Extremism and toxic masculinity: the man question re-posed

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It is more than 20 years since Marysia Zalewski and feminist scholars posed ‘the man question’ in International Relations, repositioning the gaze from female subjectivities to a problematization of the subjecthood of man. The field of masculinity studies has developed this initial question to a deep interrogation of the relationship between maleness and violence. Yet public and policy discourse often reduce the complexity of masculinities within extremism to issues of crisis and toxicity. Governments have prioritized the prevention of extremism, particularly violent Islamism, and in so doing have produced as ‘risk’ particular racialized and marginalized men. This article asks, what are the effects of the toxic masculinity discourse in understanding the British radical right? It argues that current understandings of extremism neglect the central aim of Zalewski's ‘man’ question to destabilize the field and deconstruct patriarchy. They instead position Islamophobia—which is institutionalized in state discourse—as the responsibility of particular ‘extreme’ and ‘toxic’ groups. In particular, the article outlines two ways in which ‘toxic masculinity’ is an inadequate concept to describe activism in the anti-Islam(ist) movement the English Defence League (EDL). First, the term ‘toxic masculinity’ occludes the continuities of EDL masculinities with wider patriarchal norms; second, it neglects the role of women as significant actors in the movement. Using an ethnographic and empathetic approach to this case-study, the article explores how Zalewski's theoretical position offers a route to analysis of the ways in which masculinities and patriarchy entwine in producing power and violence; and to a discussion of masculinities that need not equate manhood with threat.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1251-1270
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • Masculinity
  • Toxic masculinity
  • Radical right
  • radicalisation
  • extremism

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