I have a favorite question to ask men: “What are some of the things you would love to do but can’t because they’re too feminine?” The responses are funny and exciting. How incredible is it to see compassion, gentleness, and vulnerability (all pointing to healthy masculinity) in some men, so often reserved only for women? I think so many men around me do not know what to do with their masculinity in real life. We teach men to reject parts of themselves, which are essential parts they secretly love. We make fun of them having a gentle stride in their ways.

How many times have you come across an aggressive, too tough to be bothered by emotions, high-fiving alpha male on television? When I ask myself, I know the answer is this: too often. 

But times are a-changin’.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a no-nonsense way to question its men who they are as cops but also, very importantly, who they are as men. It never really occurred to me that a comedy police show I put as a background could teach me lessons about masculinity. The male detectives go through admirable character development. These men bring a realistic portrayal of ‘healthy masculinity’ to the table. 

Toxic masculinity 

In recent years, pop culture has made efforts to thrust this idea of toxic masculinity into the spotlight. This puts men’s actions and behaviors (even fictional ones) under a scanner. Now, of course, all masculinity is not toxic or unhealthy, but all manliness and unnecessary boundaries can turn sour. Men have to understand that removing toxic masculinity is not removing masculinity. To put it simply, there’s nothing wrong with being a man. Healthy masculinity is when manliness makes one feel left out of joy or hurts is when we’ve got a problem. 

How many times have you heard the age-old sentence, “Men will be men” or worse, “Men should be men?” Cis young men are taught from an early age that they should ‘man it up’ when they get hurt and bottle up their emotions. We naively teach them the trademarks of toxic masculinity: aggression, possession, entitlement, and uncompromising. 

Friends, the sitcom we all grew up with, has an ongoing problematic narrative built on unacceptable toxic complexes. But the good news is that few modern shows attempt to steer away from them without overdoing it. A fine example is Brooklyn Nine-Nine because it portrays its characters realistically. Characters such as Captain Holt, Terry, Charles, and Jake bring diversity to the scene. 

Captain Raymond Holt 

Captain Raymond Holt is an openly gay black leader, husband, and friend. That aside, he is a dynamic man who enjoys the art of opera, aerobics, and participates in silly pranks and competitions. He is not very expressive sure, but his open-mindedness and straightforward have an irresistible flamboyance. As a person of color, he displays a healthy relationship with his husband, Professor Kevin Cosner. It is equally a depiction of a standard of thriving clashing masculinities. However, in the episode ‘The Bimbo’ of season 6, we see an instance of Holt not his confident self when he deals with intellectual inferiority. The show labels him a ‘bimbo’ – a term men use for women.  

Sergeant Terry Jeffords 

Terry Jeffords’s appearance probably paints a picture of straight-up macho-ness, but that is not central to his character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Here’s what makes Terry remarkable outside his looks: he is an out and proud feminist. He’s a funny man, affectionate, and super respectful towards his wife. Terry is a caring father of two beautiful girls. He loves yogurt to death (don’t mess with the man’s yogurt). And as a bonus, Terry is emotional, expressive and yet gives strict commands. This is a man who, with his appearance, doesn’t need to laugh at fart jokes or cry over sad movies, but he does it because he wants to. Throughout the show, Terry’s fatherhood is overwhelmingly sweet to watch and reflects healthy masculinity. It is enriching to see fatherhood not associated with the typical stereotype of men complaining about it. 

It is also important to note here that men’s mental health is talked about at the beginning of the show with utmost flair. Initially, in season one, we see Terry working through his issues with a therapist. He’s shown as extremely vulnerable, which is not weak but pretty admirable. 

Detective Jake Peralta 

Ah, Peralta. The star detective. Typically an emotionally immature character. However, his role goes through outstanding development through the series. Sure, he remains goofy whenever possible, but this is a man who is also actively and socially aware of essential things. However, in my opinion, Jake Peralta does show some traits of toxic masculinity: mansplaining, arrogance, and a lack of maturity. When presented with humor, we can overlook those but what’s interesting is that the makers of the sitcom choose not to hide these traits. 

Jake’s relationship with Amy is painfully adorable. They teach us about mutual respect in relationships. Jake continuously proves a reasonable level of masculinity in the relationship. He calls out sexism and is not hesitant to accept that a woman who is his girlfriend might soon be his boss. The woman is not the ‘weaker sex’ in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and if not satisfying, I am proud. Even with a lot of power play in the show, it never seems to cause a problem. 

Feminists will be happy to note that Jake makes a beautiful ally. How many times has it taken a woman to teach a man something? When I ask this question to myself, the answer is again: too often. Jake’s character does not need spoon-feeding. He makes an active effort to educate himself on female discrimination. I take a long, happy sigh when I realize that the women of the show do not have to perform emotional labor, unlike the real world. They do deal with Jake’s immaturity at the beginning, but it’s not excessive.

Jake Peralta is unafraid to get outside traditional masculine boundaries. Impressive healthy masculinity! 

Detective Charles Boyle 

Many of us probably look at Detective Charles Boyle Probably as the ‘least’ masculine character in the show. But why, exactly? In my personal opinion, I think otherwise. I (along with many women) take delight in Boyle’s qualities of being brave and confident in his ways. He can also be very charming. This is a man who does not have an urge to constantly portray a ‘masculine’ exterior. Plus, the show does not promote unrealistic stereotypes of men.

Male friendships take a huge part of toxic masculinity on the spectrum. It’s rare to see healthy, non-toxic male friendships out of the toxic bubble on television. But not Jake and Charle’s friendship. They are best buddies, but they are not afraid to express immense love for each other. Charles’s admiration for his best friend Jake is almost like a child’s love for candy. Jake also moves away from being a wannabe rebel to caring deeply for Charles. The TV people often portray male friendships as having no depth. They have no emotional involvement of the men involved. But the men of B99 wear their hearts on their sleeves, and proudly too. 

In conclusion, Brooklyn Nine-Nine does a great job of promoting healthy masculinity. The men of the show do not back away from embracing feminine features. I have always witnessed how men are not taught to suffer openly, and this show holds a mirror to modern-day men. To confront these hard truths as a woman and learn about the dangers of hyper-masculinity is essential. And more important is for men to understand the hard work and care it requires to start a conversation about empathetic masculinity.

I must say this: Brooklyn Nine-Nine does follow fictional detectives from a fictional precinct of the NYPD. It may be just an everyday tv show but tackles real contemporary issues. Some are racism, sexual harassment, sexuality, healthy parenting, and more. 

The question ultimately is not: what does a healthy non-toxic man look like? The right question is: what does a world look like where appearance, aggression, and entitlement are not what makes up a man? And what does it look like…to a woman? Brooklyn Nine-Nine opens a door that is often tightly shut – a door to give men a chance to change things finally. 

Read also:
The Act Of Virtue Signaling
Delete Tinder, Go To Therapy
An Open Letter To All Men