Meryl Streep talked about a lot more than just Big Little Lies during a panel discussion promoting the second season of HBO’s hit drama. The legendary actress, who’s joining a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley, interjected during an exchange between an attendee and Nicole Kidman about men who watch the show—a show with a first season that culminates in a group of powerful women overcoming an abusive man—to make a point about the term “toxic masculinity.”
“Sometimes, I think… we hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity. I do. And I don’t find [that] putting those two words together … because women can be pretty fucking toxic,” Streep said. “It’s toxic people. We have our good angles, and we have our bad ones. I think the labels are less helpful than what we’re trying to get to, which is a communication, direct, between human beings. We’re all on the boat together. We’ve got to make it work.”
The actor immediately received criticism for the comments. Jezebel’s Emily Alford wrote, “Streep seems to mistakenly believe that the term ‘toxic masculinity’ means that all masculinity is toxic and so, therefore, are all men.”
So, what does the term “toxic masculinity” refer to?
As Jezebel points out, The New York Times published a handy explainer on the phrase earlier this year. According to the Times, researchers have defined toxic masculinity as a set of behaviors and beliefs that include suppressing emotions, appearing to be “tough,” and exhibiting violence as a way to seem powerful.
But toxic masculinity is so often misunderstood, and runs the risk of coming across as “wildly insulting, even bigoted,” according to Teaching Tolerance.
As the concept has become more popular, The Atlantic notes that it’s transformed into a catch-all term that routinely misrepresents the root causes of misogyny and sexism.
For an extremely nuanced take on the subject—one that deserves extreme nuance—check out the American Psychological Association’s new guidelines for psychologists who work with men and boys, which are undergirded by the institutional position that “traditional masculinity (the APA doesn’t use the term “toxic masculinity”) has on the whole damaged generations of men. Summarizing the report, the APA says, “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful. Men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors.”
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