“Toughen up, bro.”
“Come on, be a man about it”
“Show them you’re the man!”
There’s a long history of society teaching men that manhood is acquired through dominance, strength, self-reliance, and not showing any emotions.
But this has led to a pitiful epidemic of “toxic masculinity.”
Now, I’m not a guy. But I’ve seen it happen. I’ve witnessed it. And quite frankly, it needs to stop.
It is harmful to society, to women, and to men themselves.
What is toxic masculinity?
The term itself is still poorly defined, but has become increasingly popular over the past few decades. It was first used by professor Shepherd Bliss in the 1980s/90s.
Masculinity and toxic masculinity are often confused. But there are huge differences.
I’ll try and define toxic masculinity in the best way I can.
I want you to think of Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast.” Remember him? Competitive, bulging muscles, misogynistic, violent, and he definitely doesn’t take “no” for an answer. The epitome of toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is essentially a social construct. A way of thinking that if a guy doesn’t act in a certain way, he isn’t a man.
Here are some other typical traits of this kind of culture:
>> Shows no emotions apart from anger
>> Deals with problems using violence and/or aggression
>> Competitive and always has to win
>> Can’t show any weakness and doesn’t depend on anyone
>> Avoids doing anything considered “feminine”
>> Makes sexual and derogatory comments toward women in public
Why it is a problem.
Toxic masculinity is harmful. Assuming that there is only one way of being a man is damaging.
The pressure has never been so high for men to stick to a strict set of guidelines on how to be more “manly.” It leads to having an unhealthy relationship with oneself and with others.
“Real men don’t cry.”
Boys are often taught this from a young age, often from their fathers or other male members of the family. The end result? Emotional repression.
This frequently leads to outbursts, either as violence toward others or in the form of self-harm. Not to mention the damaging effects on their mental health. One in eight men have mental health issues, but many hesitate to reach out for help.
“Suck it up.”
Not being able to express one’s emotions creates an internal pressure cooker and can result in problems like anxiety, depression, and elevated suicide rates.
This “lad culture” also often devalues women’s bodies and opinions. It creates unbalanced relationships and unhealthy approaches to sex.
Domestic abuse rates are at an all-time high. Let’s be clear: it’s not just women who are victims of domestic abuse—men are too.
But, according to the charity Women’s Aid, “Women experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed” than men.
The idea that problems should be dealt with using violence poses risks to women in relationships with these men.
“Stop acting like a p*ssy.”
Men struggling with their sexual identity end up suffering too. There is a real fear of appearing soft and tender. These qualities are usually associated with being weak and not manly. Homophobic comments make it harder for these men to express their preferences and it makes them feel uncomfortable with who they truly are.
But…“Boys will be boys.”
Well, what a great excuse for this crappy type of behavior. Truth be told, toxic masculinity is both self-destructive and socially destructive.
The social construct around masculinity has to be redefined. Sensitivity in men is rarely addressed.
As a man, you should be able to feel vulnerable and sensitive without feeling weak and inferior.
You should be able to enjoy activities like baking and cooking without worrying that they are too girlish.
I believe all men can help to challenge these social constructs, but in particular, sensitive men.
Twenty percent of the male population are highly sensitive males. Men who embrace their sensitive sides have healthier relationships with themselves and with others. They take the time to listen to others and cultivate deeper friendships. They talk more freely about their emotions and experiences and that is pretty damn brave if you ask me.
Here are a few ways sensitive men can help teach others to do the same:
1. Release and express emotions.
Real. Men. Have. Feelings.
They feel pain, anxiety, joy, and fear just like any other human being.
You shouldn’t have to bottle up your emotions when you are feeling crappy. You can cry. You can talk. You can go to therapy. If you need help—ask. You don’t have to do it all on your own.
Don’t suffer in silence. You’re doing yourself (and others) more harm than good.
These are much healthier ways of expressing your feelings than violent outbursts. “Female traits” such as empathy and compassion are important in society.
2. Embrace your interests (whatever they may be).
Not every guy is into football, cars, and weight lifting (if you are, then that’s perfectly fine). Some men also enjoy cooking, dancing, singing, and baking. These activities are often associated with femininity but that doesn’t mean men can’t enjoy them too. Not doing what you love just because you are afraid they are considered to be too “girly” means you risk losing part of your identity in the process.
3. Encourage healthy relationships.
Treating others with respect is just basic manners. Accept others for who they are. Don’t ridicule other men for having different interests than you. This is exactly how the problem is being fueled.
Have a healthy approach to sex. The idea that men want sex and should be ready for it 24/7 is absurd. You can say no when you want to. It won’t make you any less of a man. Being sexually aggressive (without the other person’s consent) is not justifiable. Women aren’t sex objects and you shouldn’t be treating them as such. Learn to treat them as equal.
P.S. Laughing at rape jokes is also really not cool (or funny).
4. Get rid of the idea of that perfect physique.
Men often feel the pressure to have that perfect muscular body, thinking it will make them manlier. They may have an idea that they must be the strongest, fittest, and most competitive. (Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming to mind.)
In fact, often in movies, the superhero is usually broad and muscular. This is creating unrealistic ideals and body image problems.
Being thin should not make you less of a man. Being fat shouldn’t make you less of a man. Can we all just embrace our differences? Please and thank you.
You don’t have to conform to society’s ideas of being a man. Be you.
There is no “right” way to be a man. When are we all going to realize this?
We will all profit from it.