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Calling Out Toxic Masculinity Doesn’t Hurt Boys, It Helps Them, Meryl Streep

The Devil Wears Prada earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination for playing Miranda Priestly

There’s a difference between toxicity and toxic masculinity, a line that Meryl Streep clearly blurred while talking about the topic at a Big Little Lies Q&A recently. While I love Streep and her work, this is something I think she missed the boat on. The idea of toxic masculinity isn’t limited to men, nor does it take away from toxic people.

As defined by Urban Dictionary, toxic masculinity is a “social science term that describes narrow repressive type of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.”

Within the Q&A, Meryl Streep said this about toxic masculinity:

“Sometimes I think we’re hurt. We hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity. I do. And I don’t find [that] putting those two words together … because women can be pretty f***ing toxic.”

Yes, women can be toxic, but that is not the point in defining toxic masculinity. We’re doing so to point out the ways in which the traits that have traditionally, societally been deemed the preferable way to be “masculine” have stifled men and women alike. In the context of Big Little Lies, Alexander Skarsgård’s character, Perry Wright, is the perfect example of this. He believes that his wife, Celeste (who is played by Nicole Kidman) is meant to do exactly as he says and is physically abusive towards her when she angers him, doesn’t do as he says, or if he’s just mad in general, because that’s how he thinks gender dynamics should work.

He’s the embodiment of what toxic masculinity can do. Mistaking toxic masculinity for just generally being a “toxic” person isn’t helping anyone. Yes, we can all be toxic. I have had many women in my life respond to me in toxic ways that have physically hurt me and others around me, but that is not the same thing as toxic masculinity. Saying that we’re damaging our boys by labeling things as such is taking a step backward. Toxic masculinity is the thing doing the damage to boys, and failing to talk about it won’t help them.

(via The Independent, image: 20th Century Fox)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.