The Toxicity Of Masculinity In The Story Of Tom Brennan

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In today’s modern society, men can misinterpret the meanings and intentions behind their actions, which can in turn, lead to severe consequences towards the ideologies and expectations, placed on men by others. These beliefs include their masculinity, strength, domination and emotions of anger and hatred that they portray to others. The definition of masculinity can be found as the “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristics of men.” from Google Dictionary. In other words, the set expectations of what it takes to be a man. With these expectations, society has embedded this stigma towards men, giving them no other other choice but to fit in to the ‘typical male’ typecast which has become so toxic, that it overrules and other characteristics a male could have. This can affect their mindset as people constantly tell them to show no emotion and keep it ‘bottled up’. Or in other cases, they have been brought up with this theory. Most commonly in men, after holding back all these emotions and anxieties inside them, it can often be released through the means of violence and anger to help them relieve their stress.

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Throughout the novel, The Story of Tom Brennan, the toxic ideology of masculinity is represented through the effects it has on young man and how they are taught to handle their emotions. The novel builds on the understanding of what it means to be the man in the modern social groups of today, as well as the relationships that they hold with others. The environment males are brought up in can determine how they act in society. For males growing up in the modern day world, they are faced with many stereotypes and expectations. An example of this is trying to constantly be the dominant male in the room. Society has certain expectations where “Boys will be boys” in which people have accepted that this is the normal behaviour for a male to act rough or to do some of the actions they do as adolescents. With this, society forces men to hide their emotions, for example, they are seen as weak if they are caught sharing emotions, which would be considered as ‘soft’ rather than caring and loving. In the novel, Tom can be seen fighting his emotions when he “…fought the lump that was rising in his throat.” This statement is a metaphoric statement, with the lump being the emotions he is holding back, he is fighting the lump and swallow it. To push the emotions away, often wanting to say or do something when they have a lump in their throat. You try to fight back the urge to let the emotion out of you. This is just one example as to how toxic masculinity is holding back Tom’s emotions in the novel. With the modern culture, teenagers are constantly faced with images of unachievable expectations of the male figure on social media platforms. This has a big impact on the wellbeing of teenagers, as it makes them look down on themselves when they are faced with male characters, being portrayed as the big, tough alpha male person women find attractive. With recent studies it shows that men with body image issues and eating disorders are “4x more likely to go undiagnosed than females” according to the University of Sydney. This shows that men are less likely to talk about their issues that they may be experiencing as they may be too ashamed to share their emotions to others. Society has a growing impact on the males as they are pushed towards being, the man and having expectations of what they should do or who they should be.

The plot of the story is about seventeen-year-old boy named Tom Brennan. He is seen going through the absence of his brother, as well as the distress and pain the absence of his brother has caused to his family and associations. With his brother being involved in a severe car accident killing one and paralyzing another, he is faced with the consequences of drink driving and the toll it can have on the people around. As a widely used substance of experimentation amongst teenagers “73 percent of Australian teenagers try alcohol at least once” according to Statistics from Australia. With the amount of alcohol related incidents, increasing within teenage population, the effect that it has has with both people being a victim or perpetrator of drink driving, the novel illustrates the real instances which this problem happens in today’s society. As Tom was the mature one, being the star rugby player of the team, he was loved by many. However his brother “..was an accident waiting to happen.” No one cared to help Daniel out even though they were away of his “ moods that went on and on..”. With Daniel going through mood swings from being fine one day to violence anger rages to crying in his room. Christopher Flett claims men don’t often express their emotions as they are seen “…to be two-faced: a private face you have outside of the public eye, and a public face that shows no weakness.” In this, it shows that men are extremely likely to hide their emotions by suppressing it with anger to assert their ‘alpha male’ presence.

As young adolescents, teenagers are going through both physical and emotional development as they discover their true-selves. As Daniel starts to become more hesitant with his girlfriend Claire, who begins to get along with cousin “Fin” as his sporting ability, emotional development and self-confidence is so dominant, he begins to challenge Daniel’s position. Throughout this novel, Tom can be seen sexualizing girls as a part of toxic masculinity where he “…could see a bit of her black bra” as he leant over slightly to have a closer look at her. This is a form of toxic masculinity by invading the girls’ right of privacy by Tom overstepping his boundaries. A bi product that comes with toxic masculinity is the male asserting their dominance over a female which can lead to sexual harassment. With recent studies from Harvard University, it was found that “87 percent of teenage girls were victims of sexual harassment” which was caused by men thinking they can do whatever they can be the man. Along with this study it was also found that “40 percent of boys reported sexual harassment” in the grades of high school. This in comparison to females is a lot lower, as boys often get told to “Man up” or get asked “Why are you complaining about that?” This is such as it is not common to hear of a girl harassing a male sexually, which takes away the dominance and strength a male is believed to have. The male may also feel ashamed when confronting someone about the issue with this. This is a part of the physical and emotional development which, in turn, comes out to be a resulting factor of toxic masculinity. With the ever-increasing number of expectations towards what it takes to be the dominant gender in the 21st century, it is becoming harder than ever for young adolescent men to release their emotions without feeling the pressure to conform to the ideologies of society. If they chose to do so, they are considered as being weak. With young adolescents being more engaged in expectations created by social media, the social definition of what it takes to be the man, shows power and dominance over others along with bravery and masculinity. Therefore, creating a unrealistic figure of who a man should be.


  1. “Comment: We Need to Talk about Male Body Image.” SBS News, (2017), received on 5 of March 2019 from, .
  2. “Teenage Sexual Harassers.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, (2017) retrieved on 5 of March 2019 from,
  3. Burke, J. (2010). The story of Tom Brennan. Milsons Point: Random House Australia.
01 February 2021

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