Toxic Masculinity Defined as Will Smith Hitting Chris Rock Sparks Debate

Will Smith striking comedian Chris Rock on stage during last night's Oscars ceremony after he made a joke about his wife, the actress Jada Pinkett Smith, has sparked a debate about a concept known as toxic masculinity.

"Jada, love you, G.I. Jane 2—can't wait to see it," Rock said, apparently in reference to the 1997 film G.I. Jane, which features actress Demi Moore with a shaved head.

Pinkett Smith has previously spoken about her struggles with alopecia, a condition that typically results in hair loss.

In a speech accepting an Oscar that didn't directly mention the incident, he said: "I'm being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people."

After the altercation, the hashtag "#ToxicMasculinity" was trending on Twitter, with around 7,000 tweets referencing the topic at the time of writing.

Canadian broadcaster and writer Amanda Parris was among those who tweeted about the issue.

In a tweet, Parris said: "Assault is wrong. Alopecia is a painful experience that many Black women go through and should not be joked about. The concept of being 'the protector' can be a form of toxic masculinity. Black women are rarely protected and deserve to be protected."

Another tweet containing the hashtag, posted by activist and gun violence prevention advocate Lisa Hendricks, said: "Love will make you do crazy things — Will Smith. No, nope. This 'me Tarzan you Jane' male bravado bullshit perpetuates toxic masculinity. Stop. Excusing. Violence."

Another Twitter user, Adrian L. Green, compared the altercation with Patrick Jackson kissing his wife, Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, after she faced tough questioning from GOP Senators.

"I'll bet this husband really wanted to kick some ass last week after the disrespectful comments and insults directed at his wife last week. Instead of reacting, he comforted his wife and assured her that everything is okay. #Oscars #ToxicMasculinity #WillSmith," Green said in a the tweet.

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity refers to the negative aspects of exaggerated masculine traits that are said to have potentially dangerous effects on individuals and society. It's important to note, however, that masculinity is not inherently bad or toxic.

One study published in the Journal of School Psychology uses the following definition to explain the term, describing it as: "The constellation of socially regressive [masculine] traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence."

Central to the term toxic masculinity is the idea that in many modern societies, men experience cultural pressures to behave in a certain way that could potentially be harmful.

Some researchers argue that toxic masculinity has three core components—toughness, anti-femininity and power—based on traditional ideas of how men should act, psychotherapist and author Amy Morin wrote for Verywell Mind.

When it comes to toughness, this is the ideal that men should be physically and mentally strong, emotionally insensitive, aggressive, stoic, self-sufficient and dominant, according to Morin.

The second component refers to the idea that men should avoid any behavior that could be seen as "feminine," such as showing emotions or being vulnerable.

The final component speaks to the idea that men should strive for power and status in order to gain the respect of others.

Those who fall short of these ideals are often seen as being unmanly within this belief system.

In a newsletter about harmful masculinity and violence posted in September, 2018, the American Physiological Association said: "Western culture defines specific characteristics to fit the patriarchal ideal masculine construct. The socialization of masculine ideals starts at a young age and defines ideal masculinity as related to toughness, stoicism, heterosexism, self-sufficient attitudes and lack of emotional sensitivity and of connectedness."

"Boys learn to be men from the men in their lives, from their own experiences navigating our social norms, and from the large social and cultural context. Boys live under intensified pressure to display gender-appropriate behaviors according to the ideal male code," the newsletter said.

The actor Will Smith
Actor Will Smith arrives at the Los Angeles World Premiere of "Focus" at TCL Chinese Theatre on February 24, 2015, in Hollywood, California. Smith striking Oscars host and comedian Chris Rock on stage during the ceremony after he made a joke about his wife has sparked a debate about a concept known as toxic masculinity. Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts