Date of Meeting: 14 March 2019 

Meeting Organizer: Ecumenical Women 

ISJC Staff Present: Dr Laurelle Smith, Major Victoria Edmonds, Captain Eun Young In

Reporter: Dr Laurelle Smith

Which SDG does this topic cover? SDGs 5

Type of meeting: CSW Parallel Event 

Brief summary of presentation of information made

Conversations on Toxic Masculinity in the Faith Community and the Public Square

Toxic Masculinity – is defined as the practice of teaching men that to be a man, they must supress emotions or mask distress, maintain an appearance of hardness, and that violence can be an indicator of power.

Toxic masculinity is what can come from teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly, that they have to be tough all the time, that anything other than that makes them feminine or weak (from the New York Times ‘What is Toxic Masculinity’, January 2019)

Gender Based Violence – physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or other personal harm inflicted on someone because of their gender or gender expression (adapted from the Evangelical Lutheran Church Association ‘A Social Message on Gender Based Violence’, 2015)

Toxic masculinity, if not addressed, ends up in violence towards women and girls.  

The meeting opened by women standing up and reading aloud some situations many women around the world find themselves in every day. After they were read, the audience was asked to raise their hand if they had experienced one of these situations personally, or if they knew a woman who had. Every hand was raised. The scenarios read included:

  • Girls being sent away from schools when they start menstruating
  • Women being called ‘too emotional’ and ‘unprofessional’ in a work setting
  • Women being asked how they will balance family life or when are they planning to have children when interviewing for a job
  • Women being told they are too old or too young for a role and will need the help of someone else to complete the tasks
  • Hearing, when news of women being raped or assaulted, that it is the fault of the women
  • Having someone walk into a church, see a woman in clergy garments, and still ask her where the pastor is

A panel of four men spoke on what toxic masculinity has or does look like in their life and work? They shared personal stories which were asked not to be reported on. However, the following points were made.

  • Alpha male – someone who operates with sense of entitlement, has tantrums when things don’t go their way, humiliates others publicly. 
  • We have systemic patriarchy where men hold primary power and dominate in many roles.
  • It leads to gender-based violence.
  • Masculinity is attributed to men but it’s an attitude anyone can take on – it’s an attitude, its fluid. It can depend on the type of day or the moment and you can put on different types of masculinity.
  • Toxic behaviour in our communities cannot be repaid, it affects the whole community. Whether you are directly involved or not, the community is, so you have to be mindful of that and do what you can to make sure it doesn’t go further.
  • A woman can say something, and then a man can say the same thing, but it is the man who gets acknowledged for saying it.
  • Masculinity doesn’t exist without male privilege, misogyny, patriarchy. How do we as men use the power, position and access we have to resource in an effective way?


How do you resist and transform toxic masculinity?

  • You need to meet people where they are and see where and what masks of masculinity they are wearing. We don’t want to leave them where they are.
  • First you need to notice it. There are times where you can stand up and there are times where you need to notice it, name it and work for a better future. Support the women around you.
  • Need to work together to deal with these issues in our communities.

What does it mean to stand together as we do the work? What do we need from one another?

  • Need to show men how their behaviour has affected them. Not just how it has affected women and girls.
  • There needs to be a level of accountability.
  • Patriarchy and toxic masculinity have a reciprocal relationship – how do women feed in to this?
  • Raising boys to be men
  • Men are often too afraid to say that they are actually afraid, they don’t want to express negative emotions.
  • Safe spaces are important. When you talk to men one on one, they are more vulnerable. However, when they are in a group with other men, they become worried about looking weak or soft.
  • Toxic masculinity is not just saying things it’s also NOT saying things – like not standing up and speaking out. 
  • How do we work in our cultures to say its ok to be a woman? We need to name the incredible strength of women. Calling someone a woman is not an insult.
  • How do faith communities articulate the scriptures and tell women to stand up against toxic masculinity and not just turn the other cheek?
  • It is very difficult to change systemic beliefs because they are ingrained. The method that works is bringing men into the movement, educate them, create safe spaces, create retreats for men to be able to stop and change their thinking.
  • Men need to sit down and let women stand up. Need to give people a way to think differently, it changes behaviour.
  • Need to figure out what type of system men who are violent towards women and girls need. If we deal with the issue of women being seen as inferior, that will deal with the conflict and violence.
  • Violence towards women and girls is profitable, we have to stop that.
  • Men are late to the game. Women have been working on this for years.

What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

The Salvation Army has a long history of giving women spaces to sand up, for empowering them and giving them a voice. However, we need to be sure that we are also speaking out against and condemning toxic masculinity, within our own organisation, in our church families and in our communities. It is not enough to just let women have a voice, we need to make sure our boys are being raised to be men who are not afraid to express fears and emotions, who see women and girls as equals and who stand up and fight for the women in their lives. We need to find ways to help ensure that men are not, even subconsciously, viewing women as inferior. We have the power within The Salvation Army to be able to be leaders in communities and model men who display positive masculinity which reflects the character of God. We have the opportunity to create safe spaces for both men and women to speak freely. This is an issue we need to speak openly about within our corps, at youth councils and character building programmes.

Web links for more information

Tags: SDG5: Gender Equality