The "men are toxic effect": a proposed corollary to the "women are wonderful effect" in a new academic paper about gender biases

April 18, 2020

The so-called "women are wonderful" effect is pretty well known (at least around here) and generates a decent amount of discussion. In short, it essentially points out how people often view women more favorably than men in a variety of contexts. In psychology this is known as a "halo effect", and is based on the fact that people prefer attractive people over unattractive people.

Well a new paper has coined the "men are toxic" effect to go along with the "women are wonderful" effect. It acknowledges the dual fact that women aren't just viewed positively, but that men are often viewed negatively:

Negative attitudes towards masculinity have become widely accepted in mainstream public discourse in recent years. In contrast to the “women are wonderful” effect (Eagly et al. 1991), contemporary men are subject to a “men are toxic” efect. Te notion of “toxic masculinity” has emerged and has even gained widespread credence despite the lack of any empirical testing (see chapter on masculinity by Seager and Barry). In general terms it appears as if attitudes to men have been based on generalisations made from the most damaged and extreme individual males. An example of this is the case from 2016, when a young woman called India Chipchase was raped and murdered. There were two men in her story: the rapist/murderer, and her grieving father who movingly stated “I will never get to walk my daughter down the aisle”. However, the media attention following this tragic event focussed almost exclusively on a sense of urgent need to teach boys and men in general to respect women. This suggests that in terms of public attitudes, the rapist/murderer was being viewed as more representative of masculinity than the victim’s father.

And later on:

There is a serious risk arising from using terms such as “toxic masculinity”. Unlike “male depression”, which helps identify a set of symptoms that can be alleviated with therapy, the term “toxic masculinity” has no clinical value. In fact it is an example of another cognitive distortion called labelling (Yurica et al. 2005). Negative labelling and terminology usually have a negative impact, including self-fulflling prophecies and alienation of the groups who are being labelled. We wouldn’t use the term “toxic” to describe any other human demographic. Such a term would be unthinkable with reference to age, disability, ethnicity or religion. The same principle of respect must surely apply to the male gender. It is likely therefore that developing a more realistic and positive narrative about masculinity in our culture will be a good thing for everyone.

So on the one hand they are pointing out the dangers of using this terminology, and how it has become widely accepted despite formal academic scrutiny of the concept calling it into question.

But it also highlights a way that we can use or "own" this terminology to emphasise the unique ways that men are marginalized in society.

The often framed "progressive notion" of toxic masculinity does nothing to help end gender stereotypes but is instead exemplary of existing stereotypes against men.

It has spread far and wide, and is often used in a regressive manner in order to attack men (regardless if the people using it claim to "not be attacking men").

We can debate the merits of the concept, as well as the intellectual honesty of the people who use it, till we're blue in the face.

Or we can follow up with the "men are toxic effect", and discuss how it is in fact a problem that society views men as negative and toxic. In fact, you might say that the concept of toxic masculinity is often part of the problem, due to the labelling effect mentioned above (or in layman terms, it sounds offensive, even if it isn't "supposed" to). I would even advocate for half way agreeing with people in order to throw in the men are toxic / women are wonderful effect, since toxic masculinity is in theory supposed to be about society and how society treats men. So they will either have to agree with you, or out themselves as a misandrist.

I know this kind of stuff usually happens organically but I figured I'd try to throw this out there.


Seager, M., & Barry, J. A. (2019). Cognitive distortion in thinking about gender issues: Gamma bias and the gender distortion matrix. In The Palgrave handbook of male psychology and mental health (pp. 87-104). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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Title The "men are toxic effect": a proposed corollary to the "women are wonderful effect" in a new academic paper about gender biases
Author Oncefa2
Upvotes 1
Comments 0
Date April 18, 2020 12:51 PM UTC (1 year ago)
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