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Toxic Masculinity in 'Romeo and Juliet' and in Today's Society

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Words: 1151 |

Pages: 3|

6 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 1151|Pages: 3|6 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

‘Feuding families leads to senseless violence and the tragic death of six young people’, this could easily be the headline for a story in today’s newspaper but it is the plot for a play written over four hundred years ago. Romeo and Juliet (1597) by William Shakespeare is about two young lovers in Verona, who come from opposing families that are constantly at war with each other, which makes it impossible for their relationship to work and tragically ends their lives. This play has a dark underlying theme of toxic masculinity affecting society, portraying the male characters as bullies, sexual harassers, dominators and ultimately murderers. Not being able to cry, not being able to talk to someone when you are feeling down or depressed. Constantly hurting each other, both physically and verbally. These are all traits of toxic masculinity, a term that describes men as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive. It keeps men from being the best they can be, and it seems to pass from generation to generation. The impact this toxicity can have on women today is clearly portrayed through acts of domestic violence, sexual harassment and at times death. Although our modern laws mean these sort of acts, committed by men are punished, this theme is still very relevant in today’s society. The theme of toxic masculinity, the bullying, aggressiveness, sexual harassment and the way some men act towards women can all be found in this play and today I will talk more about why it is important that Romeo and Juliet is studied in schools as well as explain why it is relevant in today’s society.

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In the very first scene of the play Romeo and Juliet, toxic masculinity is immediately introduced when Sampson and Gregory from one of the feuding families are talking. These men are full of hate and rage and are looking for an opportunity to have a fight. They want to prove they are men. They act impulsively and talk disrespectfully of women. Samson, one of the houses servants, states ‘When I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids; I will cut off their heads’. This quote shows that the men only think of women as objects and could easily dispose of them if they wanted to. In modern times, this toxic masculinity is still seen, from the young boys fighting to prove their manhood, endless reports of sporting men displaying inappropriate behaviour to women, sexual harassment of women in the workplace, and the lack of empathy shown by some men when they are called out for their behaviour. Another quote in the play that depicts how men felt about women is when Benvolio says to Romeo, ‘Compare her face with some that I will show, And I will make thee think thy swan a crow’. This shows men as people who only see women for their beauty and fall deeply in love then quickly out of love if a prettier woman goes along. Since the Weinstein affair and the ME TOO campaign people have had many more opportunities to discuss this issue of toxic masculinity and the reading of Romeo and Juliet would allow teenagers to discuss these issues in a classroom setting.

The reason toxic masculinity is so damaging to society is that men still find it difficult to show their emotional side. They are often bullied and teased by their peers for being ‘soft’ or for showing their ‘gentler side’ and as a result young men, because of peer pressure, will often close themselves off emotionally. In some cases, this can lead to self-harming behaviour, impulsiveness, depression or suicide. Romeo displays this behaviour when feeling remorse for avenging Mercutio’s death. When Tybalt leaves badly wounded, Romeo says ‘O sweet Juliet. Thy beauty hath made me effeminate. And in my temper softened valour’s steel.” He felt he had to resort to fighting to prove himself and those around him that he wasn’t soft, that he was a man. When he flees to the Friar Laurence distressed by what he has done, the Friar says “Hold thy desperate hand! Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art. Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote’. Here, the Friar calls Romeo a ‘womanish’ wimp for crying and threatening suicide because in Romeo and Juliet, boys don’t cry. This aggressiveness, impulsiveness and need ‘to be a man’ is still seen today. Instead of swords to deal with a problem, modern men are using guns and fists. The ‘One punch’ spate of deaths is because of the impulsiveness of young men fuelled with alcohol to prove themselves. This campaign is a program that has been developed out of necessity and shows that some men still find it difficult to contain their reckless and impulsive behaviour and are unable to ‘turn the other cheek or walk away without believing that it will make them look weak or ‘soft’.

The negative attitude men had towards women is also explored in the plot of this play. The belief that a man owned a woman, that she was to obey him without question is highlighted when Juliet’s father ‘chooses’ her husband. Capulet says, ‘Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch! I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday, Or never after look me in the face’. Juliet’s father cannot accept that Juliet refuses to marry Paris and treats his daughter like a piece of property that he can just give away to another man. This is repeated when talking about how men’s love is dependent on a woman’s beauty and the disrespect shown to women through verbal and sexual harassment both in and outside of relationships.

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Many may argue that in modern society only a small percentage of men show these traits and that men have many more positive traits and this may be true, however, this minority of men that grow up and display these negative traits are large enough in number that domestic violence and sexual harassment incidents are frequent headlines in the news. It shows that toxic masculinity is still one of the major problems in our society today. The violent nature of these men means that domestic violence statistics are incredibly high with 1 in 4 women experiencing emotional abuse by their partner, 1 in 5 sexual abuse, 85% of Australian women having been sexually harassed and one woman per week murdered by their partner. These statistics show how toxic masculinity is detrimental to modern day society. It is also why women are fighting for gender equality in the workplace and the right to feel safe in their homes and on the streets. So, although some people may believe that toxic masculinity is only a small issue, it is obvious that as a society we still need to address it and try to repair the relationship between men and women today that was built by the misogynistic ways of the past.  

Works Cited

  1. Anderson, K. (2009). Gender, intoxication and the developing brain: Problematisations of drinking among young adults in neuroscience research. Social Science & Medicine, 69(2), 180-189.
  2. Connell, R. (1995). Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  3. Donaldson, M. (1993). What is hegemonic masculinity? Theory and Society, 22(5), 643-657.
  4. Flood, M. (2007). Men's collective struggle for gender justice: The case of antiviolence activism. Men and Masculinities, 9(2), 203-220.
  5. Galdas, P. M., Cheater, F., & Marshall, P. (2005). Men and health help-seeking behaviour: Literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(6), 616-623.
  6. Gough, B., & Edwards, G. (1998). The beer talking: Four lads, a carry out and the reproduction of masculinities. Sociology, 32(3), 625-641.
  7. Kimmel, M. S. (2008). Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men. New York, NY: Harper.
  8. Levant, R. F. (1992). Toward the reconstruction of masculinity. Journal of Family Psychology, 5(3/4), 379-402.
  9. Messner, M. A., & Sabo, D. F. (1990). Sport, men, and the gender order: Critical feminist perspectives. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  10. Schrock, D., Schwalbe, M., & Bierman, A. (2009). Masculinity and gender-based violence in a sample of rural, southern men. Men and Masculinities, 11(4), 433-450.
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Toxic Masculinity in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and in Today’s Society. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 19, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/toxic-masculinity-in-romeo-and-juliet-and-in-todays-society/
“Toxic Masculinity in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and in Today’s Society.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/toxic-masculinity-in-romeo-and-juliet-and-in-todays-society/
Toxic Masculinity in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and in Today’s Society. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/toxic-masculinity-in-romeo-and-juliet-and-in-todays-society/> [Accessed 19 May 2024].
Toxic Masculinity in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and in Today’s Society [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Feb 10 [cited 2024 May 19]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/toxic-masculinity-in-romeo-and-juliet-and-in-todays-society/
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