I have met and known women my entire adult life that I would describe as toxic, and yet the term “toxic femininity” sounds absurd to me. By “toxic” I mean men and women whose attitudes, behaviors, and very being poison the atmosphere around them.
A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is calling for K-12 schools to create programs to combat “toxic masculinity” from kindergarten all the way through high school.
What are the details?
On Thursday, Campus Reform reported that professor Kathleen Elliott said that it’s imperative for elementary school teachers to “recognize, reject, and challenge simplified toxic masculinity” in children as young as kindergarten-aged.
Elliott argues that by integrating collegiate “Men’s Projects” — which, according to Campus Reform, are programs that “typically probes participants to reflect on the ramifications of masculinity” — into K-12 schools could help eradicate “toxic masculinity.”
So, wait — what’s ‘toxic masculinity,’ anyway?
According to Tolerance.org, “toxic masculinity” is defined as:
Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.
Right. And how is this supposed to apply to kindergarteners?
In a recent issue of academic journal On the Horizon, Elliott points to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s defunct Men’s Project, which aimed to educate students on “intersectionality and the complexity of masculinity identities” and encouraged students to “challenge simplified definitions of masculinity.”
According to Elliott, “Educators of all types can and should be involved in this work, which includes simple steps that educators across disciplines can engage daily in their schools.”
She notes that in addition to bringing such Men’s Projects to the (much) younger grade levels, educators can “highlight women’s achievements in curricula and in the classroom” to help combat “toxic masculinity.”
“Including women’s achievements and stories in the official curriculum has been promoted for decades as a way to work towards gender equality and empower young women in the classroom,” Elliott notes, and says that teaching “women’s achievements” is also a beneficial tool to shape the minds of boys.
“It is also a powerful way for boys to see examples of women who are intelligent, capable leaders,” Elliott says.
She suggests that elementary school teachers as well as middle- and high-school teachers should “explicitly teach and model complex masculinity” to combat anything that may promote “aspects of toxic masculinity such as physical strength, dominance, and heterosexual prowess.”
“While educators have taken on gender inequality in the past, for the most part, we have not stepped forward to take the same kind of lead in challenging toxic masculinity,” Elliott continues, noting that it is “essential” for men to be involved and to take leadership roles in such work.
Elliott adds that educators are heavily responsible to “teach young men and boys to recognize and challenge simplified conceptions of their own and others’ identities.”
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