Deconstructing Toxic Masculinity to End Gender-based Violence

By Darron James

One way we can look at the cause of gender-based violence is to unravel the idea of toxic masculinity and how it uses physical violence as a means of expression. In 2019, there were 380 reported cases of intimate partner violence against women in Trinidad and Tobago. Domestic violence made up 81% of those cases with men constituting a high percentage of 87% of the perpetrators of these acts of violence. As of mid-October 2020, it was reported that of the 319 murders recorded for the year thus far, 44 of these have been women. Of these cases of violence against women, 21 were reported to have been related to domestic violence. 

To uncover the brutality women face, we must first uncover men’s attitudes towards expressing emotions. In childhood, boys are taught their culture’s idea of manhood. Boys are taught that physical aggression is a socially acceptable way to express their feelings. Many western societies exude the idea of toxic masculinity which can best be described as the repudiation of femininity. It limits the emotions boys and men may comfortably express while elevating other feelings such as anger. In their developing years, they are taught the ideas of being strong, independent, aggressive and to helm whatever they are part of. This is notably reflected in their play, chores, and privileges. “Boys will be boys” is an excuse for fighting and doing generally dangerous or aggressive activities. 

Where socialization is concerned with gender-based violence, it is the promotion of violence in boys and men. Though both sexes feel aggression equally, boys are taught to express it in a physical manner over girls. The repressed emotions of men become pressurized and displaced onto someone or something else. Men now know it to be right to express themselves by getting louder, threatening others and enacting violence. The threat or act of physical harm is the way some men see fit to settle disagreements and express their view in an argument. They can also withhold or attack what someone sees as valuable, which is sometimes the case of domestic violence cases. 

Sadly, gender-based violence results in countless deaths and traumatic events around the world, with Trinidad and Tobago being no exception. Government agencies and NGOs locally approach the situation differently. The Commissioner of Police announced a new division of the police service that deals specifically with domestic violence, along with a way to submit reports online, assisting victims in delicate situations. However, another way to approach the situation is to tackle the source of it. So, the Caribbean Male Action Network is a regionally based organization that encourages boys and men to be an active part of gender justice and is attempting to reconstruct the idea of masculinity and being a man in the Caribbean. 

Masculinity in itself is not toxic or bad, there are many ways it is manifested and can be expressed, which is fine, what is “toxic” about it is the ways it impedes on the rights of and hurts others and men themselves. To deconstruct masculinity, it must be observed in its various parts from how it stifles emotions to how it dictates attitudes towards femininity. We must be cognizant of the various categories and actively work towards correcting each aspect that is harmful.  Violence against women is one of the ways it manifests as toxic masculinity sees femininity as weak. To address this issue, we should not just recognize it, but take up responsibility and actively be part of the change. Altering the way toxic masculinity views and reacts to femininity, essentially changing men’s view towards women.

 An action as simple as asking a friend why he catcalls women can set him on a path to reassess himself and set him on a path to further introspection. In the absence of toxic masculinity, women will face less acts of violence in all forms and men will observe an overall improvement in life from physical health to more intimate relationships. Men must engage in introspection to understand why they express themselves the way they do and challenge it to change themselves and those around them to eradicate gender-based violence.


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