The term ‘toxic masculinity’ has gained a sufficient amount of momentum, thanks to the Feminist Struggle and its relentless efforts to deconstruct archaic and normative systems of power. Masculinity is at the core of the hegemonic structure of the patriarchy. Some of its traits have inherent value while some are based on a flawed framework where men are considered to be the superior gender. The traits of the latter kind come together and form the concept of toxic masculinity.
Whether it’s asking young boys to “man up” when they cry or cracking homophobic jokes in locker rooms, traits that enable such insular viewpoints fall under toxic masculinity.
From sitcoms to period dramas, there is no lack of male protagonists being sexist and tone-deaf on screen. However, masculinity, like all other social constructs, is a spectrum and right opposite to toxic masculinity is healthy masculinity. A lesser known and practiced term, it refers to traits of masculinity that dismantle systemic hierarchies and assist society’s progression towards a more diverse and inclusive future.
In a sea of films and tv shows encouraging toxic masculinity, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a much-needed refreshment.
Using its conventional status as a sitcom and cop show, it drives audiences to narratives that are hilarious and unconventional. It doesn’t poke fun at the minority, it shows them fighting systems of injustice and rising through the ranks. And notably, it depicts masculinity in a nuanced and healthy manner.
Captain Raymond Holt is an openly gay, black Police Captain of the fictional 99th precinct. He’s stoic when he needs to be and sassy when he needs to. His general disposition as an emotionless captain adds to the humor of the show, thanks to the occasional moments when we see his hilarious meltdowns (One word: BONE). His relationship with his husband, Kevin, not only serves as a heartwarming representation of interracial queer love but also depicts marriage as a real, rocky but loving commitment. His eclectic hobbies, distinctive skills and unabashed love for his dog are some of the traits that make his character emblematic for positive masculinity.
Sergeant Terrence Jeffords or Terry is considered to be the finest example of modern masculinity by many. Although his hypermasculine features and his strength are some of the most typical characteristics celebrated in men, his physique is where conventional masculinity begins and ends. He is a feminist father of three daughters who’s shown to be equally involved in his domestic life. He respects his wife, is comfortable with being vulnerable and even goes to therapy to work out issues that are triggered by the dangerous nature of his work.
Charles Boyle can be considered the biggest subversion of mainstream masculinity. He weeps and loves freely. He is positively obsessed with food, cooking and eccentric fashion: traits and hobbies that have historically been considered ‘unmanly’.
He is a loving father and a dedicated friend. Brooklyn Nine-Nine began with his obsession with a key female character, Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). But unlike other shows that encourage the male character to try harder once a woman expresses her disinterest, Boyle moves on.
Throughout the course of the show, Rosa becomes close friends with him, comes out to him as bisexual and even confides in him about her relationships. Boyle’s incredible character arc is one of the several reasons behind the show's success in depicting healthy masculinity.
Jake Peralta is a genius and irreverent detective. Often used as one of the show’s comedic plot points, his childishness never passes over to ignorance. He is considered to be a genuine ally to the feminist cause because he’s always eager to learn. He educates himself on key issues of social disharmony, calls out sexism at work, punches homophobic celebrities and has no qualms in being married to someone who’s much senior to him at the workplace.
The show ends with him stepping down as a police officer to dedicate more time towards the upbringing of his son. Needless to say, Peralta’s transformation from a disruptive man-child to a sensitive and doting father goes a long way in a positive portrayal of masculinity.
The men in the show are not only kind and caring but also complex. Their struggles are given as much importance, whether it’s navigating racism, homophobia, police corruption or childhood trauma. The female characters are not compelled to carry out additional emotional labor and are given the respect they deserve, without ulterior motives.
The fact that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a highly celebrated American show adds value to its well-rounded depiction of masculinity. Needless to say, the show will eternally be considered one of the finest blends of humor and social change.