Toxic Masculinity…and What Women Really Want

Recently I heard that Brown University plans to offer a course to help men unlearn toxic masculinity. Forgive the chuckling you hear. The very thought that a college class at a liberal university can somehow convert a toxic male into the Left’s vision of perfect manhood deserves at least a laugh, if not a loud guffaw.

Come to think of it, a loud and hearty guffaw would be inappropriate. Maybe a prolonged sigh is more in order. The kind of sigh you make after you create a mess that is going to take a lot of work to clean up.

Masculinity finds itself in a cloud of confusion in this postmodern, post-Christian age. Gender roles are being debated and redefined, divorce rates hover near 50%, children living with single parents are at historic highs, and the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is 11 years old. With manhood being marginalized and feminized, is it any wonder that men and boys exhibit toxic behaviors in an effort to “be a man?”

A Google search for “toxic masculinity” reveals a number of varied definitions, ranging from a sexist monster reflective of a predatory culture to a violent bully to a muddled view of manhood where the only emotion a man fully expresses is that of anger. I guess there are degrees of toxicity.

And yet, modern feminism criticizes any attempt of men to be gentlemen. Go figure.

Speaking of toxic males, years ago, my wife and I saw the movie What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. Chicago advertising exec, Nick Marshall (played by Mel Gibson) is the epitome of a male chauvinist, the type of man that sleeps with a different woman every night. He may not have exhibited violent behavior, but he certainly reflects that of a chauvinist. When he is bypassed for promotion, he sets his sights on undermining the woman, Darcy McGuire (played by Helen Hunt) who got his job. A fluke accident suddenly gives him the ability to hear what women are thinking. As you can imagine, there is ample fodder for humor, much of it with sexual connotations. As the plot evolves, this chauvinist develops a listening ear, falls in love, and finally starts to realize that what women want is far different from what he thought.

I must admit several scenes were indeed hilarious. Funnier still was that my wife and I laughed at different times! Yet despite the crude humor and amoral lifestyles of the characters, there were some lessons for men — such as the need to listen, be sensitive and be honest. Leaving the theater, however, I could not help but sense an opportunity lost.

Hollywood may think it knows something about this generation that “listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings.” (1) The movie could have sent a stronger message to men about what women really do want. There the movie missed its mark, somewhat like trying to communicate that someone likes red meat, but you offer a tiny meatball on a toothpick when it could have been filet mignon on fine china.

Could it be that Hollywood contributes to the toxicity level of males in our culture?

While I doubt Brown University will take my advice, has a few thoughts about what it means to be a Real Man, about how men can lower their toxicity and learn what women really want in a man. Here are a few thoughts to consider:

Faithfulness. I still remember Wellington Boone, a speaker at the 1994 PromiseKeepers Conference stating “It takes a great lover to satisfy one woman for a lifetime.” It is not how many women you make love to that defines your manhood. Rather, it is your faithfulness to one woman that defines honor, respect, and commitment. Real men are trustworthy.

Forgiveness. Billy Graham, when asked the secret of a long and loving marriage answered by saying, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.” This may explain why his wife, Ruth, later commented, “A happy marriage is the union of two great forgivers.”  Guys, learning to say “forgive me” and “I’m sorry” does not weaken your wife’s view of you, it strengthens it.

Devotion. Soon after marrying the girl of your dreams, you discover she is not as perfect as you once thought. Empty yourself of any need to change her. True devotion is accepting her as she is, loving her (as Christ loves the Church, i.e., sacrificially), taking pride in her accomplishments and working to make her a success in whatever she pursues.

Protection. You will soon discover, as your wife will, the emotional weak spots of each other. Your role of protector is to be sensitive to those needs, do not use them to manipulate or take advantage of her or allow others to do so. She really does want you to be that knight in shining armor. Pope John Paul II reminded us that “Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial. It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman.”

HELP. Most men too often view their wives as pseudo-mothers whose roles include that of a cleaning lady and cook. Wellington Boone also said, “You can’t be a man at night if you are a boy all day long.” Your wife is not your mother, so pick up your underwear. Men should share household duties. Doing so demonstrates profound respect.

Leadership. I am not talking about control, power, or domination. True leadership is sharing your dreams and ambitions, being an initiator, and supporting and enabling her and her dreams too. Jesus modeled what a servant leader is all about. Real men follow in his footsteps.

Openness. The hardest thing a man has to do is to share his feelings. I think I’d rather eat brussels sprouts. We tend to keep our emotions inside, thinking that sharing them will make us vulnerable. What I have discovered is that the more I shared my dreams and disappointments with the women in my life, the more they responded by becoming great encouragers.

Respect. For some reason, ego maybe, men find it easy to ignore the opinions and thoughts of their wives. Do so at your peril! I have discovered that the women I have married possess a Ph.D. in common sense. Asking her for advice is more than just a show of respect, it saves money!!!! Real men are respectful.

Adoration. Demonstrating affection, especially when there is no self-serving motive, i.e., sex, is like adding WD-40 to the wheels of life. Everything just goes smoother. And it’s a lot more fun! Don’t forget birthdays & anniversaries. A single rose for no reason is spelled R-O-M-A-N-T-I-C .  Real men are romantic.  And even if you are clumsy at it, your spouse will love you all the more.

Appreciation. Express gratitude every chance you get. My wife is a treasure without measure. Learn to say thank you.

Enjoy each other. Having been married twice, I now realize there are two things that my late wife and current wife have in common. I fell in love with them, and I fell into friendship as well. Romantic love and friendship are not incompatible. Our culture associates the word intimacy with sex. But I also developed a deep emotional intimacy on a friendship level cherishing the time spent conversing about hopes and dreams and faith. Your best friend can be your spouse!

Are observations on target? My daughters tell me to “keep writing dad!” Author Carol Kent in her book, “Secret Longings of the Heart” identified the five deepest longings of women, and they appear to line up with many of the above observations:


Yes, we live in an era when some men behave very badly. Maybe Brown University should be focused less on reducing male toxicity and more on defining true manhood. Could it be that when men learn what it is to be a real man, they will also discover what it is that women really want and need?

(1) Quote by Ravi Zacharias

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  1. Katy Hall

    Well said! And this sentence caught me: “And yet, modern feminism criticizes any attempt of men to be gentlemen. Go figure.” That’s so true, and is something that I just do not understand. I’m old enough to have grown up in the age where men were taught to be gentlemen, and my dad took great pride in being a “Virginia Gentleman.” And if you ask anybody who knew him what they remember most about him, they always say, “He was such a gentleman.” “Go figure” is a great way to put it! Thanks for your thoughts. I totally agree.


  2. Christopher Lindsay

    Great post. What you wrote on forgiveness has been standard practice in my 26 year marriage.


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