Masculinities (High School)

Authors: Jess Karan, Michaela Warady
Subject: Gender
Topic:  Social Science
Grade Levels: High School: 10th Grade


This lesson is meant to be integrated into the Sex Ed curriculum. This lesson is not to replace anything in currently adopted health curriculum such as Positive Prevention Plus, rather it is meant to supplement the curriculum. This lesson seeks to define “toxic masculinity” in a modern American context. Students will learn about who “toxic masculinity” affects and will work toward finding a definition for “healthy masculinity,” identifying the behaviors and practices characteristic of both forms of masculinity.

Time: 50 minutes

Lesson Plan Resources:

Lesson Plan Document

Healthy Masculinity Worksheet PDF

Teacher Guide PDF

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Be able to describe what toxic masculinity is and who it has the potential to hurt
  • Understand that not all masculinity is harmful, and come to a definition of “healthy” masculinity
  • Be able to provide examples of healthy masculinity, and understand exactly how they differ from expressions of toxic masculinity

Essential Questions:

  1. What can make some expressions of masculinity toxic? 
  2. What can make some expressions of masculinity healthy?
  3. How has toxic masculinity manifested in American society over time? How does it look different now?
  4. What can we do to promote healthy masculinity?


9-12.1.10.G (Health Education): Recognize that there are individual differences in growth and development, physical appearance, gender roles, and sexual orientation.

9-12.2.5.G (Health Education): Evaluate how culture, media, and other people influence perceptions about body image, gender roles, sexuality, attractiveness, relationships, and sexual orientation.

9-12.5.5.G (Health Education): Use a decision-making process to analyze the benefits of respecting individual differences in growth and development, physical appearance, gender roles, and sexual orientation.


Masculinity: A set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with and often ascribed to boys and men. A socially constructed notion posed in opposition to femininity. 

Femininity: A set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with and often ascribed to girls and women. A socially constructed notion posed in opposition to masculinity.

Gender: A socially constructed identity category; though typically defined as “woman” or “man,” there are many genders outside of this binary, particularly in non-Western cultures. Gender can be related to sex assigned at birth (if someone assigned male at birth identifies as a man, he is cisgender), or it can be unrelated (if someone assigned female at birth identifies as a man, he is transgender). Gender is often shaped by gender roles and notions of masculinity and femininity.

Sex assigned at birth: A biological category dictated by chromosomes, hormones, and sexual anatomy. A person can be assigned “female” at birth, “male” at birth, or sometimes “intersex.”

Intersex: Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

Gender expression: How we show our gender to the world.

Gender roles: A social role encompassing a variety of behaviors that are generally considered acceptable, expected, or desirable for a person based on their perceived gender.

Gender stereotypes: A commonly, culturally held belief (often incorrect or overly generalized) about a specific gender.

Toxic masculinity: The expectation for masculine people to adhere to traditional, cultural masculine norms, particularly those that devalue emotion and prioritize strength and stoicism. Masculine people who choose to adhere to these norms in a way that harms others can be considered “toxically masculine,” and anyone who projects these norms onto masculine people who do not wish to conform to these norms are perpetuating toxic masculinity.

Teacher Background:

The teacher should be familiar with what gender roles, gender stereotypes, and toxic masculinity are. The teacher should have a fundamental understanding of the differences between sex assigned at birth, gender, and gender expression. The teacher should read this article about gender-expansiveness & gender diversity in the classroom, and familiarize themselves with the terms. Further, teachers should consult this resource for a comprehensive set of behaviors and practices of toxic and healthy masculinities.


  • Whiteboard & markers
  • Projector & speaker (for showing a video)
  • Paper & pencils (for note-taking, journal reflection)
  • Printed copies of this worksheet, about one per every 3-5 students


  • Introduction (10 minutes)
    • On a whiteboard, write down the term “toxic masculinity.” Have students turn to a partner to discuss what they think the phrase means. 
    • Come back together as a group, and ask each pair of students to share out what they think “toxic masculinity” means.
    • Guide the discussion with questions, and write student responses on the board:
      • How have you heard this term used before? 
      • What are some examples of toxic masculinity that you’ve observed before, in the media, in the news, or in your own life?
      • Have we seen historical examples of toxic masculinity? How does it look different now?
  • Toxic Masculinity – Video & Discussion (15 minutes) 
    • CW: Crude language, slurs, mention of violence, mention of suicide
    • Show students the trailer for The Mask You Live In on YouTube (3:09)
    • Questions for discussion:
      • What is the “mask” that the video refers to? What does it mean to take the “mask” off?
      • What are some examples of toxic masculinity in the video?
      • Who does the toxic masculinity in the video affect?
      • What is the role of mental health in the video?
      • What potential solutions does the video suggest about toxic masculinity?
  • Healthy Masculinity – Worksheet Activity (15 minutes)
    • Split the class into small groups, and hand each group this worksheet. On it are several scenarios, some of which display toxic masculinity. Students will identify which ones are “toxic” and rewrite them to display “healthy” masculinity instead. Assure the groups that it’s okay if they don’t come to a consensus, as the class will come back together to discuss and there are no right answers.
    • Have students discuss the scenarios, with one student from each group writing down the group’s answers on the worksheet.
    • Bring the class back together and discuss their answers. Guiding questions:
      • Which scenarios were examples of toxic masculinity? How did you know? What did you change about them when you rewrote them?
      • Were there scenarios that portrayed both toxic and healthy masculinity?
      • Do any of these scenarios reflect things you’ve experienced in your own lives? How did you deal with the situation? 
  • Conclusion (10 minutes)
    • Have students write a journal entry style reflection on the lesson from today
    • Prompt:
      • The term “toxic masculinity” was coined by a man named Shepherd Bliss in the 1980s to describe his own father’s militarized, authoritarian masculinity. In a 1990 interview, Bliss said, “I use a medical term because I believe that like every sickness, toxic masculinity has an antidote.” In your own words, what do you think the “antidote” to toxic masculinity is?

Relevant Resources:

“11.1 Understanding Sex and Gender.” Sociology, University of Minnesota, n.d.

“11.5 The Benefits and Costs of Being Male.” Sociology, University of Minnesota, n.d.

Gilpin, Caroline Crosson, and Natalie Proulx. “Boys to Men: Teaching and Learning About Masculinity in an Age of Change.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2018,

Gómez Carlos Andrés. Man up: Reimagining Modern Manhood. Gotham Books, 2013.

Good Men Media Inc. “About Us – The Good Men Project.” The Good Men Project, 2020,

Harrington, Dr. Carol. “What Is ‘Toxic Masculinity’ and Why Does It Matter?” Men and Masculinities, July 2020, doi:10.1177/1097184X20943254.

“Healthy Masculinity.” UMatter, Princeton University, n.d. 

Jobbins, Josephine. “Man Up – The Victorian Origins of Toxic Masculinity.” The Good Men Project, 05 Jun. 2018,

Kilman, Carrie. “The Gender Spectrum.” Teaching Tolerance, Summer 2013,

The Representation Project. “The Mask You Live In – Trailer.” Youtube, 18 Dec. 2013,

Weiss, Suzannah. “6 Harmful Effects of Toxic Masculinity.” Bustle, Bustle Digital Group, 23 Feb. 2016,

Author Information

Jess Karan (she/they) was an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition (Summer 2020). They currently attend Kenyon College in Ohio and are studying Womens’ and Gender Studies and Arabic.

Michaela Warady (they/them) was an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition (Summer 2019). They are an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Mathematics and Computer Science.

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