Toxic Masculinity: the adherence to traditional male gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express, including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the “alpha male”) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger. Season 2 of Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix prescribes to just that. It takes a turn as we watch a completely different man arise through our bullet proof hero. Luke Cage’s unbridled aggression as he takes on the pressures of being the city’s hero (and embracing that role) escalates throughout the entire season. He blames these new pressures and responsibilities on everyone but himself.
When confronted about his mistakes he either seems unmoved and apathetic, evasive, or he becomes aggressive.

To justify his anger Luke Cage brings up his masculinity. (Literally he brings up feeling like his masculinity is being threatened). When Claire tries to bring up her concerns as she observes his behavior, his anger during one confrontation escalates to him punching a wall out of frustration. Being machismo and claiming Claire was emasculating him is classic toxic masculinity. When he punches the wall, it was his response to defend his “manliness”. While it was not a punch to physically threaten her, it was still an intimidating act meant to mentally intimidate her and get her to “shut up” about his recent actions. Claire composes herself until finally she cracks under her PTSD from the trauma of her childhood caused by her parents who had done the same things.

The show continues to bring up the topic of what it means to be a “man” as character after character show their ideas of what masculinity is. Between Luke defending his masculinity, Luke’s dad giving him advice on being a man, and the parallels between Luke and Bushmaster; we clearly see a theme here.While Bushmaster and Luke Cage are presented as two sides of the same coin, we see them constantly fight one another despite outsiders looking in telling them that they are more similar than they think and can work to end the violence. The fact that this was repeatedly ignored shows how toxic proving to be a “man” through violence is.

Luke is later paralleled to Mariah as she strives to be Harlem’s Queen; as later Cage decides he is going to be Harlem’s King. Toxic masculinity doesn’t always mean that men participate in it. Mariah openly embraces violence to gain power. She turns to Gangster tactics and goes well beyond, while Luke Cage starts to resort to not-so-hero like actions. We watch as our Power Man starts to reflect each one of his villains and justify it because of his perception of what it means to be a “man” accompanied by his father’s advice on manhood ringing through Luke’s head.


Towards the end of the season we hear Cage referred to as “Luke Trump”, “Dictator”, and “Enforcer of Unwritten Rules”. He is kicked out of Pop’s barber shop because he no longer represents the values he once did in season one.

All stemming from a bruised ego and needing to prove himself “King of Harlem”.

Although Luke does make some attempts to correct himself, we do not see in this season the rise and fall of a hero’s internal struggle. Instead we get an increasing spiral into the abyss that is toxic masculinity. He embraces the title “King of Harlem” and adopts Harlem’s Paradise as his own (the very symbol of criminal control), further paralleling him to Mariah. In the background we hear the artist on stage perform a piece about Luke’s story (more ego) as he is told that Claire has arrived. We end with Cage telling security to ask her to leave. Leaving us with a man so deep in pride that he cannot face the one person who will remind him of his toxic masculinity.

What are your thoughts of Marvel including such toxic masculinity in one of its shows? Does it suit the Luke Cage character? Does depicting an aggressive black male character adhere to negative stereotypes?  Is male aggressiveness bad for Nerd culture overall? Tell Nerdbot about it in the comments and get the conversation going!