While it can be argued that using the phrase “toxic masculinity” is useful, I must confess to feeling uncomfortable about the phrase. While it would be natural to accuse me of fearing an attack on my maleness, my concern is a pragmatic one about the consequences of the term. Which, from a utilitarian standpoint, also makes it a moral one.
As a man, I am familiar with how some other men react to the phrase “toxic masculinity.” The reaction of the truly toxic (that is, evil) males is to be expected—they are outraged that their misdeeds and moral flaws are being challenged. However, non-toxic males can also react negatively to the phrase—typically because they feel that those who use the phrase are applying it to all men. That is, they are saying that all men are bad and routinely engage in such things as bullying, sexual harassment and worse. While some do hold to that position (that all men are evil), this is not the usual use of the term. After all, one might point out, if masculinity itself was seen as evil, it would be pointless to talk about toxic masculinity. Doing so would be analogous to speaking of toxic toxins. As such, defenders of the phrase “toxic masculinity” can say it is like saying “contaminated spinach”: this is not claiming that all spinach is contaminated, just the spinach that is contaminated. Likewise, saying “toxic masculinity” is not claiming that all masculinity is toxic, just the toxic variety.
This does have considerable appeal and when a critic of toxic masculinity uses the phrase in this manner, one might be able to sort out their intent. That said, the use of the phrase can still trigger an angry response from non-toxic men and trying to argue about the intent of the term often fails. After all, when people are angry and feel attacked, they rarely pause for a philosophical analysis of the perceived attack. As such, using the phrase can have the negative consequence of alienating and angering men who would otherwise support the idea that men should behave well. It can also cause men that might be persuaded to change to double down on their views. As such, there is a pragmatic problem with the phrase.
One reply to this would be to argue that only weak snowflakes and bad men would be angered by the phrase. The snowflakes should “man up” and it is fine that the bad men are angry—they are, after all, being attacked for being evil and the evil hate that. While this does have some appeal, it is still worth considering how non-toxic (or “curable”) men might feel about the phrase and whether another approach might be better.
Consider, if you will, if the term “toxic” was used to refer to various groups who have some members who behave badly and have vices (which would be all groups other than the group of the morally perfect). To illustrate, consider the phrases “toxic blackness”, “toxic hispanicness”, “toxic homosexuality”, “toxic transgenderism”, “toxic feminism” and so on. If someone did a Youtube video or appeared on TV talking about “toxic blackness” or “toxic homosexuality” while insisting that they were only concerned about blacks or homosexuals who behaved badly and not attacking blacks or homosexuals in general, they would presumably be met with skepticism and outrage by many who use the phrase “toxic masculinity.” Even if the person was completely sincere and carefully argued that their concern was with the toxic members of said groups and not with the other members, then they would most likely still be doubted and attacked.
The obvious reply would be to argue that “toxic blackness”, “toxic homosexuality” and such differ from “toxic masculinity.” While such a case can be made, it does seem reasonable to consider that just as many would find “toxic blackness” and “toxic homosexuality” offensive, many non-toxic men feel that “toxic masculinity” is offensive and using the term might have negative consequences that outweigh the positive value of using the term.
From a pragmatic standpoint, that is the key concern: does the use of the phrase “toxic masculinity” create more harm than good in terms of persuading men to behave better? If so, the next concern would be sorting out what would be a better approach.