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In Praise of Tender Masculinity, the New Non-Toxic Way to Be a Man

Media representations of masculinity tend to play in two notes: On the left we have Nice Guys and on the right we have Macho Men. Both play into ideas of toxic masculinity in their own ways. Macho Men are emotionally distant, but it’s okay because they’re buff and men don’t have feelings anyway. Whether it’s an action hero like Die Hard’s John McClane, or a tortured bad boy like The Breakfast Club’s Bender or Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff, we are conditioned to see their anger issues as passion and their repressed emotions as something romantic for women to “fix.” Nice Guys are seen as an antidote, but more often than not, their niceness is performative and in direct relation to their feelings towards a crush. Think of Laurie in Little Women, who grows as a character through the help of Jo, but once she turns him down weaponizes all that character growth as leverage to get in her pants. Or Tom from 500 Days of Summer: He’s a charming underdog, but it’s not exactly “nice” of him to resent Summer for not meeting his romantic expectations despite her clear communication of her boundaries. In an era where toxic masculinity is utterly overwhelming, we are all desperate for a healthier and more nuanced role.

Enter Tender Masculinity.

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