than women. This is because men use guns to commit suicides, approximately half of all suicides in the U.S. are committed with a gun. Men are also three times more likely than women to own a gun according to a survey from the Pew Research Center in 2017. There were 21,386 gun suicides in 2014 which means that approximately 17,100 men died from suicide, and 8,554 of them used a gun.

Mental Health Treatment: Men of all ages and ethnicities are 33 percent less likely than women to seek mental health treatment for depression, substance abuse, and stressful life events even though they experience these problems at the same rate or greater rate than women. Men’s reluctance to get help can harm their mental and physical health and the lack of treatment can make life more difficult for someone’s family, friends, and workplace.

According to the CDC, there were 2,626,418 deaths in the U.S. in 2014. If we combined men’s total alcohol-related deaths per year (62,000), illegal drug use deaths per year (47,055), gun homicides per year (13,615) and gun suicides per year (8,554), we find that 131,224 men died from toxic masculine behaviors in 2014. If we used the Kaiser Family Foundation’s death rates by gender in the U.S. for 2014, we see that men’s death rate per 100,000 was 855.1, and women’s death rate per 100,000 was 616.7. Using the KFF’s death rates per year, men constitute 58 percent of total U.S. deaths per year, or some 1,525,921 and while women make up 1,100,497 of the total deaths per year. If we divided the number of men who died from toxic behavior per year by the total number of men who died per year, we’d find that 8.6 percent of all men’s deaths were related to toxic male behaviors which would make it the third leading cause of death for men in the U.S.

Health Consequences Of Toxic Masculinity On Women In The U.S.

Now that we have analyzed the consequences that toxic masculinity has on men’s health, let us now focus on the consequences that toxic masculinity has on women and society in general. A survey in Cosmopolitan magazine of 2,234 female employees between 18 and 34 found that almost one in three said they had been sexually harassed at work. 71 percent of respondents didn’t report the harassment. Of the 29 percent of women who did report it, only 15 percent felt the report was handled fairly.

In 2015, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found;

  • 1 out of 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 1 out of 5 women is sexually assaulted while they attend college or university.
  • 91 percent of rape victims and sexual assault in the U.S. are female.
  • 8 percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work.
  • Rape is the most under-reported crime in the U.S.: 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
  • More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses are not reported.
  • False reporting of sexual assault is rare, between 2 and 10 percent.

Gun Homicides: 90 percent of all gun homicides were committed by men when the gender of the perpetrator was known, according to the FBI.

Mass Shootings: 96.8 percent of mass shootings in the U.S. in which four or more victims died were committed by men between 1982 to 2017.

To understand the importance that guns play in toxic masculinity, look to Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC whose printed advertisement campaign of 2010 featured a photo of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle along with the phrase, “CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED.” Just two years later, Adam Lanza used an AR-15 rifle to kill twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The results that toxic masculinity has on society, in general, is that men constitute 93 percent of all inmates in the U.S. prison system. And with only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has more than 20 percent of the world’s imprisoned population making it world’s largest incarcerator.

Finally, different dimensions of masculinity predicate authoritarian attitudes and anti-gay anger, according to study from Bradley Goodnight at Georgia State University. Social status, toughness, and anti-feminine perspectives were three factors of masculinity correlated to right-wing authoritarianism, sexual prejudice, and homophobic aggression.

How To Curb Toxic Masculinity With Public Policy

Reader, there is a history and tradition of toxic masculinity in the U.S. Toxic male behaviors negatively impact everyone’s quality of life. All of these abuses lack respect and consent, therefore promoting respectful and consenting behaviors must be at the center of reducing toxic masculinity. How can we promote healthy, respectful consenting behaviors? Let us look at the power structure of toxic masculinity in the U.S. so we can better understand it.

Justice John Marshall wrote in 1819, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” All of the men listed at the beginning of this blog had great wealth and incomes and powerful statuses in society. Their wealth and income are the sources of their power, and it is possible these men believed their great wealth and power permitted them to abuse and disrespect women. The question we need to ask is would wealthy men treat women with less disrespect if they had less wealth, incomes and power? And if so, how could we execute this plan?

From a public policy perspective, Congress could increase taxes on high incomes and millionaire and billionaires’ wealth in order to reduce the power these men have in society. And there is an abundant amount of male-millionaires in the U.S.: 90 percent of the 10.8 million millionaires in the U.S. are men.

Congress could also close tax exemptions and use the extra revenue garnered to expand funding for Medicaid and ultimately a single-payer healthcare plan. They could also subsidize affordable housing, higher education, and a public daycare plan. And in taxing great incomes and wealth, Congress would reduce the economic inequalities between the social classes and genders in the U.S. And with greater gender equality in the U.S., it is possible more women would run for political office.

The theory is taxing wealthy, powerful men more should decrease the disrespect of women in general. And I think this is true because less wealthy, powerful men emulate the behaviors of the most wealthy, powerful men in society.

Sexual abuse reporting might actually increase after this plan is implemented, and it might continue for several years. But once wealthy, powerful men begin to respect women, upper middle class, middle class, working class and poor men should respect women too. Toxic male behaviors should decrease overall and sex abuse reporting should decrease too. This would likely reduce the sexual abuse women who work in high sex abuse industries like the restaurant and hospitality sectors.

How To Curb Toxic Masculinity Without Public Policy

As long as women are burdened with the responsibility of policing toxic masculinity in society, nothing will change and men will reproduce toxic behavior in perpetuity. Therefore, men need to take responsibility for promoting respectful behavior toward women by discouraging disrespectful behaviors made by other men. Men can begin by promoting respectful behaviors with the friends they already have and even foster new ones.

Parents can teach their boys that they are not entitled to have power and control over women. They can also teach their sons that it’s ok to cry, to be sad, to feel emotions, to care, to be kind, and loving and that these things make them more mature people. Men can also learn to share a greater amount of household work and childcare responsibilities.

Finally, men can learn to be more flexible in their gender roles, after all, men who have flexible gender roles have higher quality marriages and lower divorce rates. “Research in America indicates that marriages, where men and women are flexible in their gender roles tend to have the highest marital quality. Over the course of a marriage, husbands who become less invested in their masculine identity also report becoming happier.”


Toxic masculinity has a history and tradition in the U.S., it also has harmful health effects on men and women. But men are not a monolith, they can unlearn their toxic behaviors to increase everyone’s quality of life.

Public policy could be used to reduce toxic behavior of the wealthiest, highest income earning men to change the U.S. gender power structure. But men could also reduce toxic masculinity by being more respectful to women and other men.

Let us begin by respecting everyone unconditionally. Let us know that it is ok to be vulnerable and realize that masculinity is a social construction and therefore does not exist beyond our minds. In summation, every man must become a feminist and elevate the gender equality of women to end gendered violence in the U.S.